Becoming a physician assistant is a popular career path for medical scribes. With over 200 ARC-PA accredited Physician Assistant programs nationwide, it is important to understand which programs are the best fit for you considering your unique educational background, current circumstances, and future career goals. Here are a few factors to highlight as you begin your search for PA programs.
Although newer programs are usually less expensive, a major disadvantage is that you have no idea what to expect from the program. New programs can also have new professors and faculty, new curriculum with constantly changing structure, problems finding good rotation sites, and no alumni support. One important fact to be aware of is that as long as the new program has provisional accreditation status when you matriculate, you will still be able to take the PANCE at the end of your program, regardless of whether they are granted full accreditation or put on probation.²
PANCE Passage Rate
Given that you must first pass the PANCE in order to practice as a physician assistant, finding a program with a high passage rate is a useful approach to determine if a program is providing quality education. A recent report by The Physician Assistant Life found that a plethora of programs have perfect passage rates and most programs actually perform over 90%. Determining the PANCE passage rate of a prospective program will ultimately help you weed out some of the underachieving PA programs. Deciding what passage rate is adequate is completely your decision, but programs with higher passage rates are recommended more often.
Most PA programs offer a graduate degree and even the ARC-PA has established a graduate degree as the new minimum for all programs beginning in 2020. PAEA recently published a report in 2017 which revealed that, among accredited PA programs, about 70% of programs included a graduate degree in 2007, a number that has increased to 97% in 2017.⁴
Why is a graduate degree important? A long-term career can be challenging without one. Many employers such as academic medical centers, large hospital systems, and some government agencies require a graduate degree for various positions. An increasing number of states are also requiring a graduate degree for certain or all levels of prescriptive authority.
States and employers who require a graduate degree typically require that it is healthcare related. A non-masters PA program can be less costly and an attractive option for someone with a healthcare related masters degree. You should evaluate your long-term interests and career flexibility when deciding whether or not a graduate program is necessary for your career path.
Looking at graduate degree programs with high PANCE passage rates will help you weed out the underachieving programs, but how do you differentiate between the others? A well-rounded quality program will boast these strong determiners:
- Top-rated student body with a low drop-out rate
- Stable faculty with a broad base of didactic courses
- Variety of flexible clinical training opportunities
- Elective rotational experiences
- Recommendations from preceptors
- Personal interviews
After you’ve narrowed down your search to a few programs, look closely at each program and begin reaching out to current faculty, students, and graduates. Paul Gonzales, a current PA, suggests, “Inquire about quality or availability of rotation sites, traffic, living costs, faculty accessibility, program reputation, mentorship programs, study groups, student-run clinics, cadaver labs, PANCE preparation, available scholarship funding, and the quality of assessment skills.”² These differentiators will ultimately help you find a program that fits your needs.
₁“Best Physician Assistant Programs | US News Rankings.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report LP, 13 Mar. 2017, www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-health-schools/physician-assistant-rankings.
₂Gonzales, Paul. “Choosing the Right Physician Assistant School.” Trust Me, I’m a PA, Dose of PA, 3 Mar. 2014, doseofpa.blogspot.com/2014/03/choosing-right-physician-assistant.html.
₃Pasquini, Stephen. PA School Ranking by PANCE Pass Rates. The PA Life, LLC, 2017, PA School Ranking by PANCE Pass Rates, www.thepalife.com/best-pa-schools/.
₄Physician Assistant Education Association, By the Numbers: Program Report 32: Data from the 2016 Program Survey, Washington, DC: PAEA; 2017. doi: 10.17538/PR32.2017