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Students in the Physician Assistant Program at Penn State College of Medicine take part in the White Coat Ceremony in 2016, during which the students receive their white coats signifying the start of their training. Three female students are seen in the foreground, reading from the event program, with a male and female student visible in the background.

Physician Assistant (PA) Program

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Physician Assistant (PA) Program Details

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The Penn State Physician Assistant (PA) Program, located at the Penn State College of Medicine campus in Hershey, PA, is a 24-month, full-time graduate program enrolling 30 students each May.

Our first class graduated in May 2016.

Consistent with the goals of the entire College of Medicine, the PA Program emphasizes humanism in medicine, which takes into account the dedication required for individualized and personalized medicine.

PA Program Details Basic Content


The Penn State College of Medicine Physician Assistant Program’s mission is to prepare graduates to be academically, clinically, professionally and culturally competent physician assistants who are devoted to serving patients in their communities through the application of clinical reasoning, critical thinking, and evidence-based practice to deliver compassionate and comprehensive care.


The goals of the program include:

  • To enroll an academically qualified, diverse student body with special consideration for those underrepresented in medicine, first generation in college, veteran/active duty military personnel, educationally disadvantaged and economically disadvantaged (see progress toward this goal)
  • To promote the development of critical thinking skills (see progress toward this goal)
  • To enable graduates to practice competent health care with an emphasis in primary care and/or work in federally designated underserved communities (see progress toward this goal)
  • To prepare students for their role as professional clinicians working as part of an interprofessional team (see progress toward this goal)

Graduation Requirements

Graduation requirements for PA students include:

  • Enrollment in the program for the time period specified by the program and approved by accrediting body for completion
  • Satisfactory completion of all curricular requirements in good academic standing
    • Cumulative GPA of 3.00 or higher
    • No course or rotation grades below a “C” or “Low Pass”
    • Repeat and receive a “C” or higher in any course or rotation in the program for which a grade of “F” was earned.
  • Attainment of good professional standing
  • Successful completion of all components in the summative experience
  • Meet or exceed the minimum requirements for clinical experiences and competencies.
  • Recommendation for graduation by program faculty
  • Satisfactory fulfillment of all financial obligations to the Penn State College of Medicine and Penn State University

The PA Program requires 101 credits for successful program completion. The program curriculum contains a senior summative, one-credit course that also must be successfully completed in order to meet the program requirements for graduation eligibility.

All courses offered in the curriculum are required, and all of these courses must be successfully completed (as detailed above) to meet this eligibility for graduation.

The first graduates of the Penn State College of Medicine Physician Assistant Program are pictured in five rows, with the first row sitting and the others standing behind them on stairs or risers, in June 2016.
The Physician Assistant Program at Penn State College of Medicine graduated its fourth class in May 2019. Program graduates maintain a 100 percent first-time pass rate on the national certifying exam.

Advanced Placement Policy

The Penn State College of Medicine Physician Assistant Program is a full-time academic program. The program’s curriculum is administered in a sequential fashion that builds on courses completed in the prior term. Consequently, the program does not award credit for experiential learning or accept advanced placement into the professional phase of the program.

Policy on Student Roles and Employment

The Penn State College of Medicine Physician Assistant Program faculty do not encourage students to work while enrolled in the program. However, we realize that students have different financial obligations and may need to work while enrolled in the program. The program is confident that we are educating adults who are capable of making a personal decision about the necessity of working and therefore we do not require students to disclose to the program whether work is taking place. However, it is the expectation that the PA Program is the student’s primary responsibility. Furthermore, concessions for missed classes, late assignments, scheduled assessments, and clinical rotation obligations due to work outside of the program will not be made.

Students are not permitted to work for the PA Program in any capacity while enrolled as a student at the Penn State College of Medicine.

Additionally, students may not substitute for or function as instructional faculty, clinical staff, or administrative staff while enrolled as a student at Penn State College of Medicine.

Clinical Year Placement

Students may not solicit their own clinical sites or preceptors, or trade preceptorships with other students. Students may, however, assist in communication with potential clinical preceptors to facilitate the program establishing affiliation agreements or clinical rotation site opportunities. View the full Clinical Site Assignment Policy in the student handbook.

PA Program Competencies

Physician Assistant Program Competencies

The following program competencies are based on PAEA Core Competencies for New Physician Assistant Graduates (9-7-2019).

1. Patient-Centered Practice Knowledge: Graduates will be able to recognize healthy versus ill patients in the context of the patients’ lives and determine the stage of illness — acute, at risk (emerging), or chronic illness. Graduates will demonstrate the ability to utilize up-to-date scientific evidence to inform clinical reasoning and clinical judgment.

  • PCPK 1.1 Recognize normal and abnormal health states
  • PCPK 1.2 Discern among acute, chronic, and emerging disease states
  • PCPK 1.3 Determine healthy versus ill patients
  • PCPK 1.4 Determine differential diagnosis, order interpret laboratory and imaging, perform necessary core duty procedures, diagnose, treat and manage illness
  • PCPK 1.5 Meaningfully interact with patients who do not have a clear diagnosis despite evaluation and treatment

2. Society and Population Health: Graduates will be able to recognize and understand that the influences of the larger community may affect the health of patients and integrate knowledge of social determinants of health into care decisions.

  • SPH 2.1 Determine the cultural norms, needs, influences, and socioeconomic, environmental, and other population-level determinants affecting the health of the individual in the community being served
  • SPH 2.2 Determine the potential impacts of biology and genetics on patients, and incorporate them into decisions of care
  • SPH 2.3 Propose solutions to address barriers of care, such as health disparities
  • SPH 2.4 Describe the role of structural disparities in illness
  • SPH 2.5 Engage with the health care team in determining the adequacy of individual and community resources
  • SPH 2.6 Identify the scope of practice for a physician assistant
  • SPH 2.7 Apply the fundamental principles of epidemiology
  • SPH 2.8 Identify issues and reflect on possible quality improvement strategies
  • SPH 2.9 Use appropriate literature to make evidence-based decisions regarding patient care

3. Health Literacy and Communication: Graduates will be able to communicate with patients as partners who engage in shared decision-making and who communicate, interpret, and express themselves as individuals with unique personal, cultural, and social values.

  • HLC 3.1 Ascertain patient needs and goals while delivering culturally competent care
  • HLC 3.2 Recognize the need for patients have access to unbiased, professional interpreters and appropriate resources when barriers to communication arise
  • HLC 3.3 Demonstrate the ability to recognize and support emotions during patient care
  • HLC 3.4 Provide effective, equitable, understandable, and respectful quality care and Approved by PAMPEC, July 2020 services that are responsive to diverse cultural health beliefs and practices, preferred languages, health literacy, and other communication needs
  • HLC 3.5 Organize and communicate information with patients and families in a way that is understandable, checking to ensure understanding

4. Interprofessional Collaborative Practice and Leadership: Graduates will be able to recognize that the patient is at the center of all healthcare decisions and to partner with the patient to define the patient’s health care goals.

  • ICPL 4.1 Articulate one’s role and responsibilities to patients, families, communities, and other professionals
  • ICPL 4.2 Advocate for the needs of the patient as a part of the health care team.
  • ICPL 4.3 Determine when referrals are needed and follow the protocols
  • ICPL 4.4 Use the full scope of knowledge, skills, and abilities of available health professionals to provide care that is safe, timely, efficient, effective, and equitable
  • ICPL 4.5 Describe how professionals in health and other fields can collaborate and integrate clinical care and public health interventions to optimize population health

5. Professional and Legal Aspects of Health Care: Graduates will be able to practice medicine in a beneficent manner, recognizing and adhering to standards of care while attuned to advancing social justice.

  • PL 5.1 Participate in difficult conversations with patients and colleagues
  • PL 5.2 Demonstrate respect for the dignity and privacy of patients while maintaining confidentiality in the delivery of team-based care
  • PL 5.3 Demonstrate professional behaviors and accountability to patients and society
  • PL 5.4 Describe the role of the regulatory environment in actual clinical practice

6. Health Care Finance and Systems: Graduates will be able to articulate the essential aspects of value-based healthcare and apply this understanding to the delivery of safe and quality care.

  • HCFS 6.1 Discuss financial implications to the provision of healthcare on individual and global basis
  • HCFC 6.2 Differentiate between the types of health systems, funding streams, and insurance, including the role of Medicare and Medicare as payors