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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

Physician Assistant (PA) Program Details

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.


The Penn State Physician Assistant Program's mission is to prepare graduates to be academically, clinically, professionally and culturally competent in the delivery of health care services. With a primary care focus, graduates promote preventive services and utilize evidence based medicine for comprehensive, cost effective 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, veterans and active duty, 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 (see progress toward this goal)

Graduation Requirements

Graduation requirements for PA students include:

  • Satisfactorily completing all requirements in the specified curriculum and in good academic standing
  • Attainment of good professional standing
  • Enrollment in the program for the time period specified by the professional accrediting body, if applicable
  • Successful passage of a summative experience and final evaluation
  • Recommendation for graduation by the faculty of the specific program and the general faculty
  • Satisfaction of all financial obligations to Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine
  • Follow the approved course of study, satisfactorily completing all courses within the professional component
  • Complete all courses with a cumulative 3.00 average, with no course or rotation below a “C”; a “C-“ grade in any course or rotation does not meet this standard. For courses that are administered on a pass/fail basis, the student must achieve a "pass" for the course
  • Repeat, as approved, and earn a minimum grade of “C” for any required course or rotation in the professional phase for which a grade of “C-“ or below was earned

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 Advanced Placement Policy at Penn State does not permit an incoming student advanced standing within the curriculum. As such, the program requires that enrolled students complete their coursework through Penn State.

Students who believe their situation is an exception to this policy should email the Director of Admissions at detailing the nature of the request.

Work & Attendance Policy

The Penn State PA Program will not prohibit students in the program from working. The program believes each student is the correct person to make personal decisions regarding his or her life outside the program. The program is cognizant that students have made a number of personal sacrifices to matriculate into a PA program and are aware of the challenges of succeeding in a PA program. To this end, the program respects the student's personal decision regarding work. The program generally does not have mandatory attendance policy for classes — we would like you to attend class because we feel the teachers will be excellent classroom facilitators and instructors, but we respect different learning styles and the student's decision on how to best assure their success. Each course will provide information regarding attendance policy, though student are required to attend all scheduled tests. Though the program does not prohibit outside employment during the pre-clinical or clinical training, we do not encourage working because of the demands and dedication required for PA training. Students attending clinical rotations will have a minimum of 40 hours a week at the clinical site, which may involve different shifts and weekends — which would make employment very difficult. Students are expected to conform to the schedule that individual preceptor makes, as preceptors will not alter the schedule to accommodate a student's work schedule.

Clinical Year Placement

Enrolled students do not solicit preceptors for clinical year placement. The program secures, coordinates and assigns all placement during clinical year rotations. If an enrolled student is interested in completing a rotation at an unaffiliated site, the program's clinical year team is responsible for all necessary arrangements.

Course Timeline

You’ll need 101 credits total to complete our program: 55 credits in the pre-clinical year and 46 credits in the clinical year, as described below.

All courses in the curriculum are graded on a letter grade basis with the exception of the Advanced Cardiac Life Support Course, the Health Care Ethics Course, and the Evidence-Based Medicine Course in the pre-clinical curriculum. These are Pass/Fail courses. Course descriptions can be found in the Penn State Graduate Bulletin.

Pre-Clinical Year: Summer

  • PAS 701: Applied Human Structure I (2 credits)
  • PAS 702: Applied Human Structure II (2 credits)
  • PAS 704: Clinical Medicine I (5 credits)
  • PAS 707: Pathophysiology I (2 credits)
  • PAS 710: Pharmacology I (2 credits)
  • PAS 713: Pharmacotherapeutics I (1 credit)
  • PAS 716: History and Physical Examination I (2 credits)
  • PAS 721: US Health Care Systems and Legal Medicine (1 credit)
  • PAS 724: Laboratory Interpretive Methods (1 credit)

Total credits: 18

Pre-Clinical Year: Fall

  • PAS 703: Applied Human Structure III (2 credits)
  • PAS 705: Clinical Medicine II (5 credits)
  • PAS 708: Pathophysiology II (2 credits)
  • PAS 711: Pharmacology II (2 credits)
  • PAS 714: Pharmacotherapeutics II (1 credit)
  • PAS 717: History and Physical Examination II (2 credits)
  • PAS 723: Behavioral Medicine (1 credit)
  • PAS 719: Evidence-Based Medicine (1 credit)
  • PAS 725: Professional Practice (1 credit)
  • PAS 728: EKG Interpretive Methods (1 credit)
  • PAS 730: Healthcare Ethics (1 credit)
  • PAS 731: Radiology Interpretive Methods (1 credit)

Total credits: 20

Pre-Clinical Year: Spring

  • PAS 706: Clinical Medicine III (5 credits)
  • PAS 709: Pathophysiology III (2 credits)
  • PAS 712: Pharmacology III (2 credits)
  • PAS 715: Pharmacotherapeutics III (1 credit)
  • PAS 718: History and Physical Examination III (2 credits)
  • PAS 720: Pediatric Studies (1 credit)
  • PAS 722: Women's Studies (1 credit)
  • PAS 726: Advanced Cardiac Life Support (1 credit)
  • PAS 727: Clinical Skills (1 credit)
  • PAS 729: Emergency Studies (1 credit)

Total credits: 17

Clinical Year

During the clinical year, students will take three mandatory primary-care rotations in the area of family practice and internal medicine. Each rotation lasts five weeks.

Mandatory Rotations

  • PAS 732: Emergency Medicine (5 credits)
  • PAS 734: Family Medicine I (5 credits)
  • PAS 737: General Surgery I (5 credits)
  • PAS 739: Internal Medicine I (5 credits)
  • PAS 741: Mental Health I (5 credits)
  • PAS 743: Pediatrics I (5 credits)
  • PAS 745: Women's Health I (5 credits)
  • PAS 747/PAS 748: Internal Medicine III OR Family Medicine III (5 credits)
  • One elective rotation (5 credits) - see below
  • PAS 756: Summative Experience (1 credit)

Upon completion of the clinical training, students will participate in a one-credit Summative Experience. In addition to taking the PACKRAT examination (which does not impact student placement in the PA Program), students will participate in assessments for knowledge, technical skills, interpretation, and performance of diagnostic evaluations. The Summative Experience must be successfully completed as one of the final requirements for program completion.

Total credits: 46

Elective Rotations

Choices for the elective rotation are:

  • PAS 760: Cardiology (5 credits)
  • PAS 762: Dermatology (5 credits)
  • PAS 733: Emergency Medicine II (5 credits)
  • PAS 749: Endocrinology (5 credits)
  • PAS 735: Family Medicine II (5 credits)
  • PAS 750: Gastroenterology/Hepatology (5 credits)
  • PAS 738: General Surgery II (5 credits)
  • PAS 740: Internal Medicine II (5 credits)
  • PAS 742: Mental Health II (5 credits)
  • PAS 751: Nephrology (5 credits)
  • PAS 752: Neurology (5 credits)
  • PAS 753: Orthopedic Surgery (5 credits)
  • PAS 744: Pediatrics II (5 credits)
  • PAS 754: Trauma (5 credits)
  • PAS 755: Urgent Care (5 credits)
  • PAS 746: Women's Health II (5 credits)

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
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