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 Program: Success at Meeting Program Goals

A Qualified, Diverse Student Body

Goal: Attract an academically qualified, diverse student body with special consideration for veterans and those from economically or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Penn State Physician Assistant Program continues to achieve its goal of enrolling academically and clinically prepared students who also bring in disadvantaged and/or underrepresented backgrounds to our program. The PA Program believes that our holistic review process brings together the right mixture of academic preparedness and diverse clinical and personal backgrounds of its accepted students. We will continue to collect this data regarding our student applicants and matriculants so that we continue to enroll students who are academically capable of meeting our academic and professional standards and who will represent our profession proudly.

Student-reported disadvantages are as follows:

Number of disadvantages reported, by class, are as follows:

See full entering class profiles, including disadvantage data.

Critical Thinking Skills

Goal: Promote application of learning and development of critical thinking skills.

The Penn State Physician Assistant Program ensures that our students and graduates are able to think critically and apply what they know to the clinical setting. The assessment strategies are written in order to have the students apply medical knowledge into one of the following criteria: most likely diagnosis, next step in the evaluation process (clinical intervention, therapeutics), medication knowledge (first line agents, indications, contraindications, adverse events, use of a medication with underlying conditions or other settings where drug to drug interaction is important to realize, medication use in the setting of failing organs such as the heart, liver, or kidneys), ordering and interpretation of diagnostic studies (imaging, laboratory tests, electrocardiograms), scientific concepts (based upon pathophysiology and physiologic principles in both wellness and illness), and health maintenance/prevention techniques.

The Penn State Physician Assistant Program also is dedicated to team-based learning (TBL) principles in which the classroom is flipped and students participate in a pre-class activity in which they gain information about a topic. The information can be via live or recorded lecture, article, book chapter, or grand rounds presentation. Students then participate in an individual readiness assurance test (iRAT) and then take the same assessment as a group (gRAT) where they work together and discuss topics prior to erasing the choice on specialized scantrons. The primary advantage to TBL occurs as these groups of students are presented with authentic clinical situations where they are provided with information about a patient and then they need to make a clinical decision about this patient while considering relevant information about this particular patient. Applying this information to authentic situations in a group format develops critical thinking and application skills and is another way in which the Penn State PA Program prepares its students for their role as Physician Assistant Clinicians and contributing members of today’s team-based practice.

Our outcome data demonstrates our ability to perform well on the national boards. One of the highest performing tasks above the mean for our inaugural class was in the area of application of scientific knowledge.

See full PANCE data here.

We will and will continue to collect and analyze data as our students mature through their educational adventures.

Preparing Competent, Compassionate Practitioners

Goal: Enable graduates to practice competent and compassionate health care with emphasis in primary care.

Goal: Prepare students for their role as clinicians, professionals, educators, and leaders in the physician assistant profession.

Student survey results regarding entrustable professional activities found that our students viewed their own performance as either better than expected or as expected in the following circumstances:

  • Gathering a history and performance of a physical examination
  • Development and prioritization of a differential diagnosis after a clinical encounter
  • Recommendation and Interpretation of diagnostic studies and screening tests
  • Discussion and ordering of medications
  • Entering documentation on electronic or written patient record
  • Oral presentation of a clinical encounter
  • Formulation of clinical questions and Retrieval of Evidence to advance patient care
  • Giving or Receiving Patient Information during a Transition of Care
  • Collaborative ability as a member of the health care team
  • Recognition of a patient in need of urgent or emergent care and initiation of that care
  • Obtaining informed consent
  • Identification of systems failure and Contribution to a Culture of Safety

The inaugural class had a 100 percent on-time completion rate, a 100 percent first-time pass rate, and 100 percent employment as practicing physician assistants within four months of graduation.

The Penn State Physician Assistant Program provides a foundation for primary care practice. As our program further develops, we will be able to track our students’ employment choices throughout their careers and assess how ultimately successful we are for meeting these goals for having our graduates to choose work in primary care. From a compassionate health care provider perspective, we will continue to monitor the professional performance of our students in the clinics and classrooms and will offer guidance as our students further develop their professional attributes that are needed by health care professionals.

Cultural Competency

Goal: Treat the entire patient with cultural competency, addressing physical, medical, psychosocial, and emotional dimensions of the patient.

The students’ survey on the Entrustable Professional Activities revealed that they perceive either better than expected or as expected performance in the following applicable areas:

  • Appraise the limits of one’s own ability to understand the lived experience of another individual
  • Demonstrate compassion, humility, and respect toward self and others

The Penn State Physician Assistant Program acknowledges the important role that patient communication plays in all of our clinical encounters. To that end, we offer our history taking and physical examination course during each of our pre-clinical semesters. Students are provided with the opportunity to gain insight into cultural competency and appropriate communication with standardized patients prior to their actual clinical patients. Dr. David Richard, the Medical Director of the PA Program has weekly hour-long meetings with the preclinical students in order to emphasize the importance of culturally competent communication with various types of patients and he also provides the students with reflective exercises during these sessions in order to evaluate and treat patients from all walks in life and patients at various times in their lifespan-from infancy (where parental communication is vital) all the way through to end of life care and care of the healthy geriatric patient.

Another area of emphasis of this program is with the evaluation and management of patients as people from a holistic standpoint. Penn State College of Medicine was the first medical school in the country to have its own department of humanities and the humanistic treatment of patients and the culture of respect for individuals is part of our educational process at Penn State Hershey. Students are given ample anticipatory guidance with regard to addressing not only the physical well-being of their patients but also appreciating the context in which care is being delivered in both psychosocial and emotional dimensions. The Penn State PA Program hopes to continue the tradition of providing excellent humanistic care for patients who are treated by students and graduates who display these outstanding patient-centered practices.

Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center has adopted four overall goals for this organization:

  • Respect
  • Integrity
  • Teamwork
  • Excellence

The Physician Assistant Program fully supports these strategic initiatives and will likewise work toward the achievement of these goals so that our current and future patients receive an extraordinary patient experience based upon scientific principles and evidence-based care. Penn State Hershey Medical Center has these expectations for its employees and the PA Program will support and reinforce these goals during our educational processes.