Due to the competitiveness of getting into PA school, many applicants feel that getting into any program would be just fine with them. However, there are many factors to consider when selecting a PA program, because all programs are not alike. If you choose to apply to the wrong program(s), you may be in for a rude awakening when it comes to getting a quality training experience and/or being prepared to take the certification examination (PANCE) when you graduate.
If you choose a program that is a good fit for your background and goals, and a program that is well established, your chances of getting a quality education and passing your certification exam will be excellent.
Here are five tools to consider when selecting a PA program:
- Visit my website (andrewrodican.com) and click on “PA Programs Directory & PANCE Rates” to find a listing of current PA programs. The list contains all the accredited PA programs in the United States. Additionally, research the goals and mission of the program. Perhaps they really have a focus on community service. What if you have no history of doing community service? This program may not be a good fit for you. Additionally, you can search for information on tuition, prerequisites, financial aid, test scores, essay requirements and content, curriculum, and clinical rotations.
- Check the accreditation status of the program(s). You must make sure the program you’re applying to is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA.) If you do not graduate from an accredited PA program, you will not be eligible to sit for the national boards (PANCE), administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA,) and you will not be able to get certified.
- Find out the focus of the program(s). Certain programs mention a specific focus in printed literature or on the Internet. For instance, the City University of New York (CUNY) Harlem Hospital Center PA Program focuses on practice in underserved areas. Is this consistent with your goals? If you have no experience working in underserved populations, you may not be a competitive applicant to CUNY Harlem Hospital Center’s program.
- Find out the program’s five-year, first-time, pass/fail rate on the NCCPA certification examination. I stress the five-year, first-time pass/fail rate on the NCCPA exam. Remember, if you can’t pass the boards, you can’t become certified and works as a PA until you do. Look for a program with a first-time pass/fail rate in the mid to high 90th percentile. You can find the 2018 PA Program PANCE rates on my website under “Resources.”
- Attend the “Open House,” or set up meetings with the program director and some students, if possible. If possible, be sure to attend the program’s “open house.” The open house is a fantastic opportunity to network with students and faculty, and to ask questions about the qualities the program values most in applicants and students. The visit will also provide you with an idea of the culture of the program and the facilities available to students (library, cadaver lab, medical school, etc.)
Additionally, if possible, set up a one-on-one meeting with the program director. This is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the program and demonstrate your passion for the PA profession and make a great first impression.
It is also a clever idea to connect with some of the current students. Find out what they like and don’t like about the program. This information can be invaluable at the interview. There are also PA student societies at many programs, which you can find online.
Here are the resources you should use to become an expert on any given PA program:
- Program’s Website
- Student Blogs
- Student section of the PA Forum (physicianassistantforum.com)
Doing your homework on the program always pays off!