Before delving into the average length of a physician assistant program, you should confine the possibilities to schools that have ARC-PA accreditation. When it comes time to apply for a state license, this accreditation is paramount.
ARC-PA is the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. Their website attests to 254 accredited institutions whose names are listed, along with the date when the school first received the designation. They have been the accrediting organization since January 1, 2001 – before that, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs had the duty.
Most PA programs run for 24 to 28 months, either continuously or non-continuous. The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences has a continuous 28-month, full-time program that starts each May and ends in August – two years later. Your studies have two phases; first, there is the classroom, seminars, laboratory, patient simulation, and some clinical work. Following 13 months of the didactic portion, students proceed to 15 months of intensive clinical rotations. Students rotate through Family Medicine to various specialties, like Orthopedics, Gynecology, Emergency Medicine, Pediatrics, and General Surgery, for example.
Western University in Pomona, California, has a two-year PA program, which is similar to the above example. This Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies (MSPA) consists predominantly of Class Time in the first year with 25 hours a week. According to the pie chart, students will have 60 hours a week of studying and two hours a week of volunteer clinical work.
During the second year at Western, the study time is much less – at 35 hours weekly. Students devote the remainder of the week to clinical rotations (45 hours) and preparing a Master’s Thesis (4 hours).
Individuals researching for prospective PA programs might be surprised to find one at a community college. One would not expect a master’s level degree to be available at such an institution; however, Red Rocks Community College has two campus locations in Colorado. Their 27-month program started in 1998 and has had ARC-PA accreditation ever since its establishment. The college attests that it is the first community college in the United States to offer a master’s degree!
The Red Rocks PA program adheres to the typical division of studies between didactic or classroom seminars and clinical practice. The former begins each August with two consecutive semesters of full-time coursework, followed by eight weeks of procedural training. The nest phase is two supervised clinical experiences, then back to the classroom for six more weeks.
Upon graduation at Red Rocks, you will have completed twelve Supervised Clinical Practice Experiences (SCPEs) and one research rotation. Each SCPE lasts four weeks and consists of rotations through areas as internal medicine, pediatrics, surgery, behavioral health, emergency medicine, and more. Your clinical work takes you into operating rooms, rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, prisons, outpatient clinics, and Indian Reservations.
What will I study?
We’ve established that the average or typical program lasts 27-28 months. And during the first year, the emphasis is on classroom studies and seminars. Also, as outlined, you should expect long hours of self-study to keep up with the academic phase.
Consider a PA program as a four-year medical school program condensed into two years. Therefore, students learn through lectures, self-study, and clinical practice about all disciplines of medicine. The following are random examples selected from PA programs offered in the U.S.
- Hematology, Infection, Inflammation, and Malignancy
- Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Conditions
- Gastrointestinal, Genitourinary, and Renal Conditions
- Ear, Nose, and Throat Care
- Endocrinology and Reproduction
- Bacteriology, Parasitology, and Virology
- Pharmacology and Pharmatherapeutics
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Pathology and Pathophysiology
- Medical Genetics
- Immunology and Microbiology
- Clinical Laboratory: Imaging and Diagnostic Tests
The list of courses varies by program; however, there are similarities among the majority. Worth noticing is the absence of the physical sciences, like chemistry and biology. Students should have taken these subjects during their undergraduate Bachelor of Science program. Anyone without a strong foundation in the sciences starting in high school may struggle throughout a PA program.
As a requirement for admission, students may need 16 hours of biology, 15 hours of chemistry, and 9 hours of psychology as an undergraduate. These hours are necessary before applying to the PA program at Des Moines University. Another crucial requirement is direct patient care experience before admissions will consider your application. Des Moines specifies a minimum of 750 supervised hours at a hospital, medical office, or extended-care facility.
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