Education and Training
There are currently 229 accredited PA programs, the vast majority of which offer a master’s degree1. Those which do not will be required to do so by 2020.1 All incoming PA students have at least a bachelor’s degree with prerequisite coursework including human anatomy/physiology, biochemistry, microbility, statistics, genetics, and psychology. 2 The average accepted students GPA is 3.58. PA students come into a program with an average of three years of direct patient contact experience through working as a paramedic, athletic trainer, medical assistant, or in other careers within medicine.
PA educational programs take approximately 26 months (three academic years) to complete, with PA students completing coursework in basic sciences, behavioral sciences, and clinical medicine in subjects such as human anatomy (including cadaver dissection), pharmacology, surgical principles and procedures, microbiology, physiology, diagnostic methodology, history and physical examination, clinical skills labs, women’s health, emergency medicine, public health, behavioral health, pediatric, geriatrics, among others.2 This is followed by more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations in family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, general surgery, emergency medicine, and psychiatry,2 during which PA students receive the hands-on training necessary to prepare them for PA practice. PAs have a strong foundation in primary care, but their rigorous and comprehensive education also enables them to practice in a variety of specialty areas. All PA programs in the US are accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). This accreditation ensures consistent content and quality of all programs through the U.S. 5
Prior to initial state licensure, all PAs are required to take and pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE), which is administered by the National Commission for Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). While a minority of states require PAs to maintain their national certification after initial licensure, most PAs (including PAs in Wisconsin) opt to do so anyway due to facility or employer certification requirements. Maintenance of certification currently requires completion of 100 hours of continuing medical education (CME) every two years and passage of the Physician Assistant National Recertifying Exam (PANRE) every ten years (transitioning from a six-year testing cycle).6 PAs are the only healthcare practitioner required to take and pass a high-stakes examination to maintain certification. WAPA is supportive of a State requirement of at least the same 2 hours of CME on prescribing of controlled substances that was recently required of our MD/DO and NP colleagues.
There are five accredited PA programs in Wisconsin: Carroll University, Concordia University, Marquette University, University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, and University of Wisconsin-Madison. Admission to these programs is highly competitive. For example, the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) requires incoming students to have completed courses in anatomy, general biology, microbiology, biochemistry, physiology, upper-level statistics, a minimum grade point average (GPA) of 3.2, and at least 1,000 hours of hands-on patient care.7 Classes are capped at 52 students.4 For the 2016-2017 school year, Carroll University accepted 20 students who had an average undergraduate GPA of 3.67.8 Concordia University admitted 30 students and requires a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0. Marquette University admitted 55 students and requires a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0.9 University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse admitted 19 students who had an average undergraduate GPA of 3.88.10 In 2017, all five Wisconsin PA programs reported a 100% PANCE passage rate for first-time test takers.11-15 While the national pass rate for first-time PANCE takers has yet to be released for 2017, it was 96% in 2016.16
Wisconsin’s PA programs typically partner with local health systems and are focused on improving access to care in rural areas of the state. For instance, UW offers a track for PA students who choose to practice in medically-underserved areas.18 This track, known as the Wisconsin Physician Assistant Community-Based Track, or wisPACT, is a collaboration between UW and Aspirus, Ascension North Region, Marshfield Clinic, and Essentia Health which allows UW PA students to complete their clinical rotations in rural parts of northern Wisconsin.16 Ten of the first 12 graduates from the wisPACT program stayed in rural Wisconsin to practice.16
Despite this emphasis on providing care to rural Wisconsinites, approximately 30-40% of Wisconsin’s PA program graduates leave the state when they begin practice. Improving Wisconsin’s PA practice laws could lead to more PAs staying in the state.
1: Accredited Programs. ARC-PA. http://www.arc-pa.org/accreditation/accredited-programs/. Accessed January 24, 2018.
2: Curriculum Report 1: Prerequisites. PAEA. http://paeaonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/CurricReport1_Prereq_2017_For-Upload_2.pdf. Accessed February 12, 2018.
3: By the Numbers: Matriculating Student Survey. PAEA. http://paeaonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/2015-matriculating-student-survey.pdf. Accessed February 12, 2018.
4: Become a PA. American Academy of PAs. https://www.aapa.org/career-central/become-a-pa/. Accessed January 24, 2018.
5:Accreditation. ARC-PA. http://www.arc-pa.org/accreditation/. Accessed February 12, 2018.
6:Maintaining Certification. National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. http://www.nccpa.net/CertificationProcess. Accessed February 7, 2018.
7:PAEA Program Directory, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Physician Assistant Education Association. http://directory.paeaonline.org/programs/1150. Accessed February 7, 2018.
8:Applicant Profile, Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies. Carroll University. https://www.carrollu.edu/academics/health-sciences/graduate/physician-assistant/applicant-profile. Accessed February 7, 2018.
9:PAEA Program Directory, Concordia University. Physician Assistant Education Association. http://directory.paeaonline.org/programs/1012. Accessed February 7, 2018.
10:PAEA Program Directory, Marquette University. Physician Assistant Education Association. http://directory.paeaonline.org/programs/1066. Accessed February 7, 2018.
11:Goals and Outcomes. University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse Physician Assistant Studies. https://www.uwlax.edu/grad/physician-assistant-studies/#tab-goals-and-outcomes. Accessed February 7, 2018.
12:Five Year First Time Taker Summary Report - Carroll University. NCCPA. https://www.carrollu.edu/CarrollUniversity/media/Academics/pdf/general/carrollu-physician-assistant-studies-pance-report.pdf. Accessed February 7, 2018.
13:Five Year First Time Taker Summary Report - Concordia University. NCCPA. https://www.cuw.edu/academics/programs/physician-assistant-masters/_assets/PANCE%20pass%20rate%20report.pdf. Accessed February 7, 2018.
14:Five year NCCPA pass rate summary report for Marquette University.. Marquette University. http://www.marquette.edu/physician-assistant/about-accredidationnccpa.shtml. Accessed February 7, 2018.
15:Five Year First Time Taker Summary Report - University of Wisconsin - LaCrosse. NCCPA. https://www.uwlax.edu/globalassets/academics/grad/physician-assistant-studies/files/2017-national-certifying-examination-five-year-first-time-taker-summary-report.pdf. Accessed February 7, 2018.
16:Five Year First Time Taker Summary Report - University of Wisconsin-Madison. NCCPA. https://www.med.wisc.edu/media/medwiscedu/documents/education/physician-assistant-program/uw-pa-pance.pdf. Accessed February 7, 2018.
17:PANCE Pass Rates. NCCPA. https://prodcmsstoragesa.blob.core.windows.net/uploads/files/PANCEPassRates.pdf. Accessed February 7, 2018.
18:Curriculum. School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin-Madison. https://www.med.wisc.edu/education/physician-assistant-pa-program/curriculum/. Accessed February 7, 2018.
19:Physician Assistants in Wisconsin: Pipelines, Policies, and Practice Data. Wisconsin Council on Medical Education & Workforce. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5a3ac16af14aa15aede6d0ed/t/5a3d35d824a6949857e099a1/1513960920975/WCMEWnewsletterDec2017-1.pdf. Published December 2017. Accessed February 7, 2018.
Wisconsin’s PA Programs