The top physician assistant programs are never created equally. Something that students may not understand is that physician assistant programs are very diverse, so they are advised to do heavy research before potentially wasting their time on applying to such a program that is not well-suited to their wants and their needs. To illustrate this point, consider some of the meaningful differences between some physician assistant programs. Some of the physician assistant programs focus on contrasting specialties; some will have a focus in surgical care while others will be focused on primary care.
The differences between these programs do not stop here. Students must also consider that some physician assistant programs give their students an opportunity to earn a master’s degree, yet other programs limit what their students can earn to just an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree or even a graduate certification! Similarly, some physician assistant programs last just 2 years altogether, yet there are some select ones that can take just a little longer to complete. Still other programs can cost students only a few thousand dollars for tuition, yet this is in contrast to different programs that can run students as much as $20,000.
For all of these reasons and more, it will serve students well to make sure they conduct a very meticulous review of the top physician assistant programs in their area so that they will not have regrets about joining the wrong one.
The top physician assistant programs ought to be properly accredited, but in the off chance that some of them are not, students can face a huge dilemma after investing all that time and money in completing said programs. The reason is that students who graduate from a physician assistant program that has not been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs are not going to be eligible to find work as physician assistants! Talk about being taken in vain and doing all that work for nothing! Therefore to avoid such an unjust mishap, students are encouraged to check, double check and then check again the program of their choice to ensure that they get into an accredited physician assistant program only.
2. Program Focus
Essentially speaking, the program focus of each physician assistant program pertains to what type of specialty within the physician assistant profession said program covers. For example, some physician assistant programs focus on specialties like psychiatry or primary care instead of on other specialties like internal medicine. To determine what specific program focus is covered by the physician assistant program of their choice, students should, again, be very meticulous in evaluating the physician assistant program that they are thinking of applying to. Physician assistant programs put some emphasis on the program focus with regard to their selection criteria. So for instance, if one of the top physician assistant programs declares that its selection criteria is in part based on the focus of primary care or psychiatry, students who have no work experience in either field will probably be at a disadvantage in the application process.
Students who want to apply based upon a program’s certain selection criteria should bear the following in mind. Schools like the Albert Einstein Medical Center Physician Assistant Emergency Medicine Residency specialize in the field of emergency medicine whereas the Duke University Medical Center specializes more in a field such as surgery.
3. What Degree to Obtain?
Students with an interest in the top physician assistant programs always ask themselves if they should go for a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree if they are eventually enrolled in a physician assistant program. In the past, it used to be that students could get away with, so to speak, just earning a bachelor’s degree at a physician assistant program. However, the trend in recent years has been that more and more new graduates from physician assistant programs are actually earning a master’s degree. To illustrate this point, the following example needs to be highlighted. Stats show that as recently as 1997, only 8 percent of all physician assistant graduates had a master’s degree! However, just 11 years later in 2008, a whopping 43 percent of all physician assistant graduates possessed a master’s degree! That astounding jump in the number of graduates who hold the far superior degree shows the increasing popularity of this degree. It will be required for physician assistants who plan to either become faculty members at a university or hold a teaching position.
4. Pass-Fail Rates
What are pass-fail rates, exactly? Well, these rates are the proportion of graduates from any given physician assistant program that goes on to pass the national boards. This piece of information is so very important that students are urged—not just advised, but urged!—to demand this information from every single physician assistant program that they are considering applying to. Students must ask for the FIRST-TIME pass-fail rates since the overall rates are useless because some students will eventually pass the national boards on subsequent tries. However, graduates who fail to pass the national boards the first time are less likely to do so on subsequent tries.
Based on the above information, intelligent students should begin to pick up on the fact that the top physician assistant programs are all different from each other and not created equally by any means. What does this mean for students intending to become physician assistants? Well, for starters, it means that students should be very circumspect with regard to the physician assistant programs that they evaluate. For instance, it would be totally worthless for students who want to specialize in internal medicine physician assistant jobs to evaluate one program, only to find out later on that it actually focuses on primary care! Properly evaluating a program beforehand can help to cut down on these unfortunate wastes of time. Other factors that new students should carefully look at are what type of degree to obtain, what are the pass-fail rates of programs are and the accreditation of programs.