WCU to Welcome Inaugural Class of Physician Assistant Students

David Bjorkgren

West Chester University will welcome the first students into its new Physician Assistant Program this July after successfully applying for accreditation-provisional status from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA).

WCU’s is the only physician assistant program in Chester County.

The first 27 students enrolling this year, selected from more than 850 applicants, will complete the 26-month program and obtain their M.S. in Physician Assistant (PA) Studies in August 2023. Students entering this class are coming to the program from a range of backgrounds, including physical therapy, athletic training, respiratory therapy, nutrition and dietetics, EMT, and have at least a bachelor’s degree and a significant number of science prerequisites. Among the individuals in this cohort are 12 in-state students and 15 from beyond Pennsylvania. 

Grades and GPA are important in WCU’s admissions process but so are direct patient care experience (400 hours minimum, paid or volunteer) and a shadowing experience with a practicing physician assistant (four hours minimum) to ensure that students have a strong understanding of the profession and its demands. The incoming class has an impressive average GPA of 3.61 and 4,800 hours of direct patient care experience. 

“Entering GPAs for PA applicants and acceptance rates are comparable to the competitiveness of medical school,” said Amy Baker, director and faculty member for the Physician Assistant Program. “Physician assistant training is extremely rigorous, but the profession is very rewarding. There is a high demand for graduates due to the recognized value by patients and the healthcare system.”

In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 31 percent increase in job prospects for physician assistants between 2019 and 2029. The profession is currently ranked as the No. 1 Best Job by U.S. News & World Report after being in the top five consistently since 2016. 

Physician assistants practice medicine on collaborative teams with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers. They are increasingly autonomous and can provide many of the same services as physicians, including providing health education, diagnosing, and prescribing. 

WCU’s program will educate physician assistants who can think critically and collaborate with others to address the needs of individual patients and the healthcare community with the highest levels of academic, clinical, ethical, and cultural competence. It follows a medical model with 14 months (five semesters) in the classroom and 12 months in clinical settings (35 to 60 hours a week) for a total of 101 credits. Faculty and students both continue year-round without a summer break. 

Students complete a year of clinical training through required core rotations in family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, behavioral health, women’s health and prenatal care, surgery, and emergency medicine. Also, students can choose from various medical specialties – such as orthopedics, urgent care, neonatology, cardiology, dermatology, and others – for their elective rotation. Clinical experiences may take place regionally with Main Line Health, Chester County Hospital, private physician offices, and clinics, or locations throughout the country. For more information on the WCU Physician Assistant Program, e-mail PAProgram@wcupa.edu.