Narrowing down your list of potential PA schools from the 200+ choices can be a challenge. But, if your search is focused on programs in the Midwest, rather than the Northeast or South, your search can be a bit simpler as there are fewer programs to choose from.
However, like in the rest of the country, the number of PA programs in the region is growing. One of the newest programs in the Midwest was developed at the College of St. Scholastica (CSS), which earned accreditation in March of 2017 and enrolled its first class last fall.
The program joins a group of other professional-level health education programs offered at CSS including Athletic Training, Exercise Physiology, Health Informatics Information Management, Nursing, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and Social Work.
Located in Duluth, Minnesota, it’s one of four PA programs in the state and focuses on clinical placements in primary care and rural settings.
Dr. Kimberly Lakhan, an assistant professor with the program, was kind enough to chat with me about St. Scholastica’s values and goals, allowing prospective PA students an inside glimpse into the program.
Can you share what the St. Scholastica PA program is looking for in an ideal applicant?
We are committed to our mission to provide primary care medicine to the underserved areas of this region. For that reason, we consider regional factors such as hometown, undergraduate institution, connections to the region, and student career goals that fit with the program's mission in the admissions process.
Admissions preference is given to applicants with a CSS undergraduate degree and those from underrepresented and underserved populations.
The College of St. Scholastica has a long-standing history of supporting veterans in reaching their career goals. The Physician Assistant (PA) program at CSS is committed to our nation's veterans. We offer admissions preference to all veteran applicants. While this does not guarantee admission, it is an acknowledgment of the College's dedication to veterans and their needs.
For all applicants, the admissions committee will consider cumulative and prerequisite GPA, GRE writing score, healthcare experience, volunteer experience and commitment to service of the underserved in the admissions process.
What do you feel are the most important aspects of the program?
Our Benedictine values, along with small class sizes, student support, interprofessional collaboration, and location. Duluth has extensive, year-round outdoor offerings as well as two, large multi-specialty health systems that serve northern Minnesota and northern Wisconsin.
What should prospective students know about the program curriculum?
It is VERY intensive and compact — we cover in 24 months what many programs spread out over 27-30 months, primarily by incorporating our anatomy course into two of our didactic semesters and aligning it with our pathophysiology (Fundamentals of Medicine, a.k.a. FunMed) course and having our students incorporate their Capstone research project into their clinical year.
We do this to try and make it more cost-effective (i.e., less debt for our students) and time-effective so they can graduate and start their new career a little sooner.
What types of interactions do PA students have with other health professional students through the IPE offered at St. Scholastica?
We have several interactions throughout — for example, our section on concussion is shared with the Athletic Trainer (AT) students, our section on ECGs is shared with the Exercise Physiology students, and we have Physical Therapy (PT) students as TAs for our anatomy lab.
Our second year PA students (PAS2) have the opportunity to do their Capstone poster presentations alongside the occupational therapy (OT), PT, and AT students. There is also our interprofessional maurices Community Clinic [which provides service to those with little or no insurance and the St. Scholastica Community] where our School of Health Sciences students (PA, PT, OT, etc.) have the opportunity to interact with each other and patients.
Now that the first class is nearing the end of their didactic year, have there been any challenges encountered along the way that may result in changes for future cohorts?
There have not been any significant challenges requiring a change in our curriculum or offerings to our students.
We started with a fantastic cohort of pioneering students and listened to their feedback so that we could make little changes (if needed) along the way. Our first class came in knowing the curriculum would be intensive and very demanding, and they have risen beautifully to meet and embrace it.
Has your program run into any issues with clinical training site shortages?
We have been very fortunate. Minnesota is known for its healthcare and has nine different major health systems in addition to several smaller, regional ones, so there has not been a shortage of clinical training sites, yet.
We recognize that this is an issue nationally, and so we are attempting to be proactive and form lasting relationships with our sites by making sure that our students perform at their highest level possible. Clinical sites are more willing to train good students.
When during the application cycle would be the best time to apply to your program?
We do not have rolling admission. Our review begins after our September 1 deadline, so an applicant can apply anytime prior to 9/1. Best advice is to apply by Aug. 1 to allow CASPA time to process your application.
What is the style of the entrance interviews?
We do not have entrance interviews. Instead we focus on our applicants’ actions — what did they major in, how invested are they in their community, do they have experience in a rural/urban medically underserved community, what is their level of community involvement and volunteerism, what are they passionate about, and what do they know about the PA profession — the challenges, issues, team model of practice, etc.
Our goal is to notify all applicants of an admission decision between December 17 - 21 whether they are accepted, waitlisted, or denied. This is our best estimated timeframe. Offers to waitlisted applicants can be made anytime thereafter up until the program starts.
What do you feel that PA students enjoy the most about your program?
The camaraderie they have developed with each other, the new knowledge and skills that they are learning every day, and the opportunity they have once a month their first year to get into a clinic with a practicing PA/physician/NP and start to interact with patients.
What do you see PA students struggle with the most when they first start PA school?
Study skills — you have to be really smart and really dedicated to get into PA school, and you are used to your study skills working for you. But, the level of intensity in PA school is very high, and the study skills that worked for you as an undergrad aren’t necessarily going to work as well for this. Learning how to study and disseminate A LOT of information in a short time can be difficult, especially that first semester, until you find that groove.
Is there any other information that you would want applicants to know about your program?
Make sure that you are applying to PA school because you want to be a PA, not because it's your backup plan for medical school. PA school is medical training in its own right, and the PA profession is something to be very proud of.
To learn more about the College of St. Scholastica's PA program requirements, mission, available information sessions, and program goals, check out the St. Scholastica PA program website.