Filtering through the list of hundreds of available PA programs to find the ones that are the right fit for you can seem like an impossible task.
But, it's one that's made easier when, instead of ruling out programs based on their requirements, you start by contemplating what you want in a PA school.
Understanding what you're might be looking for in a program gets much easier when you have the chance at a behind-the-scenes peek. By going beyond the admissions requirements of just a single program, you'll gain a better understanding of what you might like to seek out in your target programs.
This week, you'll have the chance to do just that with the Union College PA Program. Located in Lincoln, Nebraska, Union College has one of the longer-standing PA programs, established in 1997, and features a small class size, a focus on primary care, and a first-time PANCE pass rate of 100% for its two most recent graduating classes.
And, though now back to the "accreditation-continued" status that every PA program aspires to have, they were temporarily on probation until earlier this year. Through the probationary period, they updated their website to help educate and inform prospective students about the accreditation process and timeline.
As a huge fan of the transparency and of educating future PAs about the accurate interpretation of accreditation statuses, I asked to learn more.
Megan Heidtbrink, MPAS, PA-C, the Union College PA Program Director, was kind enough to chat with me about what prospective students might want to know.
Can you share what you believe to be the most important aspects of the Union College PA Program?
Our program is a thirty-three month program. So, it's a little longer than the average PA program, but that's one of the things that the students and alumni say that they like the most because it allows for a little more time to absorb the material. When students and alumni are surveyed, that aspect comes up a lot, as well as the program having caring faculty and staff.
We are also an Adventist institution, and we run the PA program with Christian values integrated within the curriculum, which stands us apart from other PA programs.
We also do monthly outreach at the homeless clinic where our students go and do foot care for homeless people and offer shoes and socks to them as well. It’s a great opportunity for our students to interact with those that are underserved and to get early exposure to patient care within their first semester of PA school.
Are there attributes that you're looking for in students when you're considering candidates for the program?
We do like to have students that have a focus on servanthood. That's actually one of our end-program goals and something we foster throughout the program.
When they’ve shown that they have a mission heart, it helps a student’s application shine through. However, that doesn't dictate who gets admitted. It's not necessarily a preference. It's just something that we certainly think is important and shows that they have values that align with those of our program.
Additionally, showing professionalism is key. Professionalism and maturity are really important, as is the ability to work on a team. Assessing these areas is certainly easier to do during the interview process. It is a little more difficult to identify when thumbing through the applications, but we try to look for this where we can.
Can you give a little background into how the program was placed on probation and what changes have been made in the program to successfully return to “accreditation—continuing” status?
The major categories of reasons that we were placed on probation were administrative from both an institutional and program standpoint, evaluation and assessment of the program, and, identify program learning outcomes that then could be measured through the clinical year.
The program has worked collaboratively with the institution, and we've developed committees to develop, monitor, and assign resources for the program.
We also created an evaluation and assessment plan that allows for robust and regular review of the program for on-going quality improvement. We also redefined our end-program learning outcomes and pushed our clinical year to have really specific, defined objectives with student assessment tools to measure that.
We were very happy to have a successful outcome with these changes.
So, would you say that the content of the program wasn’t substantially changed?
Correct, the curriculum didn't really change except for some minor alterations within the clinical year, and more so really around how we were measuring outcomes and evaluating things. Overall, the curriculum really was untouched. It was more administrative and evaluation-driven changes that were made.
I think the probation, although very hard on faculty, staff and students, in the end did make us a stronger program.
Does the program have a particular interest in training primary care PAs?
Yes, we do. We approach our curriculum from a family practice perspective. In the clinical year, we have had two family practice rotations as two of our ten core rotations. For this current clinical year, we've actually now combined the two 4-week family practice rotations into one 8-week rotation.
For the elective rotation, I saw that there’s an option to do either two 2-week rotations or a single 4-week rotation. Do students tend to favor one design over the other?
It kind of depends on the cohort. Sometimes, they like to have the option to do multiple electives. Other times, they know exactly what they want to do and so they want to do their elective, for example, in cardiothoracic surgery for four weeks. So, it varies.
Is there anything you can share about the interview style in particular?
It’s very laid back here. We get a lot of applicants and students that later say, "Gosh, we were so nervous and you put us at ease." Our interview style is conversational, and we certainly try not to be intimidating. We just want to get to know the students and want the students to get to know us to make sure it's a good fit on both sides.
Do you have a timeline for when applicants might expect to be invited for interviews?
Our application closes on October 1, and, usually, we interview around the end of October or early November. Once we receive an applicant’s completed file, they might find out that they're invited for an interview before the deadline closes on October 1. But, in general, early October is when they start finding out if they're going to actually be invited for an interview.
They’ll usually know if they have a seat in the program before Christmas.
Are all the admission decisions made after all the interviews are complete? Or are there spots offered before everyone is done interviewing?
We have some early acceptance seats that we have available. However, last year, we had a compressed time period, so we didn't actually use those and waited to determine the thirty seats once everybody was done interviewing.
Do you have a favorite interview question to ask?
I like to hear peoples’ strengths and weaknesses. It's a very cliché question, however, I think it gives some insight into what they perceive themselves to be strong in. Sometimes, some of the other questions don't give the opportunity for them to share this kind of information, and I like that it gives them a chance to present themselves in a positive light.
Is there anything else that you think is important for a potential applicant to know?
I think it's important to understand what the admission requirements are before you apply. Also, be prepared for the interview. Even though it's only for a short period, it certainly is your opportunity to show yourself in a different light than what's on paper. Additionally, what the program offers and what the program’s mission is are important in showing that you are actually interested in the program as opposed to coming to us through random application.
Where can someone learn more about your program?
Our website, www.ucollege.edu/pa, has a lot of details on the program and the admission requirements. It also gives prospective students a way to connect with us for further questions, which are fielded by our admissions coordinator. Any questions sent will go directly to her, and she’ll respond to anyone who wants to know more about our program.
To learn more about the mission, curriculum, and program goals, check out the Union College PA Program website.