When considering where to apply to PA programs, one of the earliest parameters many prospect PA students place on their search is the geographic location of a school.
However, if you're a Californian, Texan, or Floridian looking for an in-state program, you'll quickly find that though you live in one of the three most populous states, the ratio of available programs doesn't match the pool of prospective applicants.
The states with the greatest number of PA programs include New York, the fourth most populous state with 25 programs, and Pennsylvania, the fifth most populous stated with 23 programs.
However, the number of PA programs is growing nationwide, and particularly in the South. Florida alone has added five accredited programs since 2015, bringing the tally to 14.
One of these newer programs at the University of South Florida enrolled its first class in 2017. Located in Tampa, Florida, the 24-month program utilizes traditional lecture, clinical simulation, team-based problem solving, and interprofessional education to train future PAs.
Larry Collins, the assistant program director and an assistant professor with the program, was kind enough to chat with me recently about USF's values and goals.
What do you feel are the most important aspects of the USF program?
Being a 24-month program, we have to have a well-organized curriculum to allow our students to gain the knowledge and expertise required to practice as PAs upon graduation without overwhelming them.
We accomplish this through a robust, systems-based curriculum, utilizing multiple educational strategies, including a great deal of small group problem-based learning activities. We also incorporate multiple collaborative interprofessional academic experiences during the didactic year to expose our students to other health professional students.
Another strength of our program is our clinical year. USF Health has affiliations with numerous community partners, allowing our students to gain clinical expertise in a wide range of settings all located within the Tampa Bay Region. This allows our students to focus on their clinical training without worrying about travel or lodging to other parts of the state.
When reviewing candidates, what kinds of things does the USF PA Program like to see show up on applications?
There is not one specific trait or criteria we look for in an applicant. We really try to look for a broad range of individuals to give each matriculating class a unique and diverse look. Our goal is to select a group of individuals who will be able to foster growth and work together to ensure the success of the entire class.
Are any attributes that are a higher priority than others when considering applicants?
We review all applications individually, seeking those applicants who will most likely be successful in the program. The prerequisites are meant to be a guide for applicants to have a better understanding of what we believe will make for a successful student in our program. We expect that many applicants will have grades, test scores and healthcare hours that exceed the minimums in one or more area. Applicants who at least meet the minimum requirements listed on our website will be considered for an interview.
Can you share what the capstone project looks like for students in your program? What research areas have been explored in recent cohorts?
The Capstone project is the culmination of the research and evidence-based methodology portion of the curriculum. During the spring, students receive training and guidance in the research process, evaluation of medical literature and evidence-based medical practice. Understanding these concepts is essential for the practicing PA to be able to stay current on the changes affecting their practice.
To demonstrate their grasp of this process, students will write a critical paper, on a topic of their choosing, under the guidance of a faculty mentor. Students have selected a wide range of topics, from treatment options for specific conditions, to comparing surgical outcomes for newer versus traditional procedures, to the burden of chronic disease on a specific population.
What is the style of the entrance interviews for the program?
Interview sessions are a half-day in length and typically involve 6-8 candidates per session. There is an orientation to the program with Q & A. Each applicant then interviews individually with two different members of the admissions committee. Applicants also go on a tour of our facilities, hosted by current first or second year PA students. Finally, there is a wrap-up session to answer any lingering questions and to discuss our selection process and timetable.
What is your favorite interview question to ask prospective PA students?
Each member of our admissions committee has the flexibility to demonstrate their own style of interview, as well as to ask questions important to their review of the individual applicant. Interviews are an opportunity for the admissions committee to learn more about each applicant and for the applicant to learn more about our program and USF Health.
During the interview, our admission committee has the opportunity consider specific attributes of each applicant. These attributes may include problem-solving, insight/self-confidence, communication skills, professionalism, motivation to become a PA and understanding the role of the PA in healthcare today.
How do you anticipate filling the class through the application cycle? Do you have rolling admissions or a set number of students accepted for each interview cohort?
Applications are reviewed as soon as they are received. Applicants who meet the minimum requirements listed on our website are considered for an interview. We start sending out invitations for interviews in late August or early September. Interviews are typically conducted in October and November. The class is selected from the interviewed candidates as the interview process is completed.
Is there any other information not available on the website that you would want applicants to know about your program?
All of the faculty here at USF are happy, and available, to answer any questions about our program for anyone considering applying to the program or with general questions about the PA profession or PA educational process.
To learn more about this growing program or connect with faculty members, be sure to swing by the USF PA Program website for all of the program details.