PA program earns 100 percent PANCE pass rate

by Luanne Williams

For the third time in five years, every member of Wingate’s PA graduating class passed the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam on the first try. The 100-percent pass rate for the class of 2020 brings the program’s five-year PANCE average to 99 percent.

The Wingate PA program has met or exceeded the national average for the past eight years, surpassing the 2020 national rate by five points. Dr. David Weil, director of the program, credits the track record to the hard work of the faculty and to tenacious students who finished the program strong last month despite challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We have some tired faculty who worked really hard to make it happen,” Weil said. “And being in the middle of a pandemic is a heck of a way to finish your program.”

It’s been a red-letter month for physician assistants, with the occupation rising to the top spot on both the 100 Best Jobs list and the Best Healthcare Jobs list in U.S. News & World Report’s 2021 Best Jobs rankings. The report was released Jan. 12.

Weil, who took the helm of Wingate’s program in July, made it clear that although he is proud of the pass rate, he is even more excited about the individual PAs that the University is sending out to serve their communities (54 this year and 424 since 2010).

“Our first goal is to graduate outstanding clinicians. To have the benefit of a 100 percent pass rate and quickly get those clinicians into the workforce is icing on the cake,” he said. “We don’t teach to the test.”

Wingate PA students work on prosthetic arm

The William and Loretta Harris Department of Physician Assistant Studies has a stated mission of “developing educated, productive and ethical physician assistants to serve the healthcare needs of the community in which they practice.” That mission is accomplished by faculty who are passionate about giving students the personal attention and instruction they need in order to excel in six areas: medical knowledge, interpersonal and communication skills, patient care, professionalism, practice-based learning and system-based practice.

And although they don’t teach to the test, professors do equip students with a weeklong PANCE prep course that just this year went virtual and has been approved by the American Academy of Physician Assistants as a source of continuing medical education (CME) credits for PAs.

“For our weeklong PANCE review – a refresher on all the things our students have learned – we bring in a lot of faculty as well as outside experts,” explained Taylor Fischer, assistant professor. “We had been thinking about recording it. And with COVID, this year we had to so we could do it all virtual.”

With AAPA approval, Wingate is now offering the course lectures, which count for 34.5 CME credit-hours, free to PAs who serve Wingate as preceptors (clinicians who supervise second-year students during their 12 months of clinical rotations).

Weil emphasized the importance of Wingate’s partnerships with the medical community. 

“Our students have to have that hands-on experience,” he said. “We are really thankful for those preceptors who have stuck with us through the pandemic.”

Learn more about the Physician Assistant program, which has locations in Wingate and Hendersonville, and about Weil, who was tapped to lead the department last summer.

January 19, 2021