A patient sits on a table and is examined by two professors in a physician assistant class.If professors in Wingate’s Physician Assistant Studies Program have a little more spring in their step these days, it may have something to do with how December 2016 grads performed on their national exams. All 48 passed the PANCE (Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam) on their first try, giving the program a 100-percent pass rate for the second time in four years and marking the fifth year in a row that Wingate’s rate surpassed the national average.

“A PA program needs mature and academically strong students to complete the rigorous program and pass the PANCE, but the dedication of the faculty and clinical preceptors is at the core of a successful program,” says Rosalind Becker, associate professor and director of the Harris Department of Physician Assistant Studies. “The Wingate PA Program is honored to have both.”

Wingate’s Levine College of Health Sciences began offering the PA Program in 2008 and graduated its first class in 2010. There are now 95 students enrolled: 77 on the Wingate campus and 18 in Hendersonville.

Female students look intently at laptop screens.Becker says curriculum revisions over the first couple of years and incorporating feedback from graduates have helped the program achieve and maintain its goal of having a pass rate at or above the national average, which this year is 96 percent.

“In 2011 the curriculum was revised to increase academic rigor,” she explains. “Content of core classes (Clinical Medicine, Pharmacology, Pathophysiology and Patient Assessment) was reorganized so that disease states and organ-system components were taught simultaneously across those classes.”

After an analysis of graduate exit surveys, electrocardiogram and radiology, initially incorporated into the Clinical Medicine classes, were moved to a stand-alone course.

Becker says the bottom line is that Wingate PA students understand that they begin preparing for PANCE — a five-hour, 300-question test — the day they start the program. Additionally, she said, their post-graduate performance has an impact on the program well beyond exam day.

“Many of our graduates are employed in the greater Charlotte area and have an excellent reputation as healthcare providers,” Becker says. “This in turn promotes awareness of our program, leading to local applicants applying and medical practices recruiting our graduates.”

She points out that not only is Wingate’s program less than a decade old, but the profession itself is still relatively young. The first physician assistants were trained at Duke University in 1965.

“Public awareness of the profession continues to grow, and it’s important to continue educating the public about PAs,” she says.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for physician assistants is expected to grow 30 percent between 2014 and 2024. As of May 2015, there were 4,290 PAs working in North Carolina. Median annual pay for PAs is just over $98,000.

Wingate’s PA program features 10 clinical rotations. Its second year of study is almost entirely focused on clinical work so that graduates are job-ready when they finish the 27-month program.

March 15, 2017