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Study Uncovers Hurdles for Underrepresented Students in PA Program Admissions

While different culturesmake up the U.S. population, PAs and other health care professionsdon’toften reflect this diversity.

This gap may have significant implications, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Physician Assistant Education (JPAE).

The study titled “The Influence of Patient Care, Shadowing, and Volunteer Experience on Diverse Applicant MatriculationInto Physician Assistant/Associate Programs” highlights the importance of obtaining patient care,shadowing and volunteer experience in order to improve the chances of matriculation for both underrepresented in medicine (URiM) and non-URiM applicants.

“This study examined the influence of health care-related preadmission experiences on PA program matriculation,” the study authors explain. “The study findings suggest that lack of experience hours may hinder URiM student access to PA education.”

The study also sheds light on the challenges URiM applicants face in accessing these experiences and how that likely impacts their matriculation into PA programs.

While the U.S. is increasingly diverse; the proportion of PAs from URiM groups, including Black and Hispanic communities, has not kept pace. URiM applicants, compared to their non-URiM counterparts, reported higher proportions of having no patient care experience (24.3% vs. 17.9%), shadowing (31.7% vs. 21.7%) or volunteering (32.2% vs. 26.9%).

These experiences also intersect with grades. The average overall GPA for students to be admitted into a PA Program is 3.6, according to a2020Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) report.

Among URiM applicants, various levels of patient care, shadowing and volunteer experience had a greater influence on the odds of matriculation among those with a GPA of 3.6 or lower, compared to those with a GPA of 3.6 or greater.

The challenge of gaining admission to PA school is compounded for individuals from historically disadvantaged backgrounds, where conventional admissions criteria heavily rely on metrics such as grades and test scores, potentially overlooking highly capable students from underrepresented backgrounds.

The study suggest that programs may want to focus on weighting academic achievements, direct patient care experience and prior achievements more appropriately for all applicants when reviewing the applicant pool.

“Exploring new approaches to admissions and comparing experience requirements between programs with higher URiM representation and typical programs could lead to meaningful progress,” saidMirela Bruza-Augatis, MS, PA-C, an NCCPA research scientist and co-author of the study. “When PA programs continue to promote equity and inclusion, we can create a more representative and diverse health care workforce where patients ultimately benefit.”

To read the complete study,click here.