Program Mission, Goals & History
The primary mission of the University of North Dakota Department of Physician Assistant Studies is to prepare selected students to become competent physician assistants working collaboratively within the health care team, emphasizing primary care in rural communities.
The vision of the University of North Dakota Physician Assistant Program is to strive for continued excellence in PA education while developing competent graduates to provide comprehensive quality health care to all. This will occur through innovation in teaching with technology and incorporating novel methods of simulation throughout the unique curriculum. This, combined with collaboration with clinical sites will enhance application of learning allowing the UND PA Program within the School of Medicine & Health Sciences to become the PA program of choice for both students and employers looking for primary care providers.
- Education – foster critical thinking skills for the life-long learning of students, faculty and staff
- Innovation – commit to excellence by continual program assessment and improvement
- Commitment - demonstrate accountability to the student, program, institution and profession
- Professionalism – model ethical behavior and team-based collaboration with compassion, care and respect
The Departmental approach to education is based on the philosophy that students are highly motivated and each have unique personal and professional experiences. While the faculty and preceptor serve as catalysts, learning is the responsibility of the student. The interdisciplinary teaching approach integrates clinical skill and knowledge utilizing multiple techniques to facilitate learning. The goal is preparation of the student as a primary care provider in a variety of settings, utilizing a problem-oriented approach to logical thinking and sound judgment.
Furthermore, the Program faculty believes that physician assistants are accountable and responsible for the quality of their practice and for life-long learning to assure their ability to continually improve the care they deliver.
A unique characteristic of the UND PA Program is the completion of the majority of clinical experiences in the office of a practicing primary care provider. Students are assured experiences with common primary care conditions in a clinical practice setting. It is under the guidance and supervision of the preceptor in an individualized teaching relationship that the student gains clinical competencies and accomplishes role integration. This is closely monitored and augmented by the Program faculty.
The Department of PA Studies at UND values differences within and between groups of people and appreciates individuality that contributes to distinguishable variations in practices, beliefs, or traditions. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are woven into the curriculum as students prepare to become culturally responsive physician assistants providing inclusive and comprehensive quality health care to all.
Student Learning Goals
Medical Knowledge; Patient Care; and Interpersonal and Communication Skills
Student Learning Goal 1: Integrate critical thinking skills with medical knowledge and patient care to provide entry level primary health care services for a diverse population in a variety of settings.
Objective 1.1: Understand basic sciences of anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology and pharmacology necessary to practice medicine as a physician assistant.
Objective 1.2: Assess the health status of individuals of all ages by obtaining a history and physical examination, recommending and interpreting diagnostic studies, diagnosing, and developing a management plan for primary care conditions.
Objective 1.3: Apply principles of health promotion and disease prevention to provide primary health care across the lifespan.
Objective 1.4: Provide counseling, patient education, interventions, and appropriate referral for promotion, maintenance, and restoration of optimal levels of health for individuals of all ages, families, and communities.
Objective 1.5: Refine interpersonal and communication skills to result in effective information exchange with patients, families, and members of the professional health care team.
Student Learning Goal 2: Develop professional physician assistant/physician primary health care teams throughout primary care curriculum.
Objective 2.1: Demonstrate a high level of responsibility and ethical practice while acknowledging professional and personal limitations.
Objective 2.2: Understand the importance of the team approach to health care and work closely with physician preceptors to develop trusting relationships and strong medical practice ethic.
Practice-Based Learning and Improvement
Student Learning Goal 3: Engage in critical analysis of practice experience, medical literature and informational resources for the enhancement of patient care outcomes and self-improvement.
Objective 3.1: Gain a basic understanding of research methods and statistical analysis to improve comprehension of medical research studies and incorporate findings into clinical practice.
Objective 3.2: Self-assess gaps in medical knowledge, inherent population bias awareness and physical limitations to increase self-improvement.
Student Learning Goal 4: Prepare physician assistants who will serve the societal, organizational and economic environments as health care advocates and role models for future physician assistant students as well as members of the professional health care team.
Objective 4.1: Maintain awareness of and responsiveness to ethical issues, patient safety and the larger system of health care to provide optimal value to patient care.
Objective 4.2: Advance professional role identity and accountability as a primary care provider developing leadership skills and responsibility to serve as physician assistant mentors within the profession.
- Provide a comprehensive academic and clinical educational experience for students and achieve first time PANCE scores at or above the national average and aggregate scores at 100%.
- Prepare graduates to be lifelong learners in clinical medicine.
- Prepare graduates to meet primary care workforce needs.
- Develop a culture of community involvement by providing service opportunities.
Competencies for the PA Profession was created from a collaborate effort among the four national PA organizations (PAEA, NCCPA, ARC-PA, and AAPA). The document defines the knowledge, skills, and professional attitudes required for physician assistant practice. The UND PA Program has adopted these competencies as program outcomes to set the tone for what is required of students upon completion of the program as they prepare to enter clinical practice.
The UND Physician Assistant Program was established in 1970 at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences in response to health workforce shortages and the lack of access to primary health care in rural communities. Initially, the Program was designed to build upon the existing clinical skills of independent duty medical corpsmen returning from the Vietnam conflict to prepare them for a role in civilian primary health care delivery. The Program adopted an adult learning, competency-based curriculum (MEDEX) developed by the University of Washington.
In 1972, the Program turned to experienced registered nurses for its applicant pool. The Program's goal was to expand and extend the role of RNs in community-oriented rural and underserved primary care practice settings. From then until January 2004, a Physician Assistant Certificate was given to all who successfully completed the 12-month Program. And from 1972 to 1992, those who qualified received dual certification as a Physician Assistant and a Family Nurse Practitioner.
In 2003, the Program joined the Department of Family Medicine and moved to a graduate-level program, offering a Master of Physician Assistant Studies. The length of the program progressed to 24 months to facilitate more instruction in basic sciences as the foundation of medical practice. In 2006, the Program expanded the applicant pool by accepting not only registered nurses, but experienced clinical health care professionals from other disciplines with the same philosophy to expand the health care role of those in rural and underserved communities.
In July 2014, the Physician Assistant Program became its own Department of Physician Assistant Studies. Currently, an admission structure has been implemented to include science majors with health care experience, in addition to licensed health care professionals. The educational model and content delivery methods remain the same throughout the 24-month curriculum, which include a combination of online coursework, classroom experiences on campus, and clinical experiences under the supervision of a physician or physician assistant in rural primary care.
In 2020, the program celebrated its 50th anniversary. To date, the Program has nearly 2000 graduates who are employed throughout the U.S. (including Hawaii, Alaska, and the Virgin Islands), Canada, and overseas.