Program Design & History
The UND Physician Assistant Studies Master's Program is 24 months in length. The Program begins with an on-campus orientation in May followed by two semesters of online coursework focusing on basic science content. While the coursework is delivered entirely from a distance, there are scheduled dates and times for online examinations, videoconference sessions and/or phone conferences.
In January, the primary care course series begins. For the full calendar year, the student will experience rotating classroom instruction and clinical experiences in a sequential approach. Classroom instruction (referred to as didactic) is conducted on the UND campus for three separate occasions of 4-5 weeks each. This instruction is followed by supervised clinical practice experiences in a longitudinal primary care clinical setting. Alternating classroom and clinical learning, where each content session is followed by a clinical practice experience, provides immediate application of concepts resulting in greater development and retention of clinical competencies. During this time the student also completes additional online courses in diagnostic studies, evidence-based medicine and professional issues.
The final semester consists of 16 weeks of specialty clerkship clinical rotations, completion of a scholarly project, and a final didactic session on campus for testing, review, and additional instruction on medical practice and management.
During each clinical phase, a member of faculty communicates with the student/preceptor team to monitor specific areas of experience needed by the student to meet the educational goals of the Program and to facilitate role development. This is done by site visit, video conferencing and/or phone conference. The Program is individualized as much as possible to meet the needs of the each student.
The Program is competency-based, which means that in order to graduate, each student must be able to demonstrate competencies in performing patient assessment and patient management functions, successfully complete comprehensive testing, and have completed a research project.
The UND Physician Assistant Program was established in 1970 at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences Department of Community Medicine 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/underserved primary care.
In 2020, the program is celebrating 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. The success in meeting the mission is evidenced by the following over the past three graduating classes:
- 69% of recent graduates are employed in primary care practices.
- 86% of recent graduates reside in same city or town where they graduated (trained and retained as medical providers in home areas)
- 48% of recent graduates are practicing in a rural areas (defined as 25,000 or less population)