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Physician Assistant Student Handbook

The full handbook appears below. The Clinical Education Manual appears here.

If you need any information in either document in another format, please contact the PA program at

Each student will receive a bound copy of the Student Handbook for reference throughout their education experience at Penn State College of Medicine. Students must sign the “Acknowledgement for Receipt and Review” found on the last page of their bound handbooks and return it to the program.

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PA Program Student Handbook: Overview and Objectives

Vision Statement Expand answer

The goal of the Penn State Physician Assistant Program is to obtain and maintain a fully accredited, nationally recognized Physician Assistant program that will attract diverse, academically qualified students committed to the health care professions. It is the Program’s intent to prepare these motivated individuals for their professional roles as Physician Assistants, the national certification examination, and for ultimate employment as Physician Assistants.

Mission Statement Expand answer

The Physician Assistant (PA) Program’s mission is to prepare graduates to be academically, clinically, professionally, and culturally competent in the delivery of health care services to patients in the community in which they will practice. Our PA Program will foster an attitude of student-centered learning which puts the focus of education on preparing its graduates to apply clinical reasoning and an evidence-based approach in a compassionate and comprehensive, cost-effective manner.

Objectives Expand answer
  • Recruit a highly motivated, resilient, academically capable student population.
  • Matriculate a qualified student population that is able to successfully complete the education and training in order to thrive in their professional role as physician assistants.
  • Continue provisional accreditation and attain continuing accreditation by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARCPA).
  • Provide a comprehensive pre-clinical curriculum.
  • Provide sufficient excellent and diverse clinical sites and clinical educational experiences.
  • Focus on providing preventive health care services, care for both acute and chronic disease.
  • Support the development and recognition of the importance of life-long learning and promotion of cultural diversity.
  • Recruit and retain quality faculty and administrative staff.
  • Maintain the necessary facilities, technology, materials, and equipment for exceptional student instruction.
  • Impart necessary biomedical and clinical knowledge and technical skills for learners. This education should provide students with the ability to perform well in the clinical arena and on national standardized tests such as the PACKRAT (Physician Assistant Clinical Knowledge Rating Assessment Tool) and Physician Assistant National Certification Examination (PANCE).
  • Provide interprofessional educational and experiential practice-based experiences that prepares students to perform the tasks, functions, and duties of a Physician Assistant in a team-based health care delivery system.
  • Develop students as professionals, instilling an appropriate professional demeanor and sensibility, along with imparting an understanding of the nature and impact of mental and physical aspects of disease. This will enable students to appropriately manage and treat patients in various settings.
  • Cultivate the fundamental ethical and moral attitudes, principles and behaviors that are essential to acquiring and sustaining the confidence of colleagues, other health care professionals, patients and the community.
  • Broaden the base and depth of biomedical, scientific, and clinical knowledge and skills imparted to Physician Assistants by providing a foundation conducive to competent scholarly inquiry and analysis.
  • Develop an enhanced sense of compassion through service learning while voluntarily caring for patients at LionCare (student operated free medical clinic in Harrisburg).

Philosophical Principles

Compassion Expand answer

We believe that the foundation of all health care begins with compassion for the patient. Compassion necessitates that the practitioner view the patient from the patient’s point of view with the understanding that patients are in a vulnerable and sometimes seemingly hopeless situation. We believe that our students should be able to empathize with the patients and to serve them in a professional and understanding way.

Attentiveness Expand answer

Focusing on the patient and family to demonstrate our caring for this vulnerable population.

Commitment Expand answer

Healthcare is a challenging vocation, and this education depends on a great deal of commitment on the part of the Physician Assistant student. We believe that students matriculating into our program will be consistently challenged throughout their educational process. Healthcare should be a passion for the student, which entails that the student to dedicate himself or herself to becoming the best healthcare provider possible.

Accountability Expand answer

Students are ultimately in charge of their educational journey and will prioritize their mastery of learning this material through conscientious practice and reflection.

Competency Expand answer

Physician Assistants have a great deal of responsibility in the care of their patients. Adequate preparation, both academically and professionally, is needed in order to render the best healthcare possible for our patients. Students enrolled in our program are given the necessary tools for them to become competent healthcare providers through their development of critical reasoning and ability to apply such skills. After completion of the training, our graduates will contribute to the healthcare delivery systems now and in the future.

Expected Graduate Functions and Tasks

Overview Expand answer

As a result of their education and training, graduates of the Penn State Physician Assistant Program learn to perform with competency and proficiency functions and tasks involved in patient: a) evaluation, b) monitoring, c) diagnostics, d) therapeutics, e) counseling, f) referral, and g) prescribing practices.

Evaluation Expand answer

Program graduates will be able to:

  • Elicit a detailed, accurate and comprehensive patient history;
  • Organize and present data from the history and physical examination;
  • Perform an appropriate physical examination for patients across their lifespan in various types of settings;
  • Delineate pertinent problems, if present;
  • Initiate requests for routine and emergency diagnostic procedures;
  • Assist with obtaining specimens and with establishing priorities for appropriate diagnostic and laboratory testing;
  • Evaluate the need for preventive healthcare measures such as vaccinations, routine laboratory and diagnostic studies, and screening procedures (e.g., mammograms, hemoccult testing).
Monitoring Expand answer

Program graduates will be able to:

  • Conduct rounds in acute, ambulatory, and long-term patient care settings;
  • Develop and implement patient management plans;
  • Facilitate the ordering of needed diagnostic tests;
  • Record progress notes.
Diagnostics Expand answer

Program graduates will be able to appropriately order and interpret the following diagnostic tests:

Common Laboratory Tests

  • Blood count, including differential smears and platelet counts, tests of electrolytes, bleeding and clotting times, erythrocyte indices, and erythrocyte sedimentation rates
  • Appropriate cultures
  • Urinalysis
  • Routine stool studies
  • Intradermal skin tests (PPD)
  • Pap smears
  • Serum chemistry studies
  • Arterial blood gases
  • Pulmonary function tests
  • Renal function tests
  • Liver function tests
  • Acute and chronic cardiac tests (lipid profiles, troponin, EKG etc.)

Radiographic Studies

  • Conventional radiograph of the chest, abdomen, and extremities
  • Ultrasound
  • Other imaging studies, including CT scanning, MRI and PET scanning.
Therapeutics Expand answer

Program graduates will be able to:

  • Perform phlebotomies and arterial punctures
  • Administer oxygen therapy
  • Perform nasogastric intubation and gastric lavage
  • Remove impacted cerumen
  • Incise and drain superficial skin infections
  • Remove foreign bodies from eyes, ears and nose (when appropriate)
  • Administer medications via various routes
  • Initiate intravenous catheterization
  • Insert central venous catheters
  • Manage complications due to administration of medications
  • Order and administer immunizations
  • Apply and remove casts and splints
  • Dress and evaluate post-operative wounds
  • Catheterize the urinary bladder
  • Clean, debride, and repair minor lacerations; remove sutures
  • Assist in surgery and obstetrical deliveries
  • Defibrillate and cardiovert patients with life-threatening arrhythmias; operate an automated external defibrillator
  • Follow aseptic and isolation techniques
  • Perform Pap smears
Management of Acute Life Threatening Situations Expand answer

Program graduates will be able to initiate management of acute life-threatening situations such as:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Airway obstruction and respiratory failure
  • Cardiac arrest and other arrhythmias
  • Head trauma; initial management of the traumatized patient
  • Management of a patient with acute vascular insult such as ruptured or dissecting aneurysm
Counseling Expand answer

Program graduates will be able to provide instruction and counseling to patients regarding:

  • Preventive medicine and health promotion techniques
  • The necessity for compliance with prescribed therapeutic regimens
  • Normal growth and development in the pediatric patient
  • Family planning decisions
  • Implications of informed consent and patient education regarding certain diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, diseases, and medications
  • Instruction in patient education for development of healthy lifestyles, along with providing patient insight on the impact of habits and lifestyles on health.
Referral Expand answer

Program graduates will be able to:

  • Recognize their own practice limitations
  • Facilitate timely referral of patients to supervising physicians and others in the interdisciplinary health care team.
Prescribing Practices Expand answer

The graduate will be able to competently prescribe medications according to supervising physician delegation and state law.

Competencies for the Physician Assistant Profession Expand answer

The following program competencies are based on PAEA Core Competencies for New Physician Assistant Graduates (9-7-2019).

1. Patient-Centered Practice Knowledge: Graduates will be able to recognize healthy versus ill patients in the context of the patients’ lives and determine the stage of illness — acute, at risk (emerging), or chronic illness. Graduates will demonstrate the ability to utilize up-to-date scientific evidence to inform clinical reasoning and clinical judgment.

  • PCPK 1.1 Recognize normal and abnormal health states
  • PCPK 1.2 Discern among acute, chronic, and emerging disease states
  • PCPK 1.3 Determine healthy versus ill patients
  • PCPK 1.4 Determine differential diagnosis, order interpret laboratory and imaging, perform necessary core duty procedures, diagnose, treat and manage illness
  • PCPK 1.5 Meaningfully interact with patients who do not have a clear diagnosis despite evaluation and treatment

2. Society and Population Health: Graduates will be able to recognize and understand that the influences of the larger community may affect the health of patients and integrate knowledge of social determinants of health into care decisions.

  • SPH 2.1 Determine the cultural norms, needs, influences, and socioeconomic, environmental, and other population-level determinants affecting the health of the individual in the community being served
  • SPH 2.2 Determine the potential impacts of biology and genetics on patients, and incorporate them into decisions of care
  • SPH 2.3 Propose solutions to address barriers of care, such as health disparities
  • SPH 2.4 Describe the role of structural disparities in illness
  • SPH 2.5 Engage with the health care team in determining the adequacy of individual and community resources
  • SPH 2.6 Identify the scope of practice for a physician assistant
  • SPH 2.7 Apply the fundamental principles of epidemiology
  • SPH 2.8 Identify issues and reflect on possible quality improvement strategies
  • SPH 2.9 Use appropriate literature to make evidence-based decisions regarding patient care

3. Health Literacy and Communication: Graduates will be able to communicate with patients as partners who engage in shared decision-making and who communicate, interpret, and express themselves as individuals with unique personal, cultural, and social values.

  • HLC 3.1 Ascertain patient needs and goals while delivering culturally competent care
  • HLC 3.2 Recognize the need for patients have access to unbiased, professional interpreters and appropriate resources when barriers to communication arise
  • HLC 3.3 Demonstrate the ability to recognize and support emotions during patient care
  • HLC 3.4 Provide effective, equitable, understandable, and respectful quality care and Approved by PAMPEC, July 2020 services that are responsive to diverse cultural health beliefs and practices, preferred languages, health literacy, and other communication needs
  • HLC 3.5 Organize and communicate information with patients and families in a way that is understandable, checking to ensure understanding

4. Interprofessional Collaborative Practice and Leadership: Graduates will be able to recognize that the patient is at the center of all healthcare decisions and to partner with the patient to define the patient’s health care goals.

  • ICPL 4.1 Articulate one’s role and responsibilities to patients, families, communities, and other professionals
  • ICPL 4.2 Advocate for the needs of the patient as a part of the health care team.
  • ICPL 4.3 Determine when referrals are needed and follow the protocols
  • ICPL 4.4 Use the full scope of knowledge, skills, and abilities of available health professionals to provide care that is safe, timely, efficient, effective, and equitable
  • ICPL 4.5 Describe how professionals in health and other fields can collaborate and integrate clinical care and public health interventions to optimize population health

5. Professional and Legal Aspects of Health Care: Graduates will be able to practice medicine in a beneficent manner, recognizing and adhering to standards of care while attuned to advancing social justice.

  • PL 5.1 Participate in difficult conversations with patients and colleagues
  • PL 5.2 Demonstrate respect for the dignity and privacy of patients while maintaining confidentiality in the delivery of team-based care
  • PL 5.3 Demonstrate professional behaviors and accountability to patients and society
  • PL 5.4 Describe the role of the regulatory environment in actual clinical practice

6. Health Care Finance and Systems: Graduates will be able to articulate the essential aspects of value-based healthcare and apply this understanding to the delivery of safe and quality care.

  • HCFS 6.1 Discuss financial implications to the provision of healthcare on individual and global basis
  • HCFC 6.2 Differentiate between the types of health systems, funding streams, and insurance, including the role of Medicare and Medicare as payors

Health and Safety

Infectious Disease Prevention Program Expand answer

See current Student Health guidelines.

The current Infectious Disease Prevention Program policy is available to on-campus users via the Policy Portal. (Login required).

Blood-Borne Exposure Control Program Expand answer

The current Blood-Borne Pathogen Infection Policy is available to on-campus users via the Policy Portal. (Login required).

The Penn State Physician Assistant Program follows the national leader, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and its annual guidelines for occupational exposures, related to potential contamination from potentially infectious blood and body fluids. See the most recent guidelines.

Students will be given the opportunity to review the OSHA Blood-borne Pathogen Standard and will be tested after this self-directed tutorial program. The testing schedule for the OSHA test will be announced, and students are required to successfully complete this examination before any patient contact is initiated.

See the current CDC guidelines on Management of Healthcare Worker Exposures to HIV and Recommendations for Post-Exposure Prophylaxis here.

The current Sharps Injury/Blood Body Fluid Exposure policy is available to on-campus users via the Policy Portal. (Login required).

Recommendations and Basic Preventative Care Expand answer

Working in a clinical setting can expose the student to a wide variety of health risks and infectious disorders. While students will receive formal training in Infection Control and Blood-Borne Pathogens, this outline should serve as a reminder to illustrate some of the important points. We believe that it is imperative that the student be familiar with the modes of transmission of common infectious disorders, and the ways to prevent the spread of these diseases.

Students will be in-serviced on current OSHA standards and information. Successful completion of the OSHA program will be documented in the student’s file. The OSHA self-directed tutorial is available on a campus computer system (students will be advised of specific location), and the student must successfully complete a post-tutorial test prior to having formal contact with patients in the health care setting. The student will need to register completion of this program on a yearly basis in order to meet eligibility criteria to be in contact with or treat patients in a clinical setting.

Basics in Preventive Care

  • Always wash hands thoroughly between patient encounters using soap and water or antibacterial agents. Hand washing should be done before and after each patient encounter with a “wash in, wash out” procedure.
  • Students should assume that all body fluids or blood are infectious regardless of the patient’s diagnosis. Non-latex gloves should be worn at all times when handling potentially infectious material, or when there is a possibility of being exposed to, blood or body fluids. In situations where a risk of splashing of blood or body fluids exists, additional personal protective equipment such as goggles, gown, and masks should be worn. Students are responsible for supplying their own goggles at clinical sites and should bring them with them when on clinical rotations.
  • Gloves should be changed between all patient encounters. Hands should be washed after removal of gloves.
  • Never attempt to bend or recap needles. These should be properly disposed of in an approved “Sharps Container” directly after use. Most affiliated healthcare facilities are using the “needle-less” delivery system for IVs and heparin locks. The student should become familiar with these systems. Please notify the program if a clinical site is not conforming to these OSHA standards.
  • Pocket masks or Bag-Valve-Mask devices should ideally be used in performing artificial ventilation.
  • Spills of blood and body fluids should be cleaned with a detergent solution followed by decontamination with an appropriate chemical germicide such as Clorox (Sodium Hypochloride 5.25 percent), dilute 1:10. If this is not available, rope off the area and contact the environmental services department at the site.
  • Infectious waste and sharps should be disposed of in the appropriate containers. Never place these in the regular trash.
  • Any student who sustains an incident at the clinical site where exposure to blood or body fluids occurs will follow the protocol established at that site. If an exposure occurs, the student should alert the Preceptor and the PA Program staff immediately so that appropriate measures may be taken. An incident report must be completed and submitted to the clinical coordinator within 24 hours of the incident. Incident Report forms are available from the PA office staff. We will be following the same protocol as the College of Medicine with regard to exposure and reporting of these incidents.
  • Appropriate respiratory protective masks should be worn when caring for patients with Tuberculosis. Fit masks will be supplied for each student prior to their attendance at clinical sites.
  • Never pick up broken glassware with your hands; always use a dustpan and brush or tongs. Dispose of broken glass in the proper receptacles. Use the biohazard containers if the glassware is contaminated.
  • Follow all Infection Control and Isolation Precaution policies and procedures of the institution in which you are working.
  • If you have any questions regarding Infection Control, please ask your preceptor or contact the Infection Control Department at the site (if available).

Students are required to immediately report to the Program staff any change in their health that would affect their ability to care for patients (especially any infectious diseases). The Program may require the student to obtain medical clearance before returning to clinical sites. Failure to report these health changes is a serious breach in professional responsibilities since health care providers and the program have a responsibility to protect the patients who are engaged in the health care setting. Failure to report these potential health care issues may result in dismissal from the Program. We have a responsibility to notify the clinical Preceptors if a student is at risk for causing potential harm to patients or other members of the healthcare team. Our students will follow the same protocol and procedures as students enrolled in the College of Medicine with regard to potential infectious disease spread. Students may need to be pulled from clinical sites until a potential infection is remedied.

Injuries in Anatomy Lab Expand answer

The current Injuries in Anatomy Lab policy is available to on-campus users via the Policy Portal. (Login required).

Policy Regarding Care of Students at Student Health Expand answer

Faculty members who provide psychiatric/psychological counseling or other sensitive health services to students will have no involvement in the academic evaluation or promotion of the student receiving those services.

This policy will be carried out by insuring the following:

  • There are designated student health providers who will provide health care services to students. These designated student health providers will have no involvement in the academic evaluation or promotion of any student. Faculty members who serve on student promotion committees or who serve as course directors will not serve as designated student health providers. No one from the physician assistant faculty will provide any type of student health services to students enrolled in the PA Program, including psychological counseling services.
  • Should emergent or urgent conditions or consultations arise for which a student must see a provider who is not a designated student health provider, that provider must recuse themselves from any involvement in the academic evaluation or promotion of that student.
  • The director of student health will not have any involvement with the academic evaluation or promotion of any physician assistant student.
  • When students are on an away rotation and need health care services, preceptors should refer the student to another member of the practice or physician in the community who can competently care for the student and who have no involvement in the academic evaluation or promotion of students receiving their services.

Students, faculty members and staff members will be informed of this policy on a yearly basis.

See details on the Office of Student Mental Health here.

The current Student Mental Health policy is available to on-campus users via the Policy Portal. (Login required).

Safety Protocol

Should any faculty identify a concern about a student, the safety net in place will be immediately used to address the student’s crisis. He or she will be referred to Dr. Kelly Holder, who is responsible for handling such problems.

The program will make sure the referral can be followed up instantly; if not, the student will be encouraged to call the Dauphin County Crisis Hotline or visit the Emergency Department at Hershey Medical Center immediately. This plan is in keeping with the College of Medicine policy for students with a mental health crisis.

Program Details

Student Services and Facilities Expand answer

The following services and facilities are available to Penn State College of Medicine Physician Assistant students.

See full details on these programs here.

Consistent with ARC-PA requirements, our students have access to all services that are offered to all other graduate students within the University:

  • Health Services
  • Counseling Center
  • Academic Resource Center
  • Food Services
  • Housing availability on campus, which will be announced by the University (see details)
  • University Fitness Center
  • Harrell Health Sciences Library
  • Peer tutoring, as arranged through the Program (no charge for the student)
University Policy on Tuition Refund Expand answer

Penn State University has a policy regarding the refunding of tuition and fees in the case that a student leaves the program prior to completing the semester.

The PA program will follow the university policy which states that refunds for tuition are available and are based upon when the student officially withdraws from the program.

If a student leaves prior to the start of class, 100 percent of the tuition and fees are refunded. If the student leaves during the first week of classes 80 percent of tuition will be refunded. A decrease of 10 percent for each week after the second week of classes will be refunded up to the eighth week. Withdrawal from the semester after the eighth week of class will result in no refund of tuition or fees.

The deposit for matriculation is considered to be nonrefundable and the letter of offer extended to program applicants who are offered admission to the PA program will inform students of this policy. The deposit to hold a student’s seat will be applied to the tuition for the program’s first semester.

See details via the Bursar.

University Regulations and Judicial Policies Expand answer

Academic Integrity at Penn State is defined by Faculty Senate Policy 49-20 as “the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner.”

The University Code of Conduct states, “all students should act with personal integrity; respect other students’ dignity, rights and property; and help create and maintain an environment in which all can succeed through the fruits of their efforts. Academic integrity includes a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation or deception. Such acts of dishonesty violate the fundamental ethical principles of the University community and compromise the worth of work completed by others.”

Academic dishonesty (including, but not limited to cheating, plagiarism, or falsification of information) will not be tolerated and can result in academic or disciplinary sanctions such as a failing grade (F) in the course and sanctions including dismissal from the PA Program.

The University’s regulations regarding academic policies, academic due process, appeals, plagiarism and cheating are listed here. The Physician Assistant Program complies with the University’s policies in these matters. Students with unresolved issues should ordinarily initially see the instructor or preceptor for the course.

If the issue remains unresolved, students are then to bring the matter to the Program Director who will make a determination on the appealed matter.

If the student is dissatisfied with the handling of the matter, the student may then file a written appeal. As part of the student appeal process, the Medical Director will serve as the Chairman of the Academic Appeals Committee. When an appeal is received, they will ordinarily bring the Appeals Committee together for consideration of the written appeal. The Vice Dean for Educational Affairs is the next level for academic appeals. All appeals in this process must be made in writing to the appropriate person(s).

At any point prior to the appeal to the Vice-Dean for Educational Affairs, the student can request a meeting with the ombudsperson of the PA Program. The ombudsperson is a respected member of the faculty for the College of Medicine who has extensive experience dealing with students and within the College of Medicine. The ombudsperson is not directly involved with the education and appraisal of students in the Physician Assistant Program so is viewed as an experienced neutral party. The ombudsperson’s role is to fully evaluate the situation and to lend an experienced perspective to the situation that the student is encountering. The ombudsperson serves as a consultant and adviser jointly for the program and student, and strives to provide perspective on the given situation that the student presents. The conversations held between the student and the ombudsperson are privileged and do not dictate policy or have any binding mediation.

As a final step in the appeal process, the Vice Dean for Educational Affairs, in consultation with the Academic Appeals Committee, will make a final determination for the student appeal. The decision of the Vice-Dean is final.

Professional Phase Equipment Needs Expand answer

We do not require students to purchase an otoscope or ophthalmoscope because you will have access to these in the SIM lab. They are very expensive pieces of equipment that often go unused once you complete PA school as the vast majority of offices/hospitals/clinics provide these in each room. You can purchase an ophthalmoscope and/or otoscope, if you so choose, for your own personal use or for practicing at home, but this is not a PA program requirement. Because these two pieces are optional, it is important to note that otoscope and ophthalmoscope costs are not included into your annual cost of attendance for textbooks and medical equipment.

As shared with you during on-boarding, students are required to having the following during pre-clinical year:

Stethoscope: Your stethoscope must have a separate bell & diaphragm. You do not have to purchase an expensive, high-end stethoscope. The color of your stethoscope is a personal choice. However, we would like you to keep in mind that darker colors are considered to be more professional. Littman Classic III is commonly purchased by our students.

Sphygmomanometer/blood pressure cuff (required): The Welch Allyn Durashock Aneroid (DS44-11C) is required.

Medical penlight: $- to $10; a basic penlight.

Reflex hammer (required): Tromner Reflex Hammer is required.

Tuning forks: 128Hz and 512H; $5 to $12.

Hand-held/pocket eye chart: $2 to $7.

Retractable tape measure: $3 to $6; a small, woven tape measure

Stopwatch or wristwatch with a second hand

Two flexible rulers

We do not feel a group plan is necessary since we have significantly reduced your equipment costs due to the elimination of the otoscope and ophthalmoscope. The most expensive piece of equipment you need is a stethoscope and online prices are competitive and reasonable. Medical equipment can be found at discounted rates through Our PA Program has partnered with this company to offer you potential savings. Search for our program under the Schools/Organizations dropdown box (or mouse over CUSTOMERS tab and click “Enter School Code”). Enter school code: pennpa2018.

Requirements for Clinical Exposure to Patients Expand answer

Prior to having any patient contact, Penn State Physician Assistant students will have met the following requirements:

  • Completion of required immunizations and documentation of a recent history and physical examination verifying absence of communicable diseases.
  • Successfully submitted the criminal background check and child abuse registry (must be re-done prior to start of P2 year) by providing the PA State Clearance, the FBI fingerprint clearance, and the PA Child Abuse clearance. This information is sent to students prior to matriculation. We are currently contracted with Castle Branch for these services. Costs of obtaining these checks are the responsibility of the student.
  • Submit to yearly PPD testing with appropriate documentation. Some hospitals are now requiring a 2-step PPD test. If the student previously had a positive PPD test, the student is required to have a chest x-ray verifying that the student is not a public health risk for spread of tuberculosis.
  • Documentation of successful completion of the OSHA blood borne pathogen tutorial provided by the College of Medicine.
  • Will have signed a form attesting to patient confidentiality and HIPAA matters.
  • Will wear a Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center/College of Medicine-issued photo ID.
  • Will wear a Penn State College of Medicine short white jacket identifying the student as a Physician Assistant student.
  • Hershey Medical Center will offer influenza vaccinations to all of their students at no cost. Students who do not receive this vaccination will be required to wear masks for all patient encounters when influenza has been documented in Pennsylvania. Students who receive this vaccination will receive a sticker placed on their student identification card.
Classroom and Program Regulation Expand answer

The PA Program at Penn State College of Medicine attempts to educate and train motivated, well-prepared students for their role as Physician Assistants. There are certain common sense guidelines for the Program that are in operation:

  • The overriding core values of the College of Medicine are individual dignity, knowledge, service orientation, excellence, fiscal responsibility and diversity. The Program’s mission is consistent with these values, and our goal is to demonstrate these values by treating others in a humanistic manner. As a Program, we will attempt to show respect to students in the Program. We expect this respect to be mutually returned. Students are also expected to be respectful to one another.
  • Students who need to speak with or forward a message to any program personnel are to contact the Program Administrative staff. The Administrative staff will handle all student inquiries and will contact the Program personnel in order to check for their availability.
  • It is suggested that all students keep the class “Faculty & Staff Quick Contact List” available for reference at all times. There should be no excuse for not being able to contact a faculty or staff member at any time. Program personnel can be contacted by email or phone.
  • Attendance policies for each course are outlined in each course syllabus. The general rule of the PA Program is that all students are expected to attend all scheduled Program classes and events. Students are not required to attend classroom lectures, but attendance is encouraged. If a student is unable to attend a required class or examination, they are expected to notify Program personnel (717-531-0003, ext. 285595, or via email or voicemail to the Professor) at the earliest possible time. All make-up work is the responsibility of the student. The faculty will make every effort to help students who miss class due to an unavoidable absence. A note from the student’s licensed health care provider may be requested. Missed examinations will be made up at the discretion of the course instructor. The make-up examination may be a different format than the test originally administered.
  • The PA Program has developed method(s) for properly submitting hand-written materials for grading. It is the responsibility of the individual student to follow this method. Students will also submit assignments through Canvas, the Penn State academic management system. Information about Canvas and other systems utilized in class will be given during the students’ orientation. This protocol is especially important for SOAP notes and other time-sensitive assignments. It is each student’s responsibility to check their Penn State email regularly (at least three times daily) for notices that might pertain to them. Failure to meet a deadline could result in a deduction of points.
  • The classroom is designed for a proper learning environment. Respect for the professor and for your fellow students is shown by raising your hand to ask questions or to provide answers during a class and by coming to class on time – not by talking out loud, making comments under your breath, or otherwise disturbing the class. Inappropriate behavior in the classroom, on campus, or in the clinical environment will not be tolerated. Students who violate this policy may be asked to leave the classroom and may have a Professionalism Evaluation Form completed in response to their behavior.
  • Cell phones and pagers, if worn, should be kept on vibrate/silent mode. Experience has taught us that phones ringing and pagers beeping in the classroom are a disturbance. Cell phones or other communication devices are not permitted in the classroom during an exam.
  • In emergency situations, the Program staff may be contacted to reach the student. Callers should use 717-531-0003, ext. 285595 (Program Administrative Staff).
  • Students are permitted to use their own personal laptop computers. Since class time is approximately 8 hours per day, an extra battery would be a good idea. Although computers are readily available on campus and in the library, it is highly recommended that students have their own computer available for their use since multiple activities and course notes will necessitate computer access. Signing out University computers is on a first come, first serve basis and computers are never guaranteed to be available.
  • Examplify/ExamSoft is our assessment delivery system. Students will need to bring their computer with them for all scheduled examinations. During Examplify/ExamSoft assessments, students are permitted to have a blank piece of scrap paper to draw diagrams, perform calculations, etc. Students must turn this scrap paper into the faculty at the conclusion of the assessment. Students are prohibited from writing down questions that are utilized on an assessment.
  • Examplify/ExamSoft assessments are timed and the program will end your assessment after the allotted time has expired. The time starts when the student enters the password for the assessment as provided by the Program Faculty/Staff. It is expected that the students arrive early with the exam pre-downloaded so that they can start immediately when the assessment password is provided. Continuing to study material after the password is provided is strictly prohibited. If an assessment is scheduled to last 60 minutes, faculty members will require students to end the assessment after 60 minutes even if they still have time on Examplify/ExamSoft since it means that the student did not enter the password when it was provided. Students may be given the opportunity to review the examination either directly after submission or at a pre-determined time following the examination administration.
  • The copy machine expenses are charged to the Program. Each instructor may supply written hand-outs as individually determined. The majority of lecture notes/PowerPoints will be available through Canvas. Students who need additional copies for their own use are asked to use the other copy machines available on campus. The Program may allow certain notes to be copied in the event that a student misses class due to unforeseeable circumstances. If you missed receiving a handout for a class due to an absence, your copy should be available in the classroom when you return. (Enough copies are made for each member of the class.) If no copy is available, ask your classmates if anyone took the extra copy to hold for you OR if they just decided to take an extra copy. Office staff cannot make additional copies for a student without permission from the professor.
  • The College of Medicine may cancel classes due to inclement weather. Information on these school cancellations and notification procedures are detailed on the Penn State Alert website. Do not delay; instructions will be shared with you during orientation.
  • If the PA Program believes that the traveling conditions are unsafe, it will utilize the PA Program “Rained Out” text alert system for implementation of an in-home study or review day. Students should not call the Program about these matters. Students will be notified by text message should the in-home review situation occur. You will be instructed to sign up for Campus Emergency Alerts and Rained Out PA Program alerts during student orientation. If classes are canceled on campus, PA classes may still be held through another media such as Adobe Connect or Mediasite. The students will be told what format the classes will be held.
  • The PA Program sets its own calendar and does not necessarily follow the University’s calendar for the dates of the semesters. Both the pre-clinical and clinical education will begin with the summer semester. The summer schedule will be supplied as soon as it is available. The clinical year calendar is issued to the students prior to the start of the clinical phase of the program. Students are not to make plans to take vacations during any time when
    classes are scheduled to be in session or during scheduled rotation times.
  • Plagiarism, cheating, and other illegal behaviors are subject to disciplinary actions, including dismissal from the Program. These will follow the established policies and procedures of Penn State University.
  • As a Program, we are sensitive to the various problems that adult students may encounter. We will attempt to work with the students in order to ensure their success whenever such problems arise. Communication with the Program is necessary so that strategies for success can be formulated.
  • A student MUST inform the Program Faculty present in the Simulation (SIM) Lab if the student has a known relationship with the standardized patient. In this event, the student must be reassigned.
  • For students on clinical rotations, professional judgment is needed. It is common sense that if the preceptor is able to attend the practice, that the student should also be in attendance. If for any reason you are unable to attend the rotation (illness, poor driving conditions, etc.) it is your obligation and duty to notify the Program’s Clinical Coordinator and preceptor as soon as possible.
  • On clinical rotations, students are permitted to have one sick day without penalty. If a student misses more than one day, the student will be required to make up all additional time from the rotation. If the site does not have extended or weekend hours, an alternative arrangement for making up this time will be arranged.
  • During the clinical rotations, students will need to put requests for time off (for interviewing, etc.) in writing and receive prior approval from the program for this time off. Students may be required to make up this time away from the rotation. It is highly suggested that the student remember that their priority is becoming a health care provider and to appreciate the sacrifices that are
    involved with this educational process.
  • Examplify/ExamSoft examinations may be available for review during regular business hours in the Program office. Prior arrangements for reviewing incorrect answers from an assessment should be made with the course instructor and the program coordinator so that the assessment can be printed. These tests are never to leave the Program office and any type of reproduction of the material in any way is not allowed. If review of examination is due to a remediation, there may be some assignments as a result of this activity. Removal of the tests or duplication of the test questions (written, typed, photographed, etc.) when reviewing the test constitutes inappropriate, unethical, and dishonest behavior, and the student may be sanctioned for this incident. Test review in the Program Office will be done under the supervision of a member of the staff. This staff member has the authority to act on the behalf of the PA Program and can attest to any irregular behavior that may occur. This test review time should be viewed as a learning activity rather than as a time to challenge the questions. Please refer to the course syllabus for faculty specific rules on examination reviews.
  • You are permitted to challenge questions when referenced by one of our assigned textbooks for the respective course. Sometimes, test reviews will occur in our classroom. When a test review is performed in the classroom, students are not permitted to have notes or textbooks open during the test reviews. Abuse of this privilege may prohibit the involved person(s) or even the entire class from accessing the test materials in the future.
  • Some instructors will go over the test with the class as a whole during scheduled class time or at the end of the day (as announced with adequate warning). If a student does not attend the test review, the student should not expect the faculty member to individually review the examination at another time. Exceptions can be made on an individual basis which is determined by the reason as to why the student could not attend the test review.
  • Some examinations will have immediate test review with Examplify/ExamSoft opening the examination after the test is submitted. If tests are reviewed during the class time, no notes or recordings are to be taken during the review. The program believes that allowing students access to their tests either as part of a test review or individually is an effective strategy for improving student mastery of the material by identifying what the student does not know and what the intended better solution to the question really is. Students can then reflect on this information following the review and can benefit from these activities.
  • If a student challenges a test question, the student should complete the exam question appeal form. The instructor from the course will review this rebuttal and will let the student know if an alternative answer is accepted. These forms are available in the Program office. These materials should be handed into the Program office as soon as the test review is performed. Students have one week after the test to complete the test rebuttal form. If an alternative answer is accepted, all of the tests will be rescored and adjustments made to the grade. Examplify/ExamSoft has a feature which allows all of the tests to be adjusted in this manner.
  • If tests are reviewed during class time and a student is absent, it is up to the individual instructor to decide if the material is reviewed again with the student individually. If the student is absent for the class review, the student may forfeit their opportunity to review this material.
  • The PA Program will deliver some tests electronically via computerized testing. If these tests are delivered electronically, an announced time for test review under supervision of Program personnel will be announced with sufficient warning to allow students appropriate access to these examinations for enhanced student understanding.
  • There is a two-week limit to challenge test questions after the administration of the test. If additional answers are accepted by the program, all students will be awarded the points on the examination.
  • Once the clinical year begins, students are not permitted to access their tests from the preclinical portion of the curriculum. Additionally, tests given during the pre-clinical year will not be available after the semester ends. By appointment, students are permitted to review their clinical year tests throughout the clinical year, however. Arrangements should be made through the program.
  • Although grades will be posted on Canvas, or sent to the student directly from Examplify/ExamSoft, it is strongly suggested that students keep track of their test scores and if a student believes there is a discrepancy, the student must bring it to the attention of the instructor within two weeks of the original test date or review.
  • For financial aid purposes the student has 150 percent of their time to complete the program not counting periods of Leave of Absence (LOA). For PA students, the program is six semesters so they would have nine semesters to complete the program as long as they complete at least 67 percent of the credits that they take in any one semester.
  • If a student must repeat a course or rotation in order to graduate from the program, student loans may not cover this expense and the student will have to find alternative financing for this activity. The University will determine the cost for courses that are being made up. If a student receives an “incomplete” grade, the student will need to make up the missed activities at the predetermined timeframe in order to prevent this incomplete grade from transitioning into a failure for the course. Ordinarily, completing an “incomplete” course should not require additional financial costs to the student.
  • Students should be engaged during all classroom activities. The program is allowing the students to take notes on computers during the lecture portion of the curriculum. If a student is found to have social media sites or other inappropriate material on their computer during the lecture, the teacher will close the student’s computer and the student will lose computer privileges for the remainder of the semester. This policy is in effect for all classroom activities.

Work Policy

  • The PA Program realizes that students have different financial obligations and may need to work while enrolled. The Program believes that we are educating adults who are capable of making a personal decision about the necessity of working. However, we fully expect the PA Program to be the student’s first priority. This Program will require a great deal of commitment to the Program on the part of the student. We do not encourage students to work, but we allow the students to make this personal decision. The student does not need to disclose to the program whether work is taking place. Students are not permitted to miss any scheduled assessments due to a work obligation.
  • During the clinical phase of the program, the program will not allow the student to alter the rotation or site schedule to accommodate a working schedule. Students are reminded that the clinical rotation schedules may include night shifts and weekends as part of the learning experiences.
  • Students are not permitted to work for the PA Program. As part of our learning in teams during the program, students may desire to host student discussion topics with their peers, but this is not required.


  • Professionalism will be assessed and addressed every semester with each student in the Program. Students will be required to self-assess and reflect upon their professional behaviors and attitudes and will meet with a faculty member to share this evaluation.
  • Professional behavior is expected for all students in the clinical and preclinical years. Students are being trained to function as professionals and are expected to act as such. Unprofessional behavior will not be tolerated and may be grounds for dismissal from the Program. The Program will follow the professionalism standard established by the College of Medicine. This professionalism standard emphasizes the humanistic side of interpersonal relationships.
  • Mutual respect is expected from the faculty and students alike. Although we appreciate that there are inherent stresses within this educational process, we expect that you will conduct yourself as the ultimate professional. Students may be counseled when breaches in professional behavior occur, and these counseling sessions will be documented in the student file. Further unprofessional behavior or severe breaches of professionalism may require more severe sanctioning, including a letter from the Program or other sanctions including suspension and dismissal from the Program and/or University.
  • Students are expected to dress professionally while on clinical rotations or when they have any professional encounters with patients. This professional dress should also occur when there are activities planned with standardized patients. Students naturally expect others to treat them with respect, and their dress should reflect this professional attitude.
  • Dress in the Penn State classroom will consist of clothing that is not a distraction for others. Students may be brought to the office to discuss clothing or accessory choices when the program deems that discussion is warranted.
  • Students will be provided with scrubs to wear when working in the multidisciplinary lab (MDL) for review of prosections and while performing cadaveric dissection. Students will be able to store their clothes in their lockers in order to make this exchange. Scrubs must be returned prior to receiving the next set. Student ID cards will be utilized to access these scrubs. Laundering of these scrubs will be done by the College of Medicine. Students MUST remove their scrubs immediately at the conclusion of the time spent in the MDL. There are several employees of Penn State Health and the College of Medicine who are extremely sensitive to the odor of formalin and you are therefore NOT allowed to remain in your scrubs that were worn while in the MDL.
  • When performing the physical examination section of the history and physical examination courses, students should have appropriate dress. Full details of this requirement will be discussed with the faculty teaching those classes and this information will be placed on the course syllabi. Failure to have appropriate dress during testing of these physical examinations may result in a loss of points for those examinations.
  • Professional attire is also required when the student attends a CME-sponsored event during their time as a student in the PA Program.

Confidentiality Statements

A statement verifying that the student will maintain confidentially related to patient matters must be completed by all Physician Assistant students prior to having contact with patients in a clinical setting. Patient confidentiality is a serious issue and violation of this standard may result in dismissal from the PA Program. The American Academy of Physician Assistants has issued a “Code of Ethics of the Physician Assistant Profession.” The following statement is extracted from this principle regarding patient confidentiality:

“Physician Assistants shall uphold the doctrine of confidentiality regarding privileged patient information, unless required to release such information by law or such information becomes necessary to protect the welfare of the patient or community.”


The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires that all healthcare providers respect patient confidence and realizes that healthcare providers are given access to information that is highly confidential and personal.

HIPAA mandates that the healthcare provider does not use his or her position as a healthcare provider to gain inappropriate access to these documents and mandates that patient information can only be released to others after consent is granted by the patient. HIPAA regulations include fines and/or prosecution for the organization and healthcare provider if information is disseminated without patient consent. HIPAA details common sense principles of not disclosing patient information and not accessing information about others that does not impact upon their current care. We are in full compliance with the federally-mandated HIPAA laws and students will be in-serviced about these regulations. Annual successful completion of the HIPAA training, as required by Penn State College of Medicine and Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, will be documented in the student files. All clinical sites mandate that this training has taken place. Initial HIPPA training is conducted during student orientation.

For students attending clinical rotations, HIPAA is fully enforceable. Students should take every precaution in guarding patient information and should be aware that patient cases should not be discussed in public areas. When documenting student notes for the Program assignments, only initials, rather than actual patient names, should be used. Any identifying patient information should be blackened out prior to submitting these
required notes.

Institutions hold patient privacy in high esteem. Students can be dismissed from the site and even dismissed from the program if they violate patient privacy. Students should not access patient files if they are not involved with the case and should not attempt to access files of people with whom they have no professional relationship. It is a privilege to be involved with health care and professionals and students should not abuse the privilege that they are given.

Pre-Clinical and Clinical Education Expand answer

Each Phase of the Penn State PA Program consists of three semesters. Students will begin their studies during the summer semester every May with a specific date sent to the students soon after they deposit for the program. The fall semester will typically begin the day after the Labor Day holiday. The spring semester will begin in January, as announced in program data sheets.

The pre-clinical training will range from 17-20 credits each semester. Students can plan on having scheduled classes from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. There should not be an expectation on any given day that class will
be finished before 5 p.m.

Following successful completion of the pre-clinical curriculum, the student will have a semester break followed by a one-week transition week of activities prior to the official start of the clinical training. This week will consist of orientation exercises for the clinical year along with review of the clinical year policies and procedures. During this time, students will also sit for the national in-training examination known as “PACKRAT” (Clinical Knowledge Rating Assessment Test). Students will have one-on-one student advising and professionalism reflection during this week of training. Further instruction on the patient electronic medical record will be provided along with motivational patient interviewing and reviews for billing/coding will also be provided.

This week-long transition week is not a graded activity but is mandatory for the student to complete prior to attendance of the clinical rotations.

Prior to the actual PACKRAT examination, the Program may administer a practice examination so that the students are prepared for the actual PACKRAT. This practice exam is intended to permit the students to have a gauge as to their own strengths and weaknesses. This test will also provide practice for time management skills for a long examination.

The PACKRAT examination will be paid for by the Penn State PA Program. This national examination must be taken by each student enrolled in the program but this is used for the student’s own evaluation for their strengths and weaknesses. There is no “passing” grade that must be achieved on this national standardized examination. The student can reflect on their performance on this examination and assess whether they are able to be academically successful on this type of examination. The Program believes that this examination is predictive for graduate performance on the national certifying examination so this is one way for students to form a perception as to how they could potentially perform on the national examination following completion of the Program.

The Program will analyze class performance on this examination in order to ascertain the strengths and weaknesses of the class as a whole. Since multiple publications have verified that this examination is predictive for board passage, we will use class grades in the content and subject areas as one data set for our program’s process improvement strategy.

The Clinical Phase of the PA Program consists of nine, five-week rotations. Mandatory rotations will consist of three in primary care (divided between internal medicine and family practice, and urgent care), emergency medicine, pediatrics, general surgery, mental health, and women’s health. There will be one elective rotation which the program will work with the student based upon the student’s interests and needs. A student can opt to complete their elective by second rotation of any of the mandatory rotations as well. Each five-week rotation will be awarded five credits. Therefore, the summer and fall semesters of the clinical year will be 15 credits, while the spring semester will include a 1-credit summative experience totaling 16 credits.

Consistent with ARC-PA requirements, the Penn State PA Program will have a graded summative experience as part of graduation requirements. This one-credit course is delivered over a two-week period. The students will sit for the PACKRAT examination during this course, but the PACKRAT will not be utilized for grading or academic progression within the PA Program. One week of activity will consist of a board review for these students. The board review may also involve the taking of simulated examinations in various subject areas. Students are mandated to attend and participate in this board review as part of the summative experience.

The Summative Experience will consist of the following activities:

  • Assessment of student knowledge with a 300 question summative test;
  • “OSCE” – Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) is an evaluation of a student’s communication skills, clinical knowledge base, and clinical skills. An OSCE is performed as a clinical situation, where each student will interact with a standardized patient and within a specified amount of time is expected to:
    • establish rapport with a patient
    • obtain a patient’s history
    • perform an appropriate physical exam
    • develop a differential diagnosis
    • write an assessment and management plan

    The standardized patient is an actor/actress who is given a detailed script to perform for the scenario with the student. The standardized patient will be observing the student and detailing the student’s performance of various clinical skills. The PA faculty will determine if the student has achieved competence in the combined learning outcomes. OSCEs are recorded for the benefit of students and faculty. An 70 percent overall performance rating is required to pass an OSCE. The student will also need to receive an acceptable professionalism score from the standardized patient and faculty member to be considered as passing this activity.

  • Demonstration of the applied clinical interpretative goals:
    • EKG interpretation;
    • Radiographic Interpretation;
    • Laboratory Studies interpretation;
    • Dermatologic condition interpretation;
    • Physical Examination findings interpretation;
    • Pharmacotherapeutics
    • ACLS Simulation and ACLS Emergency Management
  • Discussion of medical ethic concepts;
  • Patient education with Standardized patients while maintaining a professional demeanor;
  • Performing management of emergency situations in the Simulation laboratory.
  • Performance of technical procedures such as suturing and knot tying. Students may also need to demonstrate other basic skills such as Foley catheterization, venipuncture, arterial blood gases, and interosseous catheterization.

These students will also have a final, summative evaluation for professionalism. Student advising will be performed on an individual basis during these activities. Students will be asked to complete a final exit survey with regard to their overall experience in the PA Program. This exit survey will be completed through Survey Monkey, which will preclude any ability to identify the participant and will assure the student of anonymity. Students will be able to assess various elements of the program which will include:

  • facilities and resources;
  • technology support for program (academic management systems, AdobeConnect, MediaSite and other systems);
  • faculty and staff;
  • assessment strategies;
  • teaching delivery systems (team-based learning, laboratory sessions, and
    traditional lectures)
  • individual courses;
  • clinical rotations, sites, and preceptors.

Upon completion of all graduation requirements, students will be included in the May College of Medicine Commencement Ceremony which is usually held annually on the third Sunday of May. This ceremony is held at the Milton Hershey School’s Founders Hall auditorium. Graduate degrees will be awarded as part of this ceremony.

Clinical Year Curriculum Expand answer

See the Clinical Year Curriculum here (mandatory and elective rotations).

  • The Summative Experience must be successfully completed as one of the final requirements for program completion. The Summative Experience is a pass/fail class. The summative experience includes assessments which allow the student to demonstrate proficiency and clinical skills along with a week-long activity for board review prior to completion of the program.
  • Each rotation consists of a 5-week block that takes place at various locations both in Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and the surrounding area, when necessary. During the pre-clinical training, students will be surveyed for their preferences regarding rotational sites, but the PA Program retains the authority to assign sites as it deems necessary. A student may identify a site for the elective rotation on their own, subject to approval by the Program. Students who wish to establish an elective site should contact the clinical coordinator in order to fill out the appropriate paper work and to determine the feasibility of such a site. If a student is on academic probation/warning, the program reserves the right to assign the elective rotation for the student for their best interest. Specific information regarding this procedure will be discussed in this document.

Elective Rotations

  • Students may request a rotation outside of our geographic area. Students who request a rotation outside of the geographic area are responsible for finding housing on their own in this situation. The Program will attempt to aid students in the procurement of housing, but ultimately, the student is responsible. Some of the sites will have student housing available, either at no cost or low cost, and this information
    will be given to the students prior to choosing their rotational sites. This housing may be available if the student rotates at one of the federally identified health care shortage areas.
  • The Program is capable of placing all of the students at all of the rotational sites, both elective and mandatory. If a student has a special desire to perform an elective rotation of their own choosing, the student can contact the clinical coordinator to discuss this potential site. The student will need to provide information about the potential site prior to the meeting with the clinical coordinator. The clinical coordinator will contact the clinical site to ascertain the interest, understanding, and qualifications for this potential preceptor along with finding out the potential placement of the student at a hospital (if the preceptor wants the student to accompany them to the hospital). Affiliation agreements may need to be procured for the clinical preceptor and health care facility and failure of the affiliation agreement or memorandum of understanding to be executed may result in the inability of the student to be placed at this clinical rotation.
  • At this time, we are not offering full rotations outside of the United States. There is a great deal of time and effort in developing rotations outside of the United States and this may include obtaining special malpractice insurance policies for students who are attending sites outside of the United States (may not be possible to offer malpractice insurance coverage for some of these sites). The Program is working with the College of Medicine’s Global Outreach Project for short-term experiences but at this point in the Program’s development, there are no fully established five-week

Rotation Learning and Performance Expectations

  • Expectations for the clinical sites and primary and secondary objectives for the rotations are specifically listed under each rotation.
  • There will be a separate Clinical Rotation Manual which will detail certain information about the clinical year rotations. The manual lists the grading system, absentee policy, dress code policy, and a troubleshooting guide for students while they are on their clinical sites.
  • Students will be given information regarding each clinical site prior to starting the rotation. Guidelines for the calculation of grades and Call-Back Day schedules are listed in the Clinical Rotation Manual.
  • This manual will provide students with a required textbook and reading list for each rotation. MED-U will also be part of the assigned coverage material. End of rotation examinations (EOR) will have questions specifically referenced to the assigned reading from the required textbook and MED-U. We believe that writing the tests from material contained on the reading list for each rotation will permit the student to be successful on these examinations provided that they have read, reflected, and understood the material covered in their assigned readings. Topic areas listed on the rotational objectives also need to be reviewed as part of the preparation for these end of rotation examinations and other assessments utilized for the Call Back Days.
  • Students on clinical rotations are NEVER permitted to substitute for clinical or administrative staff during these clinical rotations. If students are asked to serve in this capacity, students are requested to notify the Clinical Coordinator or PA Program immediately. Preceptors and clinical sites are informed about this policy, and students should never be placed in this situation.
  • At the completion of the fifth week of the rotation, students are required to return the student evaluation form from the preceptor when they return to campus on the Call-Back Day at the completion of their rotation. Call Back Day will involve the student taking the end-of-rotation examination for all mandatory rotations plus one of the following: a physical examination practicum based upon a case presentation, an oral examination, or an oral case presentation and paper. Since one activity is performed during each of the three Call-Back Days per semester, the student will rotate in their requirements on a per-semester basis.

Grading During the Clinical Year

  • The final grades for each of the rotations will consist of the following:
    • 40 percent for end of rotation examination;
    • 30 percent for preceptor evaluation of student;
    • 10 percent for grading of submitted history and physical examination;
    • 5 percent for completion of required paperwork that meets the program deadline;
    • 5 percent for completion of Spaced Education questions;
    • 10 percent for Call-Back Day Testing Activity (directed practical examination, oral examination, or case/paper presentation or presentation of community project during one of the AHEC Primary Care Clinical Rotations).
    • For students on elective rotations, the student will have an option to sit for an examination or to write 10, one-page referenced papers on a topic pertinent to the rotation that they are attending. If students request the examination, they need to notify the program prior to the start of the clinical rotation so that adequate time is given for building this test. Students will be given instruction regarding preparation for this exam.

Health Insurance

  • The PA Program and the College of Medicine realize that health profession students may contact patients who are ill and may be at increased risk for becoming ill as a result of this contact. Per PA Program and College of Medicine requirements, the student will maintain personal health insurance while enrolled in the PA Program.
  • A limited health insurance policy is provided by the University (at the student’s expense) if the student cannot provide proof of insurance coverage.

Malpractice Coverage

  • The College of Medicine mandates that each student have malpractice insurance for any student having patient contact during enrollment in the PA Program. Each student is responsible for purchasing their malpractice coverage on an annual basis. Information regarding these policies will be maintained by the program and will be sent to each preceptor prior to students beginning their clinical year.
  • Currently, there is a malpractice carrier which offers students malpractice coverage without charge. This company meets the minimum requirements for coverage and students can opt for this coverage after reading the company’s policies for coverage.
  • The malpractice coverage will be consistent with the amount of coverage that is needed in Pennsylvania.
  • This malpractice coverage will not need a tail after the student graduates which is typical for student malpractice coverage.
  • It is important for the students to inform the program if there are any negative outcomes or events (reportable incidents) during a clinical encounter. Malpractice carriers wish to be contacted as soon as possible so that an investigation can be initiated. If the student is concerned about a particular incident with regard to notification to the insurance carrier, the student can notify the Program for advice about what could be done.

Preceptor Information

  • Prior to student arrival, preceptors are sent a packet of information about the student. This information serves as an introduction of the student and also provides the necessary information for safe practice at the site.
  • Students will complete a form about themselves talking about their previous academic experiences (colleges attended, majors, clubs and organizations, special interests) and clinical experiences (how they obtained their necessary hours) along with information about their educational aspirations and goals.
  • Students must agree to supply this general information to the Program and must have their picture taken so that this information can be sent to preceptors prior to the student arriving on site. The picture is necessary in order to prevent fraud in the clinical setting. Students will also be required to wear their Program-issued student identification badges which also contain their pictures for further verification.

Senior Summative Experience

The Senior Summative Experience is a requirement of the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). It is conducted prior to program completion to assure that students meet defined program expectations for knowledge and technical skills.

This summary evaluation of students includes a written examination, clinical case problems, direct supervision of technical procedure performance (as verified by the Program’s Procedural Checklist and testing stations), oral examinations, performance of complete and directed physical examinations, performance of suturing and knot tying, and interpretation of diagnostic laboratory tests, x-rays, dermatology, and electrocardiograms, along with assessment of basic science knowledge and ability to perform patient education. Students will also have an opportunity to treat emergency situations via the use of the Simulation Center technology.

Students have been informed of the technical standards for the Penn State Physician Assistant Program. These technical standards are assessed through this summative experience. This ARC standard is based upon the necessity of the program director signing off of the competence of all students completing the PA Program training. Many states allow PA Practice on a temporary basis prior to becoming nationally certified. As a duty to protect the public from unsafe health care providers, program directors are now required to sign off on successful program completion verifying that the student has the competency, professionalism and clinical skills to perform as a graduate of this physician assistant program.

The written examination consists of 300 multiple choice questions based upon program learning outcomes and objectives. This assessment has been written by PA educators who are very familiar with the type and complexity of the questions that are expected of physician assistant students who are completing their training. Some students may want to practice for a comprehensive test via use of Exam Master which is available to all of our students via the Harrell Library website. Specific instructions regarding the format of the test will be given to the students during the program. A grade of 70 percent must be earned or the student will not be permitted to graduate from the program. If a student does not pass this comprehensive examination, remediation will take place and the student will be afforded one additional opportunity to achieve the 70 percent on the make-up examination. No student will graduate from this program unless this examination is successfully completed. Failure to pass the remediation assessment will make the student ineligible for graduation.

All aspects of the Senior Summative Experience may be remediated, with the details of this remediation based upon each of the skills stations. Students will be given assistance in overcoming their deficiencies. Students will not graduate until they successfully complete all aspects of the Senior Summative Experience. Graduation may
be held until the student completes all remediation and meets the program expectation for each of the testing stations.

Following completion of this portion of the Summative Experience, the students will be provided with a board review in preparation for their national board examination. This week long event will consist of both lecture material and practice examinations in order for the student to gain insight into his or her deficiencies in preparing for the national certification examination.

Continuing Program Evaluations Expand answer

To ensure the success of the program and the provision of the type of education to which the program is committed, the evaluation of both the process and the outcomes of the academic program will be regularly and systematically assessed. The main outcome of this assessment to develop is a graduate who will have achieved the academic program objectives. The process includes the curriculum design, course methodologies, recruitment and teaching, policies and procedures.

The objectives encompass PA practice and medical knowledge, skills and attitudes. The assessment of knowledge takes place at several stages in the process – each semester as students complete their work, during clinical rotations, and following graduation. Faculty and staff review test materials to assure correlation with the learning objectives. Annual statistical review of the grades of individual students and the class as a whole will allow the department to identify knowledge areas which may need more attention, reinforcement, or a different approach to course organization.

Students are able to assess the courses using a standardized College of Medicine course assessment form and occasionally a physician assistant specific course evaluation form. During the pre-clinical phase of the program, this information is transmitted to the faculty for refinement of their course. The course evaluation materials are given to the faculty with no student identifiers after course grades have been submitted to the registrar.

Students are given an opportunity to provide feedback on their clinical rotations and clinical preceptors as it relates to the knowledge acquired in their professional years. Students’ opinions are valued as to how the rotations have enhanced their medical knowledge. The clinical coordinator assembles this information and transmits it back to the faculty for review.

Fair Practices Expand answer

The Pennsylvania State University and Penn State College of Medicine do not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, age, national or ethnic origin, handicap, or sexual preference.

Graduation Requirements Expand answer

Requirements for graduation are formulated by the College of Medicine and are strictly adhered to by the Physician Assistant Program.

Graduation Requirements for the Physician Assistant Students include the following:

  • Satisfactorily completing all requirements in the specified curriculum and in good academic standing;
  • Attainment of good professional standing;
  • Enrollment in the program for the time period specified by the professional accrediting body, if applicable;
  • Successful passage of a summative experience and final evaluation;
  • Recommendation for graduation by the faculty of the specific program and the general faculty;
  • Satisfaction of all financial obligations to Penn State College of Medicine and Penn State University;
  • Follow the approved course of study, satisfactorily completing all courses within the professional component;
  • Complete all courses with a cumulative 3.00 average, with no course or rotation below a “C” or “low pass.” A grade of “F” in any course or rotation does not meet this standard. Students can appeal to repeat any failed course and the program has the discretion as to how (and if) the student is permitted to retake this course. The program may require that the student step out of the program for up to one year – the time at which the course is repeated;
  • Repeat, as approved, and earn a minimum grade of “C” for any required course or rotation in the program for which a grade of “F” was earned.

The grading of our courses is consistent with the grading utilized in the College of Medicine and all 700-level courses at Penn State University. The following lists the final course grade, the translated GPA grade, and the quality point assignment to this course.

Academic Requirements Expand answer

Academic Progress

The Physician Assistant Program at Penn State College of Medicine is a full-time academic program. Advanced placement in the professional phase is not possible. There is no credit awarded for experiential learning. The courses are completed in sequence as listed in the above curriculum. Sufficient academic progress is needed to maintain academic standing and financial aid eligibility within the PA Program. All courses in the professional phase of the program are at the graduate level. Grades for graduate courses typically may be awarded as letter grades or qualitatively as honors, high pass, pass, low pass, or fail which translates into letter grades. Failure to achieve at least a “B” (or pass) for each individual course may place the student at risk for making sufficient academic progress. A 3.0 overall GPA is needed for graduation from this program.

  • Each course listed in the curriculum is a required course. All required courses need a minimum of a “C”
    (or low pass) grade at the completion in order to graduate from the PA Program. Any course or rotation with a final grade below a “C” (or low pass) needs to be successfully repeated by the student with at least a “C” grade (low pass) on the repeated course in order to graduate. Consistent with Medical School policy, for courses that are repeated, the repeated grade that is earned will be used in the determination of the GPA.
  • Three courses in the pre-clinical curriculum are given as a “pass/fail” grading scale. These courses are Ethics of Health Care (PAS 730), Advanced Cardiac Life Support (PAS 726), and Evidence-Based Medicine (PAS 719). These courses must be assigned as a “pass” in order for the student to meet graduation requirements. If a student does not meet the standard for passing they may need to either remediate until a “pass” is achieved or repeat this course, at the discretion of the program. Each course syllabus will provide details regarding passing requirements.
  • Each student is required to meet with their adviser to discuss academic performance and professional behavior at least once per semester. These meetings typically are held at the midpoint of each of the semesters. Improvement strategies are discussed at the meeting with the student in order to help the student succeed in these courses. Strategies for academic performance used in the past have included group review sessions, tutoring, audio taping of the courses, and/or having an assigned note-taker.
  • Grades for each course in the curriculum are available on the Academic Management System (Canvas) or through Examplify/ExamSoft.
  • The Summative Experience course in the clinical curriculum is also a “pass/fail” course which will need to be passed in order for the student to graduate from the PA Program.

Remediation Policy

  • Students are required to follow the program’s remediation policy. If a student fails to achieve at least a 70 percent on any test in the curriculum, the student will need to complete remediation. For students in the pre-clinical portion of the curriculum, they will need to personally meet with the instructor of the course to discuss the reasons as to why they did not meet the academic requirements of the program. This can involve discussion of improvement strategies, reviewing the test on an individual basis, or being given an assignment to complete in order to meet the program’s academic requirements. Students will often be given their examination that was not passed and will discuss all missed questions. For tests that have a high number of students failing to meet program requirements, group remediation may also be performed at a pre-announced time. The Program tracks all remediation requirements as part of their overall program assessment.
  • The program compiles a list of students who need to remediate any given examination and it is the responsibility of the student to contact the course instructor (or their liaison) to schedule this remediation activity. Final grades may be withheld until the student completes the remediation that is acceptable to the PA faculty member.
  • For the Team-Based Learning Individual Readiness Assurance Test (IRAT), students need to achieve a quiz score of at least 70 percent. Since the GRAT (Group Readiness Assurance Test) activity allows the group to find out and discuss the correct answers, a student is able to have this remediation employed by the group as long as the group quiz grade is at least a 70 percent.
  • If a student fails to achieve at least a 70 percent on an examination during the clinical phase of the PA Program, the program will supply a formal list of remediation questions that need to be completed prior to the next senior day. These remediation questions will be based upon the intent of the question that was missed. Students will need to reference the answers to these learning objectives.

Financial Aid Progression

  • Consistent with federal legislation, the College of Medicine has a formal financial aid policy with regard to sufficient academic progress in the PA Program. If a student fails to make sufficient academic progress in the PA Program, the student’s financial aid packages may be affected. If the student fails the government or program’s guidelines for sufficient academic progress, the student may lose eligibility for student loans. Information about this policy is available through the financial aid office.
  • For students failing to achieve sufficient academic progress during the clinical phase of the PA Program, official policies are in place to aid the student during their training.
  • The PA Program is working with student services in order to allow each student to have an in-person counseling session regarding financial planning and debt payback during program attendance.

Academic Probation and Policies

  • In order to remain in acceptable academic standing in the PA Program, the student needs to achieve a 3.00 GPA in each and every semester. Grades that are awarded qualitatively will be translated into a numeric score to determine whether the 3.0 GPA is met. The first occurrence in which the required 3.00 is not met in any individual semester will result in PA Program Academic Probation. The next occurrence in which the 3.00 is not achieved in any subsequent semester will result in academic dismissal from the Penn State College of Medicine Physician Assistant Program. This 3.00 average will be evaluated on a per semester basis. If a student is placed on academic probation for a single semester, the student does NOT need to meet the 3.0 cumulative GPA until the program is completed. Students must achieve an overall GPA of 3.00 in order to graduate from the program.
  • Students who are on academic or disciplinary probation may have conditions of their probation listed on their probation letter. These conditions may include (list is not meant to be all-inclusive) mandatory class attendance, mandatory tutoring, mandatory meeting with faculty and/or program director on regularly scheduled meetings, additional assignments and/or remediation strategies in order to make improvements in their classroom and/or clinical settings.
  • Students who are on academic probation may be required to attend their elective clinical rotation, as chosen by the PA program. The PA program may have the best perspective for the student when choosing the elective rotation. Although a student may be interested in having a subspecialty elective, the program may instead have the student attend a broader rotation that will enhance foundational and general learning which would better prepare the student to meet the program outcomes and competencies. A general rather than a specialty rotation would also better prepare for the topics that the student is going to see on the national certification examination.
  • A student retains the right to appeal an academic dismissal or probation to the PA Academic Appeals Committee. All appeals must be made in writing.
  • No Physician Assistant student will graduate from the University unless the overall 3.00 minimum GPA is achieved. Other conditions for successful program completion are listed in this student handbook.


  • The overall GPA will be a determining factor for conflicts over a clinical preceptorship or elective rotation. Some of our elective rotations may have more students wishing to attend the site than can be accommodated. For rotations such as these, the student’s academic and professional performance in the Program will be a deciding factor as to who is awarded these sites.

Appeals Policy

  • Students who want to appeal a grade are advised to follow the established policies. The first appeal is to the faculty member awarding the grade. The next appeal is to the Program Director. The next appeal is to the Medical Director who is also the de facto chair of Academic Appeals Committee. The Academic Appeals Committee will make a recommendation to the Vice Dean for Medical Education.

Student Advising and Academic Support

  • Each student is assigned a full-time faculty member as an adviser. Each student is required to meet with their adviser or a faculty representative at least once every semester. This system allows students to discuss any problems that they are experiencing and the adviser is able to offer strategies to deal with these difficulties. Additionally, faculty are available on campus to meet with students as the need arises. If the student fails to meet with their faculty adviser during the pre-clinical phase of the PA program, the student will be counseled for this breach in professionalism. More information about the advising program is discussed subsequently in this document.
  • Students are required to bring their self-assessment professionalism form to these adviser meetings since professional behavior is something that will be discussed during this meeting. As professional graduate students, it is important for the student to reflect upon how they are being perceived by others as a result of their behavior and attitude.
  • Penn State College of Medicine’s Student Support Center is also available for developing learning strategies for students who are experiencing difficulties. The students are also encouraged to study in groups and are able to utilize the multiple small group classrooms that are available throughout campus.
  • Students should also approach their instructor(s) in order to help to develop strategies for improving their performance in various classes.
  • The Student Support Center will also be able to help to determine potential accommodations for students who have a documented learning disability. Please contact this division as early as possible so that the student can be evaluated and plans can be formulated.


  • Students who are viewed to have a breach in program policies or exhibit behavior that is deemed to be unprofessional may have completion of the professionalism form. Students will be counseled for this professionalism breach and students will meet with the medical director to discuss this behavior. Students who have a second professionalism form completed about them will need to meet with the
    academic progress and professionalism committee.
Academic Progress Committee Expand answer

The APC is composed of program faculty and administrative representatives. At the end of each semester and, as necessary, the APC reviews the academic record of each graduate student to determine their academic standing. Records for any student who has failed to maintain good academic standing will be reviewed in detail and discussed by the APC. Recommendations regarding academic standing may include academic probation, probationary leave, remediation, deceleration, and dismissal from the program will be formulated by the APC. The student will be apprised of their academic standing. The letter informing the student of this decision will be copied to the student’s adviser and the financial aid office. A copy of this letter will also be placed in the student’s file (may be in an electronic format). Letters which dismiss the student from the PA Program will also be sent to the registrar and Vice Dean for Medical Education. Decisions which are based upon grades earned in the program are automatically generated if the student fails to meet the semester GPA of 3.0. The student may request, within 7 days of receipt of the letter, a reconsideration of the decision by submitting a request in writing to the Program Director. The student may be extended an opportunity to present his or her case to the APC. The decision of reconsideration will be submitted to the student in writing. Any student may appeal the final decision of the program in writing to the Vice-Dean within 10 calendar days of the program decision. The decision of the Vice-Dean is final.

Academic Progress Guidelines Expand answer

Students enrolled in the Physician Assistant Program are required to comply with all policies set forth by Penn State College of Medicine and the Physician Assistant Program.

All students will be assigned to a faculty member who will serve as their academic adviser. Students are responsible for assuring that they meet all academic progress guidelines. Students are required to meet at least once every semester with his or her academic adviser and utilize this valuable resource when appropriate to support successful completion of the program curriculum and professional development.

Detailed guidelines governing academic standing and dismissal have been delineated for the PA student as follows:

  • A student who achieves an academic semester or cumulative GPA below 3.0 will be placed on academic probation. The Academic Progress Committee (APC) will make specific recommendations to the Program Director who has final authority on academic progress. A second occurrence of academic probation in any subsequent semester will result in academic dismissal from the PA Program.
  • Any student who earns a course grade less than 2.5 (low pass) in any curriculum course at the end of the academic semester must repeat the class in order to be eligible for graduation. Each class in the curriculum is only offered once per year which would necessitate that the student will need to wait until the class is offered the following year. This may delay graduation for the student, depending
    on when the course is being repeated. Remediation for these courses may also be employed with these decisions being made on an individual basis.
  • Students who are on academic probation during their training will remain on academic probation until completion from the PA Program.
  • Ordinarily, academic probation is only awarded once during the program.
  • Breaches in professional behavior may affect a clinical course grade and this could result in academic probation. Such matters will be handled according to academic policies and procedures.
  • The academic progress committee will act according to the student’s appeal and will act in the best interest of the student, the PA Program, and Penn State College of Medicine. The PA Program appreciates the commitment that each student has and the sacrifices that each student makes in becoming a physician assistant and the academic progress committee will therefore make every effort to support these students in their academic and professional development. Accordingly, the PA Program does establish the standards to which students must attain and expects the students to be committed to the PA Program. The PA Program will support the educational and professional efforts for the students but the student is ultimately responsible for meeting these standards.
  • Any student who earns a course grade less than 2.5 (low pass) in two or more courses while enrolled in the PA program is at risk for not completing the Program.
  • Progression into the clinical year is contingent upon the student’s being in good academic and professional standing. Students who do not meet these conditions will undergo review by APC who will make recommendations to the Program Director.
  • A student who earns a failing (F) course grade in any clinical rotation will undergo review by the Academic Progress Committee and may face dismissal from the program depending on the circumstances regarding this failing grade.
Professional Conduct Expand answer

Students are expected to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the standards of an institution of higher education and are required to abide by the highest codes of academic honesty, ethical fitness and professional conduct. Students are expected to abide by the standards established by the Penn State Physician Assistant Program, Penn State College of Medicine, Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, and The Pennsylvania State University. Characteristics key to the development of a health care professional include, but are not limited to:

  • Ethical conduct and honesty
  • Integrity
  • Ability to recognize one’s limitations and accept constructive criticism
  • Concern for oneself, others, and the rights of privacy
  • Appropriate value judgment with respect to interpersonal relationships with peers, superiors, patients and their families
  • Responsibility to duty
  • An appearance consistent with a health care professional
  • Punctual attendance at all program scheduled activities and adherence to
    deadlines set by the faculty and preceptors

The PA Program faculty meets regularly to discuss students’ professional development and to evaluate their progress. Any behaviors that call into question professionalism will be referred to the APC for review. The APC will make necessary recommendations for further action, if warranted, to the Vice Dean. The Vice Dean will make the final determination regarding the student’s standing. This decision may include dismissal from the PA Program.

Dress Code Expand answer

Students must remember that Penn State College of Medicine and Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center are professional institutions, and as such, it is expected that students display an appropriate level of judgment with regard to personal hygiene, grooming and dress. Additional requirements may be imposed in laboratory settings or patient care areas. Please avoid heavy fragrances, perfumes or colognes which may be offensive to peers and precipitate or aggravate unpleasant symptoms in patients encountered in patient care settings.

For anatomy dissection laboratory sessions, students will be issued scrubs to wear and the procedure for obtaining and returning these scrubs will be provided during the anatomy class. Laundering of these scrubs will be done by Hershey Medical Center upon return of these scrubs. Please refer to previous section about policy on changing out of used scrubs. The PA Program will issue a short white coat to the student during
the White Coat Ceremony. In the clinical setting where patients are being seen, a dress code will be enforced. Interaction with standardized patients also requires that the student dress in professional attire. In this clinical setting, the student is expected to dress professionally along with wearing of their white coat. Preceptors may ask the student to alter their dress for certain clinical rotations and students are expected to comply with the directive from their preceptor.

At no time will the following items of clothing, or clothing style, be acceptable for PA students in the classroom or in clinical training areas:

  • Wearing hats, caps or other head wear in the building*
  • Wearing sunglasses in the building*
  • Fish-net (stockings/hosiery) and other see-through clothing
  • Crop tops and other bare midriff tops including spaghetti strap blouses
  • Short shorts
  • Athletic-type, wide-armhole tank tops that expose chest, back or midsection
  • Any clothing with holes and cuts (i.e. jeans, shirts, tops, etc.)
  • Bare feet
  • Suggestive, revealing or tight fitting clothing, or clothing with inappropriate pictures or slogans
  • Pants worn below the waistline and/or dragging the floor
  • Wrinkled, dirty or unsafe attire
  • Extreme personal presentation of any type (e.g. body piercing, hair style, tattoos)

*Wearing these items for medical or religious reasons is acceptable.

The following guidelines are to ensure a consistent and standardized image for all students encountering patients and their families, faculty, visitors, and peers. Our appearance communicates how we feel about the work we do and the College of Medicine. Professional appearance shall project competency, inspire confidence, and communicate respect to your peers, faculty, clinical year preceptors, patients, and special guests. We are also aware of the additional expense that dressing up requires and at this time, we are not enforcing professional dress for the classroom activities during the pre-clinical training.

Criminal Background Check Policy Expand answer

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and our Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) has recommended that medical schools and physician assistant programs conduct criminal background checks on their students prior to their clinical contact with patients. In order to conform with the AAMC and PAEA recommendations and existing hospital requirements, we will require Criminal Background Checks (CBC) for our accepted students, as well as our students entering their clinical year. Information regarding these checks is sent to all incoming students and again prior to clinical year.

Preceptors and hospitals often have a requirement for these clearances to be done prior to allowing students to have any contact with patients. A packet of student information is sent to clinical preceptors and hospitals and this packet will contain information regarding student criminal background clearances. Therefore, we require our rising second year PA students to repeat these Criminal Background checks. As part of the application process, students are told that they must disclose any previous criminal activity and falsification of this information may be grounds for dismissal from the program.

All Criminal Background Check requirements will be initiated through a Penn State Physician Assistant Student portal in partnership with Castle Branch. This will offer the most secure and user-friendly way for students to initiate and maintain their background check documents, and other documents such as health and immunization forms via the student portal, as well as provide a secure and confidential method for the program to review any records or results that arise from these checks.

Prior to matriculation, each student is instructed to visit the PA Student portal within Castle Branch. Students who have questions about this process should contact Caryn Stopper, Director of Admissions.

The following clearances must be completed in advance of both pre-clinical and clinical years:

  • Pennsylvania Criminal History (PATCH)
  • Child Abuse History Clearance
  • Federal Criminal History/Fingerprinting via Cogent

The cost of required criminal background checks for both years is at the expense of the student.

Any criminal background check record or result is subject to review and could result in dismissal or removal from the program. The procedure for reviewing background check records is maintained in the PA Office and can be viewed upon request.

Drug Testing Policy Expand answer

Penn State College of Medicine’s Physician Assistant Program prides itself on having professional and competent students. Pursuant to this goal, students will be held to the standard of not being an impaired provider. It is the expectation that students will not be under the influence of alcohol or non-prescribed drugs while attending clinical rotations. The scent of alcohol on the breath while at a clinical site will also not be tolerated.

The following policy will be enforced for all students in the professional phase of the PA program:

The Program Director, clinical preceptors, faculty, and the Clinical Coordinator reserve the right to request a drug screen when drug or alcohol use is suspected by the Program staff or the preceptor. If the preceptor suspects illicit use, they will contact the program immediately. In addition, many hospitals and offices require drug screening prior to doing a rotation in their facility. Students should be prepared for drug testing at any point in their training and must comply when a test is requested. Failure to obtain drug testing when requested will be interpreted in the same manner as a positive drug test and sanctions for these positive tests can include dismissal from the PA Program.

The PA Program has partnered with Castle Branch to initiate, collect and share drug screening tests and test results. Details are available at the PA Program office. This drug testing often requires an appointment. This appointment could be scheduled on the same day as the suspected incident, especially if alcohol use is suspected. If the student does not go for testing at the appointed time, the student’s test results will be considered a positive drug screen or positive for alcohol, even if the screening process was not completed.

The results will be interpreted and the report will be sent to the Program via Castle Branch. A positive drug test which is not related to a legally prescribed therapy drug will result in immediate dismissal from the PA Program.

If the student is on a prescribed substance, they must immediately provide documentation from their licensed health care provider that there is a medical necessity for the medication. Despite a medical necessity for taking this medication, the student may not be able to attend a clinical site if this medication impairs the ability of the student to appropriately function. Students may be pulled from their clinical sites if the program makes a determination that they are not able to safely function in this clinical setting. Students are able to request a medical leave of absence if they believe that a medical condition would prohibit them from appropriately functioning in their role as a student health care provider.

The cost of the drug screen test is at the student’s expense. Penn State College of Medicine’s Physician Assistant Program will not be held liable for a student’s dismissal or inability to obtain a state license as the result of a positive drug screen or noncompliance with statutes regarding impaired provider performance.

Students will be provided with information regarding impaired provider networks available to them as students during the student orientation program.

Penn State College of Medicine follows the same guidelines and policies enforced by Pennsylvania State University noted below in the Appendix.

Technical Standards: Minimum Abilities Expand answer

Certain abilities are needed by all students in the physician assistant program.

While admission decisions do not take disabilities into consideration, nor are applicants asked to disclose a disability, all persons interested in entering this health profession education program should be aware of minimum abilities required for success.

See the full list of technical standards.

Upon admission, a student who discloses a disability (with certification) is assured of reasonable accommodations. These accommodations may include: opportunities for individual and group counseling; peer counseling; linkages with community services; faculty advisory committees that are aware of disabled students and their needs; career counseling; assistance with job searches and interview skills; and, of course, the more familiar accommodations of extended test-taking time, and other enabling services.

Students seeking accommodation initiate their request in the Office of Student Services.

Disability Statement Expand answer

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University’s educational programs. If you have a disability-related need for reasonable academic adjustments in this course, contact Paula Moodie, the College of Medicine Disability Services Coordinator, at or 717-531-0003, ext. 283693.

For further information and to receive consideration for course accommodations, you must contact the College of Medicine Disability Services Coordinator (DSC) and provide required documentation. If the documentation supports the need for academic adjustments, the DSC will provide a letter identifying appropriate academic adjustments. The DSC coordinator will work with your instructors to ensure the accommodations are provided.

Typical accommodations include the following:

  • Distraction-reduced examination environment
  • Extended examination time
  • Note-taker for lectures
  • Textbooks in alternate format

See the College of Medicine Disability Services Office.

See Penn State University’s Office for Disability Services.

Cognitive Skills Program Expand answer

The Cognitive Skills Program (CSP) provides comprehensive cognitive skills development and learning support to Penn State College of Medicine medical, graduate, and physician assistant students.

See information on the Cognitive Skills Program here.

Counseling Services Expand answer

The Office for Professional Mental Health is pleased to offer counseling services to all students. These services are without cost to the student and are aimed at providing professional counseling for personal and academic difficulties. These services include learning support and evaluation services for students experiencing academic difficulties. In addition, counseling is available for career choices that students face as they progress through their training. There is no cost to students who use this service and all records are confidential. They are NOT part of your PA school file. They are treated as health records and therefore
are protected under federal law from being disclosed without your permission.

See information on the Office for Professional Mental Health here.

Respectful Treatment of Learners and Culture of Respect in Education Expand answer

The Office for a Respectful Learning Environment supports Penn State University’s commitment to its Culture of Respect in Education (C.O.R.E.) policy.

See information on the Office for a Respectful Learning Environment, including what mistreatment is and how to report it.

Access the mistreatment reporting form.

See information on PA Program Ombudspersons.

See information on the full C.O.R.E. policy.

Maintaining a culture of respect in our clinical learning environment is a core value of our institution.

As you interact with others, you may witness or experience behaviors that are suboptimal. If you believe that an encounter violates our core values for a respectful working environment or if you feel that you or others have been the object of mistreatment in the clinical or non-clinical settings, we would like you to help us to address these concerns in the appropriate fashion. There are many opportunities for you to do so, including; a discussion with the individual that you believe has been the
source of disrespect or mistreatment, your Program Director, or others in your
Program’s administration, the Department Chair or Associate Chair responsible for education within the department, your mentor(s), or PA Program ombudsmen (Dr. Pat McQuillan or Dr. Peter Lewis).

We are firmly committed to providing a clinical learning environment that allows each learner to reach the milestones necessary in their training to become a competent, compassionate physician assistant.

Students who violate the anti-harassment policy will be sanctioned by the program, as the program expects professional behavior on the part of the student. Sanctions can include disciplinary actions which might rise to the level of dismissal from the program. The Penn State PA program takes mutual respect and professional behavior seriously and will take appropriate measures in order to ensure that students are provided with the best educational experiences possible.

If a student on a supervised clinical practice believes that they are being put into an environment where any type of harassment is suspected, that student is to immediately contact the program’s clinical coordinator. If a student feels unsafe at any point during the supervised clinical practices, the student is to seek safety at once, notify appropriate authorities, and then notify the program’s clinical coordinator once you are in a safe environment. The program will make every attempt to place students in a safe environment but the program recommends that safety precautions be carried out at all times in every environment.

Grievance/Complaint Policy Expand answer

Students having an academically-related complaint/grievance are first directed to the faculty member who the grievance/complaint is directed against. If the student is uncomfortable with confronting the teacher directly, the student is asked to contact the ombudspersons for the PA Program.

If a student challenges a test question that is delivered via Examplify/ExamSoft, paper/pencil, or directed practical, the student should complete the appropriate exam question appeal form. The instructor from the course will review this rebuttal and will let the student know if an alternative answer is accepted. These forms are available in the program office. These forms should be handed into the Program’s Administrative Staff as soon as the test review is performed. Challenges must be completed within one week of the test administration or as listed in the syllabus for the course. Challenges for these questions should contain an approved reference (assigned textbooks, lecture handouts) for supporting their argument. If an alternative answer is acceptable, the tests will be regarded and all students who have an acceptable alternative answer will be awarded credit for that particular answer. If a mistake has been made on the answer key, only correct answers for that particular question will be acceptable as the correct answer.

Nonacademic grievances can also be filed by students. Students can also file grievances/complaints regarding veteran status, disability status, or complaints regarding race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, religion, age, or national origin.

Grievance Procedures

The Pennsylvania State University has adopted an internal grievance procedure providing for prompt and equitable resolution to complaints alleging discrimination on the basis of age, ancestry, color, disability, national origin, race, religious creed, gender, sexual orientation, or veteran status.

For further information on the discrimination grievance procedures, refer to the Affirmative Action Office website.

Complaints should be addressed to:

Affirmative Action Office
328 Boucke Building
University Park, PA 16802

Phone: 814-863-0471 V/TTY

Grievances/complaints about disability services can be filed with the Affirmative Action Office at Penn State University at the main campus with the contact information related to the above address, phone number, and email address.

Guidance Expand answer

Penn State University maintains an Office of Career Services at University Park, which provides assistance to graduating students with self-assessment, resumé preparation and related correspondence, effective job search strategies, and successful job interview skills.

The PA Program Office will maintain, to the extent possible, records of employment opportunities and will direct students appropriately. Program faculty will direct students to employment opportunities that fit the student’s skills and preparation.

Job opportunities are sent via email to all current students and alumni. These services are provided by the Program during the clinical year and following graduation.

Post-Graduation Expand answer

Graduates of the Penn State Physician Assistant Program are invited to attend Penn State College of Medicine’s May Commencement Ceremonies. This annual event is held at the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center. Graduate degrees will be conferred by the President of Penn State University and the Dean of the College of Medicine.

The national board certification examination is held at various sites and times around the country. This examination is completely computer-based. Students must register for the test prior to the application deadline and can take the test as soon as 7 days after the Program completion date. Information regarding testing times and locations is available through the NCCPA website.

Upon graduation, students are eligible to sit for the Physician Assistant National Certification Examination (PANCE). The testing agency will provide information about graduation pass rates and scores. This data provides feedback about cumulative student knowledge and is an invaluable assessment tool for the curriculum. For Physician Assistant licensing requirements, this test must be successfully passed in order for licensing to occur. If the test is not successfully passed, graduates are no longer able to practice as graduate physician assistants and must relinquish any temporary licensure. If the graduate Physician Assistant fails the national boards, the official medical professional board in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania must be notified. The temporary license is then revoked, and the student cannot legally practice as a Physician Assistant until they have passed the national boards. For graduates who do not pass the national certifying examination on the first attempt, there is a mandatory waiting period prior to retaking this examination. For licensure to be obtained the student must wait for the successful results to be sent to the state and the state must process this information prior to the graduate being able to practice as a licensed physician assistant. If a graduate fails to pass the PANCE, the graduate can expect at least a six-month delay into their professional career.

Graduate membership in professional organizations provides an indication of the degree to which professional involvement values have been fostered by the program. The PA Program supports graduate membership in the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) and the state chapters of physician assistant programs across the country.

The accomplishment of the program’s goals and objectives are best assessed through graduate surveys. The PA Program will survey its graduates for information such as employment environment, program preparation for the profession, and professional activities. The Program recognizes that the post-graduation survey will require the cooperation and permission of the graduates, and hopes that information of interest to alumni can be included and shared at the end of the survey, thereby increasing the desire to respond.

In order to be employed in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a Physician Assistant program graduate needs to have a recognized supervising physician and may have an unlimited number of substitute supervising physician(s). After graduation and before the announcement that the Physician Assistant has passed the national boards, it is possible for the Physician Assistant employed in Pennsylvania to be employed under the direct supervision of a supervising physician utilizing a temporary licensing arrangement dictated by the Commonwealth. Temporary licenses are awarded only for Physician Assistants employed by allopathic physicians (MD). There is no temporary licensure for graduate physician assistants who are employed by osteopathic physicians in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. For graduates who practice in other states,
please refer to that state’s board of medicine for further information regarding licensing.

Not all states have allowances for temporary practice prior to getting the national certification examination. All states require passage of the national certifying examination in order to practice and obtain full licensure.

After passing the national certified board exam and receiving official notification, the graduate Physician Assistant can then officially use the initials PA-C after their name. If the graduate has applied for licensing in another state and they fail the national certification examination, the graduate will also need to notify that state of practice. If that state has issued a temporary license, it must be relinquished. Failure to pass the national certification examination will prohibit full licensing for practice. The graduate who does not pass the national certification examination needs to pass a subsequent examination in order to apply for licensure to practice.

If a graduate physician assistant continues to see patients or continues to work in the health care field after notification that they did not successfully pass the national certifying examination, legal ramifications could ensue. If the graduate continues to practice in any capacity as a health care provider, the graduate could be sanctioned by the board and this could lead to criminal prosecution such as practicing medicine without a license.

If a practicing physician assistant is sanctioned by a state licensing board, this sanction becomes a matter of public record. When the physician assistant subsequently applies for credentialing or other employment, this sanction by the board will be discoverable.

Sanctions by the board may interfere with potential areas of employment and for obtaining credentials at a licensed health care facility. Additionally, the sanctioned physician assistant will also need to disclose this action by the state board of medicine when application for licensure (or continued licensure) is obtained.

Information regarding licensing from other states is obtained by writing or calling the state’s medical or licensing boards. States have their own requirements for licensing, and Physician Assistants must register in each state in which the graduate will practice.

Post-Graduation Residencies Expand answer

A graduate from an accredited PA program can apply to post-graduation residencies following completion of the Penn State Physician Assistant Program. Currently, post-graduation training programs are available in the following specialties: acute care/critical care, behavioral health, cardiology, child and adolescent psychiatry, CT surgery, emergency, heart and vascular surgery, hospital internal medicine, neonatology, neurosurgery, ob/gyn, oncology, ortho/sports medicine, otolaryngology, pediatrics, and pediatric urgent care, primary care and urgent care, surgery, trauma, urology. A PA who wishes to practice in those areas can also do so by taking a position and gaining further experience through “on the job training.” Generally, the formal training programs offer a stipend to the student while the training is taking place. These residencies typically offer a certificate of completion rather than an advanced degree (except for the military programs which are limited to only active duty military personnel).

Other Information Expand answer
  • Students should refer to their syllabi for class meetings, attendance, grading, and testing schedules. Professors may require a doctor’s excuse for making up any missed test. Students are responsible for making up any missed material during the lecture series. It is appreciated if the student contacts the instructor of the missed course regarding the reason as to why the absence occurred. If the student is going to miss the class due to time away from campus, the program will work with the student to seamlessly make up the material that was covered in the missed class.
  • The Program will utilize outside speakers for some aspects of the curriculum. Lectures may be provided on campus as part of the College of Medicine various grand rounds and specialized lectures. Students may be tested on these topic areas, so students should prepare notes from these lectures. Learning objectives may be provided for these outside lectures if they are not provided during the lecture themselves. Students should not expect that these lecturers will be providing handouts or notes to the class since they are under no obligation to provide these notes. If the Program receives a copy of the lecture notes or power points, it will place this material in Canvas or the students to obtain.
  • Any questions regarding the content of this Student Handbook should be directed to the Program Director for further clarification or discussion.
Length of Time for Completion of Courses Expand answer

When matriculating into the Penn State PA Program, the student will have a total of 3 years for completion of the program beginning at the time of matriculation. Ordinarily, a student who begins the PA program will have time and 1/2 program completion or a total of 9 semesters of time. The additional completion time past the twenty-four months or six semesters is reserved for students who are granted a leave of absence at some point in the program. Students will request a leave of absence that the Vice Dean of Educational Affairs will grant or deny. This leave will be granted with a specific timeframe for return to the PA program.

It should be kept in mind that only one cohort of classes are enrolled yearly. If a student steps out of the pre clinical training, step back into the program would need to be done when that particular semester is restarted, typically during the next calendar year. If a student steps out of training during the supervised clinical practice portion of the program, they can re-enter the program depending on the availability of those particular sites that the student needs to complete.

Re-entry will also be dependent upon space availability of the re-entering student because PA programs are only accredited for a limited number of students enrolled in the program.

The Penn State PA Program realizes that this is a graduate program and that some members of the class will encounter events that may require the student to temporarily separate from the program due to personal reasons (such as medical or emotional issues). Students will ordinarily need to complete the program within 3 years of program entry. If a student takes off more than one semester, the program may require that the student take a reentry examination to come back into the program so that the student is able to demonstrate ongoing sufficient knowledge base retention. The request for a leave of absence will be sent to the office of student services who will decide on the applicability of this leave and will work with the students to plan a return to the PA program. The requirements for program completion will still apply to students, regardless of whether they take a leave or not.

Physician Assistant Oath Expand answer

The Program also endorses the Physician Assistant Oath, which was created by the Student Academy of the American Academy of Physician Assistants. All students are expected to uphold the precepts in the PA Oath:

  • I will hold as my primary responsibility the health, safety, welfare and dignity of all human beings.
  • I will uphold the tenets of patient autonomy, beneficence, non-malfeasance and justice.
  • I will recognize and promote the value of diversity.
  • I will treat equally all persons who seek my care.
  • I will hold in confidence the information shared in the course of practicing medicine.
  • I will assess my personal capabilities and limitations, striving always to improve my medical practice.
  • I will actively seek to expand my knowledge and skills, keeping abreast of advances in medicine.
  • I will work with other members of the health care team to provide compassionate and effective care of patients.
  • I will use my knowledge and experience to contribute to an improved community.
  • I will respect my professional relationship with the physician.
  • I will share and expand knowledge within the profession.
Conclusion Expand answer

The Penn State College of Medicine Physician Assistant Program attempts to educate students for the clinical and professional practice of medicine. The faculty is committed to providing the necessary tools for our students to succeed. We support and respect our students and expect that this respect and support will be mutual. We have developed a Program that will meet both the students’ and program’s goals and expectations. We believe that graduates of this program will be able to fill a need for outstanding physician assistants in central Pennsylvania.

We welcome you, the Class of 2019, to begin this tradition of excellence. Communication is key to establishing a good relationship between the students and the Program. We are here to help you to achieve your goal of becoming a licensed physician assistant.

Appendix: Penn State University Policies Expand answer

Policy AD18: Possession, Use and Distribution of Alcoholic Beverages

See policy details here.

Overview: The use, possession and distribution of alcoholic beverages are prohibited upon the property of The Pennsylvania State University unless specifically authorized. Where such use, possession and distribution are permitted, strict compliance with the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is required. The laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are published as the “Liquor Code,” PL90, April 12, 1951, and the Liquor Control Board Regulations. The possession and use of alcoholic beverages, subject to the laws of the Commonwealth, is permitted by persons twenty-one (21) years of age or older in a facility licensed by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, and in individual housing units (rooms, apartments and houses) owned by The Pennsylvania State University.

Policy AD32: Smoking Policy and Guideline

See policy details here.

Overview: Smoking of any material is prohibited in all University facilities, at all locations, including University-owned vehicles. It also is prohibited in any outside area adjacent to a facility whose configuration and/or other physical circumstances allow smoke either to enter and affect the internal environment or to unduly affect the environment of those entering or exiting the facility. Exemptions to this policy may be made by the Smoking Policy Review Committee if the committee deems granting the exemption to be reasonable for business or research reasons as submitted by the unit that requests the exemption.

Policy AD33: A Drug-Free Workplace

See policy details here.

Overview: It is the policy of The Pennsylvania State University that the unlawful manufacture, distribution, dispensation, possession, or use of a controlled substance, on property owned, leased or controlled by the University and used in the performance of University services is prohibited. Every student shall abide by the terms of this policy and he or she shall notify The Program of any criminal drug conviction for a violation occurring in the University workplace no later than five (5) days after such conviction.

Penn State Student Code of Conduct

See full code of conduct here.

Overview: Illegally possessing, using, distributing, manufacturing, selling or being under the influence of alcohol or other drugs is a violation of this policy. Use, possession or distribution of beverages containing alcohol on University property shall comply with the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and University Policies and Rules. Anyone, including those under 21, serving alcohol to persons under 21 is in violation of both University regulations and state law. Excessive consumption occurs when a person is intoxicated to the degree that the person may endanger self, other persons, or property, or annoy persons in the vicinity. (Also see Policies AD-18, AD-33). It is also a violation a violation of the residence hall contract for a student to be in the presence of the use of illegal drugs or if under 21 years of age, alcohol, in any residential area.

Contact Information

College of Medicine Contacts Expand answer
Faculty and Staff Contacts Expand answer