Department of Physician Assistant Studies celebrates PA Week 2021

This week was PA Week 2021, and the UND Department of Physician Assistant Studies wanted to thank all the physician assistant students and UND PA alumni for serving their communities.

As this history of the program notes, although the program was originally for nurses-only, in 2006 the department expanded its admissions process to consider applicants who were not nurses. This followed the department’s upgrade in 2003 to become one of the first programs in the nation to offer a Master of Physician Assistant Studies degree within a medical college.

“We started to track different calls we’d get from applicants who weren’t nurses, and asked, ‘Well, why wouldn’t a respiratory therapist or paramedic make a good PA?’,” said department chair Jeanie McHugo.

Since it began as the “MedEx” program in 1970, UND’s School of Medicine & Health Sciences Department of Physician Assistant Studies has produced nearly 2,000 graduates. It also boasts a 98 percent 5-year aggregate pass rate for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam.

Today, the program accepts applicants from various health backgrounds and focuses its training on practice for rural and underserved areas. According to the AAPA and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 148,560+ certified PAs in the U.S. and the profession grew nearly 30 percent between 2016 and 2020.