Organizational infrastructure of American physician assistant education programsx

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Journal of Physician Assistant Education








Purpose: Physician assistant (PA) programs have evolved in organizational structure during their first four decades of development in US higher education. Programs are housed in community colleges, 4-year colleges, universities (with and without medical schools), the military, and hospitals. This diversity of sponsoring institutions stands in contrast with non-US programs, in which a medical university is typically the host. The organizational relationships of American PA programs are not yet well delineated. The purpose of this study is to describe the sponsorship and organizational characteristics of PA programs in the United States. Method: Member programs of the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) were surveyed in 2008. Demographic characteristics, sponsorship, and administrative structure were probed. Statistical analyses included descriptive techniques and crosstabulations. Results: A total of 139 PA program directors were sent the survey and four follow-up reminders. Of the 93 PA organizational units responding (67% return rate), 63% were identified as programs and 30% as departments. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of PA programs were sponsored by universities. Approximately half (47%) of the units were set in academic health centers. Conclusions: Substantial variation exists among institutions sponsoring PA programs. This variation was intended by the early developers of the PA movement. These observations raise the question of whether there is an optimal educational structure for PA education and suggest that PA educational programs can effectively thrive in a variety of sponsorship settings.

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