Cancer education in physician assistant programs

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Journal of Physician Assistant Education








Purpose: The purpose of this study was to describe the current state of oncology education provided by physician assistant (PA) programs. Methods: This is a descriptive, cross-sectional study of PA programs using a web-based survey. Results: The response rate was 22%. All programs reported dedicated curricular hours to address cancer: genetics, prevention/screening, diagnosis, and general treatment and counseling regarding delivering "bad news." The majority of programs provided 2 hours or less of content related to the evaluation and management of acute cancer treatment effects, oncologic emergencies, and symptoms of cancers/palliative care. Most common content areas without any dedicated time were management of patients with long-term sequelae of prior treatment or undergoing cancer surveillance and identification/ management of cancer survivors. The most commonly used instructional format is lecture, interaction with preceptors, and direct patient care. Other forms of learning such as case-based learning and team-based learning are less commonly used. Most programs report the most common cancer patient encounters occur during internal medicine/primary care rotations. Although typically available, few students participate in oncology elective rotations. Data regarding faculty perception of cancer education, teaching resources, and barriers to teaching were also collected. Conclusion: Cancer prevention and initial diagnosis are the primary foci of instruction by PA schools. Instruction is typically by classroom lecture and clinical encounters during primary care rotations. Given the challenges faced by PA programs to provide a generalist's education for students, novel means of enhancing cancer education during PA school and continuing medical education following primary PA education will be essential to expand PAs' competencies in cancer care.

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