Strategies for workplace learning used by entry-level physician assistants

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Journal of Physician Assistant Education








Purpose: Physician assistants (PAs) play an increasingly important role in medicine. While PAs have strong basic science and clinical training in school, typically they don't participate in postgraduate training and are expected to expand their generalists' competencies through continuing professional education. The purpose of this study was to investigate the methods PAs use during their initial phase of workplace learning and determine which methods are deemed most effective by PAs. Methods: This large, cross-sectional study of PAs within the first 2 years of practice consisted of a survey of PAs investigating the methods used for assessment of educational needs, instruction, and assessment of learning. Results: The results revealed that PAs generally found that employers are well aware of their learning needs and their supervising physicians play an essential role in their learning. PAs themselves often recognized their learning needs based on perceived gaps in competencies noted with patient encounters. Though many PAs reported having an orientation period, most PAs said that this orientation was not well adapted to their unique learning needs. A variety of methods were used during workplace learning, with those related to real patient problems deemed most helpful by PAs. Although PAs reported that their learning was assessed, review of patient outcome data was uncommon. Conclusions: Consistent with principles of adult learning theory, these findings suggest that PAs find active forms of learning most valuable. Employers and supervising physicians should consider these findings and the available literature on adult learning in developing an environment that is supportive of continuing professional development.

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