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Physician Assistant Studies

mercyhurst physician assistant


The Department of Physician Assistant Studies is at the forefront of education for PAs, emphasizing professional excellence and leadership through a 24-month program. In addition, we educate our students to be advocates for just practices, policies and standards in the profession, and to promote the right to good healthcare in society.

Physician Assistant Profession

A physician assistant (PA) is a licensed medical professional who works as part of a team under the supervision of a physician. PAs are trained in a medical school model of curriculum to perform physical examinations, diagnose and treat illnesses, prescribe medications, order and interpret lab tests, perform procedures, assist in surgery, provide patient education and counseling, and make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes.

The PA profession is rooted in history as a creative solution to physician shortages. Dr. Eugene Stead of the Duke University Medical Center developed the profession in the mid-1960s as a way to fast-track U.S. Navy corpsmen who had received substantial medical training during their military preparation into primary care to meet the needs of this national shortage of providers.

Physician Assistants provide high quality, cost-effective healthcare and are productive members of the health care team. The physician assistant profession is in a continued growth pattern with an estimated increase of 30 percent by 2020 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook).


Mercyhurst University has applied for Accreditation - Provisional from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). Mercyhurst University anticipates matriculating its first class in June 2015, pending Accreditation - Provisional in March 2015. Accreditation - Provisional is an accreditation status for a new PA program that has not yet enrolled students, but at the time of its initial accreditation review, has demonstrated its preparedness to initiate a program in accordance with the

Accreditation Standards.

Program Information

The Department of Physician Assistant Studies at Mercyhurst University is at the forefront of education for PAs; it emphasizes professional excellence and leadership through a 24-month program. In addition, the PA program educates Mercyhurst students to become advocates of just practices, policies and standards in the profession, while teaching them to promote the right to good healthcare in society.

The Master of Science degree in Physician Assistant Studies provides curriculum in sequence, with students progressing through preplanned semesters. The curriculum has been developed to meet standards set forth by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). ARC-PA defines the standards for PA education and is the responsible agency in evaluating PA educational programs.

The curriculum sequencing commences with a summer session of basic science review, introductory coursework and the beginning of clinical skills education. The didactic year (fall and spring semesters) will teach health care sciences in a medical model. In addition, Mercyhurst students will have intermittent exposure to the community via hands-on experiences in area hospital, nursing home and physician offices.

The PA student's clinical year will be primarily spent in clinical experiences off campus, with students returning to campus for the last two days of the rotation for debriefing of the experience, clinical and written testing, case presentations and lectures. The Summative Evaluation Experience will consist of a two week course on campus to prepare students for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE).

To successfully complete the program, a minimum a 3.0 cumulative grade point average must be maintained throughout the program of study. Mercyhurst students must successfully pass all didactic and clinical components of the program, final summative evaluation and all components of the master’s portfolio.

Mercyhurst students who are successful in the completion of all the requirements of the program of study will earn a Master of Science degree in Physician Assistant Studies, and he/she will be eligible to sit for the PANCE exam. This examination must be passed in order to practice in all states.

Due to the rigor of the curriculum,students are discouraged from working during the didactic and clinical phases. While on clinical experiences, students will be expected to put in a full work week and will also have reading and written assignments to attend to. During this time, students need to focus on their education; it is highly encouraged to plan ahead financially for the clinical phase of the program.

Contact Us

Catherine Gillespie, DHSc, PA-C
Chair, Department of Physician Assistant Studies

Candace Schiffer
Associate Director, Graduate Admissions

Curriculum Overview

Didactic Year | First Year

Credits | Course
4 BIO 534 Anatomy
1 BIO 536 Anatomy lab
3 BIO 544 Physiology
2 BIO 524 Microbiology
1 BIO 514 Genetics
3 PA 510 Clinical Skills
1 PA 512 Clinical Skills Lab 1
1 PA 502 PA Profession
2 PUBH 520 Research Methods for Health Professions

Credits | Course
1 PA 514 Clinical Skills Lab 2
6 PA 520 Clinical Medicine 1
3 PA 530 Pharmacotherapeutics 1
3 PSYC 525 Psychology in Healthcare
2 PA 540 Women’s Health
2 PA 545 Pediatrics
1 PA 550 Special Topics in Medicine

Credits | Course
6 PA 522 Clinical Medicine 2
3 PA 532 Pharmacotherapeutics 2
1 PA 565 Evidence Based Medicine
2 PA 570 Healthcare Policy
4 PA 575 Emergency Medicine and Surgery
1 PA 580 Procedures in Medicine

Clinical Year | Second Year

Credits | Course
5 PA 602 Rotation I - Internal Medicine
5 PA 610 Rotation II - Family Practice
2 PA 620 Thesis Guidance

Credits | Course
5 PA 630 Rotation III - Women’s Health
5 PA 640 Rotation IV - Pediatrics
5 PA 650 Rotation V - Emergency Medicine

Credits | Course
5 PA 660 Rotation VI - Surgery
5 PA 670 Rotation VII - Elective
4 PA 680 Rotation VIII – Elective
1 PA 690 Rotation IX – Mental Health
2 PA 695 Summative Evaluation Experience

Total credits required for Master of Science in Physician Assistant degree: 97 credits

Student Policies

The following are up-to-date policies that affect students of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies.

The DPAS Student Handbook contains the full set of student policies.


· Advance Placement/Transfer

· Criminal Background and Screenings

· Dress Code and Identification

· Harassment

· Remediation, Deceleration and Withdrawal

· Student Health and Immunization

·Student Problem Solving

· Working Outside of Education


The Mercyhurst University Refund Policy is available at this link.

Technical Standards

The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) requires all Physician Assistant (PA) programs to publish technical standards for program admissions. The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) assembled an Executive Council in 1979 to examine the Department of Health, Education and Welfare regulations relating to Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Executive Council recommended institutional guidelines addressing technical standards for the medical school admissions process. Technical Standards that are defined in Section 504 of this Act and refer to all nonacademic admissions criteria, these guidelines have been used to address technical standards in physician assistant education essential to participation in the program.

PA students must have the intellectual, ethical, physical and emotional capabilities required to undertake the entire curriculum and be able to achieve the levels of competence required by the faculty. The standards describe essential functions that the student must demonstrate to meet the requirements of PA education; these standards are prerequisites for matriculation, continuation and graduation from the PA program. Furthermore, the use of an intermediary, a person trained to perform essential skills on behalf of the student, is not permitted.

Mercyhurst University physician assistant students must possess the intellectual ability to learn, integrate, analyze and synthesize data. They must have functional use of the senses of vision, hearing, equilibrium and taste. Exteroceptor (touch, pain and temperature) and proprioceptor (position, pressure, movement, stereognosis and vibratory) senses must be sufficiently intact to permit them to complete the activities described below. PA students must have sufficient motor function capabilities to meet the demands of the PA program and the ability to care for patients.

The following technical standards are adapted from the AAMC guidelines. Mercyhurst University physician assistant students must have the ability, aptitude and skills in these areas: observation, communication, motor, intellectual conceptual, integrative and quantitative, behavioral/social and physical demands.

1. Observation
The candidate must be able to observe required demonstrations and experiments in the basic sciences, including, but not limited to: anatomic dissection, microscopic studies, and patient demonstrations. A candidate must be able to observe a patient accurately at a distance and close at hand. Observation requires the functional use of the sense of vision, hearing and somatic sensation.

2. Communication
The candidate must be able to speak, to hear and to observe patients in order to elicit information, describe changes in mood, activity and posture, and perceive non-verbal communication. A candidate must be able to communicate effectively and sensitively with patients. Communication includes not only speech, but also reading and writing in English. The candidate must be able to communicate effectively and efficiently in oral and written forms with the various disciplines in healthcare.

3. Motor Abilities
The candidate must have sufficient motor function to carry out basic laboratory techniques and to elicit information from patients by palpation, auscultation, percussion and other diagnostic maneuvers, perform dissection of a human cadaver and have sufficient motor ability to use a microscope. The candidate should be able to perform a complete physical examination (including pelvic and rectal examination); diagnostic procedures (e.g. venipuncture and basic laboratory tests (e.g. urinalysis). The candidate must be able to perform motor movements required to provide general care and emergency treatment to patients, such examples of treatment reasonably required of physician assistant students may include cardiopulmonary resuscitation, the administration of intravenous medication, the application of pressure to stop bleeding, the suturing of simple wounds, assisting in surgical operations and the performance of simple, general obstetrical and gynecological procedures. These actions require coordination of both gross and fine muscular movements, equilibrium and functional use of the senses of touch, vision and hearing.

4. Intellectual, Conceptual, Integrative and Quantitative
Problem solving is a critical skill required of physician assistants, this requires that a candidate has the ability to learn, retrieve, analyze sequence, organize, synthesize and integrate information efficiently and reason effectively. In addition the candidate should possess the ability to measure and calculate accurately, to perceive three-dimensional relationships and to understand the spatial relationships of structures.

5. Behavioral and Social Attributes
The candidate must have the emotional health required for full utilization of his/her intellectual abilities, the ability to exercise good judgment, the prompt completion of all responsibilities connected to the diagnosis and care of patients and the development of mature, sensitive and effective relationships with patients and family members and health care providers. Candidates must be able to work effectively as a member of the health-care team. Candidates must also be able to tolerate physically taxing workloads and to function effectively under stress. They must be able to adapt to changing environments, to display flexibility and to learn to function in the realm of uncertainties inherent in the clinical problems of many patients. Compassion, integrity, concern for others, interpersonal skills, collegiality, interest and motivation are all personal qualities that are assessed during the admission and education processes.

Physician assistant students are reviewed individually and on a case basis using the standards as described. Mercyhurst University abides by federal, state and local law in admissions, employment and all services and programs provided. Mercyhurst University complies with federal, state and local legislation and regulations regarding nondiscrimination. Mercyhurst University does not discriminate in the admissions process, educational program or employment process against any on the basis of the individual’s age, race, color, religion, sex, creed, citizenship status, ancestry, national or ethnic origin, familial status, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, military or veteran status or any other legally protected characteristic or because of any individual’s legally protected activities.

Accepted students with a disability who believe they may require special accommodations should contact the Chair of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies immediately upon accepting the offer of admissions. Prior to matriculation, all accepted students must attest in writing that they are able to meet these defined program technical standards.


Tuition and Fees

Estimated Tuition/Fees

Expenses — First Year

 Credit Based 
 Tuition ($736 credit @ 53)  39,008
 University Fees:  
           Registration  130
           Technology  180
           ID Badge  35
           Program Fee  2,850
            Anatomy Lab Fee  200
            Medical Equipment Fee  950
 Total:  43,353 
 Expenses — Second Year  Credit Based
 Tuition ($736 credit @ 44)  32,384
 University Fees:  
           Registration  130
           Technology  180
           Graduation  165
           Program Fee  2,850
 Total:  35,709 

Fees and expenses not included in Estimate:

Living expenses – variable cost
Books – approximate $1500-2000
Clearance costs – approximate $150

PSPA conference travel and housing – variable cost
AAPA conference meals only – variable cost

Total credits: 97

Total program cost per student:

Credit based $79,062

The following information is an estimate of tuition for the entire 24-month program. Please note that these estimates may change annually. Should the program not gain accreditation, any deposit or tuition payment will be refunded.


Admission Requirements

Applicants must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited college/university, or evidence of expected completion of a bachelor degree at the time of application. The undergraduate degree must be completed at time of matriculation.

Minimum GPA of 3.2 for undergraduate work and a minimum of 3.2 or higher in prerequisite courses.

Prerequisite Courses

Credits | Course

8 Biology with labs
12 Chemistry with labs (General and Organic)
4 Biochemistry with lab
4 Anatomy with lab
4 Physiology with lab
4 Microbiology with lab
3 Genetics
3 Statistics
3 Psychology
3 Nutrition
2-3 Medical Terminology

  • Applicants must have a “C” or better in all science courses. Courses taken as pass/fail or for noncredit will not be accepted.
  • A minimum of 12 credits of the prerequisite courses including physiology and microbiology must be completed within a 5 year time frame at matriculation.
  • 200 hours of healthcare experience (paid or volunteer).
  • GRE verbal and quantitative reasoning scores will be used in the evaluation of the application. GRE's must be completed within a 5 year time frame at application.
  • Applicants are required to supply 3 letters of recommendation.
  • Applicants must submit a succinct essay that discusses professional goals in reference to the physician assistant profession.
  • All course work in the program must be taken in sequence. Transfer/advanced placement or life experience credit will not be offered.
  • International students must submit official, notarized scores from the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam and must meet the minimum score requirement of 550 for the paper based test and 79-80 for the internet-based test.
  • Entry into the program will be based on the completion of prerequisites, interview and space availability.
  • Preference will be given to equally qualified Mercyhurst graduates.
  • Criminal background checks, including finger printing, child abuse clearance and drug screening are a prerequisite within the program. Drug screening results may limit the ability to obtain clinical training sites and can prevent a student from being promoted to the clinical phase of the program or recommended for graduation. Felony and Misdemeanor convictions can limit the ability of national certification, state licensure and clinical training experiences. The National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) is a good resource for guidance for concerns with background findings.


Application Process

Apply Today

Application deadline: November 15, 2014

  • Apply for FREE online
  • An application fee of $35 is required for paper applications submitted; checks should be payable to Mercyhurst University.

Applications will be evaluated by the Graduate Admissions Department with the established prerequisites. Students who meet requirements for interview will be notified of invite to interview on a rolling basis. Applications for the class entering in June 2015 will be accepted beginning July 15, 2014 and will have a deadline of November 15, 2014.

Defined requirements for interview include the following:

  • Degree completion (or evidence of degree completion) prior to matriculation.
  • Meets GPA requirements.
  • Course requirements met (or evidence of course work in progress that will meet requirements).
  • Health care experience, evidence of 200 hours.
  • Must have GRE scores, TOFEL if needed, letters of recommendation and essay on file.
  • Interviews will then be scheduled in the late fall and will be processed by the admissions committee within the department.
  • In the event that the program does not gain accreditation, candidates will be given a full refund

Candidates will be chosen with process of evaluation from the interview, published prerequisites and space availability. Candidates will be notified in writing of acceptance and will be given two weeks to reply and pay a deposit.


Annual Health Screening and Immunization

All students MUST provide proof of health insurance prior to matriculation. Each Student’s personal health insurance policy must remain active throughout their participation in the program.


Students are financially responsible for the cost of all health care services they may require while enrolled in the program, including any health care services required as a result of their participation in scheduled program activities (e.g. TB testing, immunizations, treatment of injuries, pathogen exposure evaluation and treatment).


Prior to matriculation into the didactic and clinical phase of the program students must have a health screening to prove they are in good health, free from communicable disease and hold current immunization status.  This is to be completed by their primary care provider and include a health history, physical examination, immunization verification and laboratory verification of serologic testing for immunity (antibody test results) as indicated on the DPAS Student Health Record.  See appendix H in the Student Handbook for a copy of this form. The Cohen Student Health Center does not provide immunizations or health screening for this requirement.


DPAS students are required to have current immunization status throughout enrollment in the program as recommended for healthcare personnel by the Centers for Disease Control.  Please refer to the following link for the most current CDC guidelines: and  


All students must have baseline tuberculosis screening in the form of a tuberculosis skin test (TST) or Quantiferon testing (if applicable) performed in accordance with CDC guidelines within one year of matriculation and again before beginning the clinical phase. Additionally, certain clinical sites may have more stringent requirements. If the any TB testing is positive, evaluation and treatment if indicated must be completed in accordance with current CDC guidelines.


The Cohen Health Center staff will review the health record information to ensure that the student meets the defined requirements.  Students who are not in compliance with having a completed health record will not be allowed to participate in clinical experiences and may delay their education and progression in the program of study.


The student health record is a confidential document that is not accessible to the department program faculty, department chair, medical director, or program staff.  Per accreditation standards the only information that will be accessible to the department student file is the student’s immunization record and tuberculosis screening.  Students must give written permission for their health information to be shared with clinical sites.  This statement is located directly on the student health record.


Students must be current with all required immunizations. Either record of immunization or serologic proof of immunity must be provided for all listed conditions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for health care personnel, to include but may not be limited to:


1.  Hepatitis B: Proof of the three-dose immunization against Hepatitis B. This series must be started within 30 days of matriculation. Following completion of the Hepatitis B series, a positive (immune) titer must be completed prior to patient contact. Non-converters may require additional immunizations per the CDC recommendations.


2.  Mumps: Records of titer validating current immunity and/or 2-dose vaccine series being administered on schedule.


3.  Rubeola (measles): Records of titer validating current immunity and/or 2-dose vaccine series being administered on schedule.


4.  Rubella: Records of titer validating current immunity and/or 1-dose MMR immunization.


5.  Varicella: Records of titer validating current immunity and/or 2-dose vaccine series being administered on schedule. Note: History of previous infection is not sufficient evidence of immunity.


6.  Diphtheria/Tetanus/Pertussis: Documentation of a completed primary series with Tdap or DTP and booster within the last ten years.


7.  Influenza: Will be required to obtain influenza immunization annually while enrolled in the program.


Program faculty, department chair, medical director, or program staff will not participate as health care providers for students enrolled in the program and will not have access to any student health information other than that defined in this policy.

The mission of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies (DPAS) is to prepare students with the highest quality academic and clinical training. The program will prepare physician assistants to be leaders in the profession, proficient in meeting the challenges of healthcare, while providing compassionate, quality care to the diverse communities in which they serve.

The department’s mission, vision and core goals were developed to align with the university’s mission, vision and core values. Emphasis has been placed on the Mercy tradition and healthcare core values to stay true to the basic principles set forth by our founders.


Mercyhurst University’s Department of Physician Assistant Studies will be at the forefront of the education of physician assistants who will excel in professional excellence and leadership. They will be advocates for just practices, policies and standards in the profession, and advocate for the right to good healthcare in society.

Core Goals

  • Recruit successful student applicants.
  • Provide curriculum to ensure the necessary knowledge and skills for entry into the physician assistant practice.
  • Prepare graduates to meet the workforce needs in various healthcare settings.
  • Encourage social awareness to empower faculty and students to be agents of changes in the realm of service to the community.
  • Inspire leadership in the profession and community.

Guided by our vision and core goals the Department of Physician Assistant Studies will use the following as indicators of success in achieving the mission:

  • Analysis of applicant pool demographics, overall and prerequisite GPA.
  • ARC accreditation and PANCE pass rates.
  • Tracking of cohort's job placement in location and specialty.
  • Tracking of student faculty service location and hours. 
  • List of faculty, student and graduate leadership and professional contributions.

Upon completion of the Mercyhurst Department of Physician Assistant Studies, the graduate will possess knowledge, skills and abilities in the following competencies:

  1. Demonstrate knowledge of established and evolving biomedical, clinical and social-behavioral sciences and application to patient care.
  2. Elicit a medical history that is relevant and accurate of patient information across the lifespan and adjusts to the health care setting.
  3. Perform a physical examination that adjusts accordingly to the reason for the visit, patient demographics and condition.
  4. Analyze patient data to develop a differential diagnosis that applies the principals of epidemiology and evidence-based medicine.  
  5. Develop a diagnostic management plan for common medical and behavioral conditions across the life span, taking into consideration cost, sensitivity/specificity, invasiveness and appropriate sequencing. 
  6. Develop a therapeutic management plan for emergent, acute and chronic conditions that applies principals of pharmacotherapeutics and non-pharmacotherapeutics while taking into consideration the patient’s condition, psychosocial context and socioeconomic factors.  Make certain the plan is practical for implementation and ensures follow up care.
  7. Provide accurate patient education inclusive of health promotion and disease prevention in oral and written forms taking into consideration literacy, diversity, inclusiveness of family/caregivers and utilization of other healthcare professionals and community resources/services.
  8. Communicate clearly and effectively in oral and written forms with patients, family/caregivers and members of the healthcare team to provide competent comprehensive patient-centered care across the lifespan.
  9. Perform medical and surgical procedures common to primary care to include: venipuncture, intervenous access, injections, EKG analysis, urinalysis, strep screen, wet mount/KOH, stool occult blood, wound management, casting, splinting, urinary catheterization, nasogastric tube placement and CPR.
  10. Demonstrate professionalism with high ethical standards sensitive to the patient, family/caregiver and members of the health care team.  Continually promote the Mercy values of compassion, justice, dignity, excellence, hospitality and stewardship in practice and service to the community.
  11. Maintain practice-based and lifelong learning skills with continued critical analysis of medical literature to evaluate, manage and improve patient-centered care.
  12. Demonstrate responsiveness to systems-based practice by practicing cost effective care and resource allocation that does not compromise the quality of care.

Catherine Gillespie Chair, Department of Physician Assistant Studies Office: CMC 105 Phone: 824-2513

Holly Jodon Associate Director/Associate Professor Office: CMC 214 Phone: 824-2596

Marcie Fitzgerald Clinical Director, Department of Physician Assistant Studies Office: CMC 215 Phone: 824-3861

Paul Holley Medical Director, Department of Physician Assistant Studies Office: CMC 216 Phone: 824-2598

Robin Duke Assistant Professor, Department of Physician Assistant Studies Office: CMC 217 Phone: 824-2578

Sue Rogers Administrative Secretary, Department of Physician Assistant Studies Office: CMC 110 Phone: 824-2598