Physician Assistant Education

Ashley Loftis2
“We know what to expect from the UAMS PA Program. I love the integration of the practical and the academic.”
-Ashley Loftis, Conway, AR

Generally, most PA educational programs are 24 to 30 months in length depending on the curriculum and the degree offered. The first half of the curriculum or schooling is spent in the classroom with generally some clinical experience with patients.  The standard courses that the students are required to complete include anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, microbiology, physical examination skills and history taking, clinical medicine, labs and diagnostic testing, ethics, and emergency medicine.  Every PA Program will have the basic courses but the subject areas may be grouped together differently.

Programs will also incorporate courses specific to the program curricula such as communication, evidence-based medicine, professional issues, community medicine, public health or surgical medicine. 

During the second half of the curriculum, the students spend at least 12 months on clinical rotations with precepting (student supervising) physicians and physician assistants. Each clinical rotation is generally 4 weeks to 8 weeks in length in required areas like family medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine, general surgery, emergency medicine, and women’s health.  Again, each program may have additional clinical rotation experiences depending upon the mission and goals of the program. During the clinical rotations, the students are actively seeing patients and working with physicians.  Depending on the type of rotation, the students may be evaluating patients in a clinic or emergency room, making rounds at a hospital, assisting in surgery, and taking call in conjunction with the physician.

Students generally graduate with a master’s level degree.

The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA)

The ARC-PA is the national accrediting organization for physician assistant education.  Accreditation by this agency is to ensure that quality education is being provided to all students nationally. 

All new physician assistant programs apply for Accreditation Provisional in which they must submit an extensive application and participate in a two-day on-campus accreditation site visit.  If the PA Program meets the national accreditation standards and Accreditation Provisional is awarded, the PA Program must participate in two additional site visits, one occurs six months before their first cohort of students graduates from the program and the second occurs a year later. 

At this time the PA Program is awarded Accreditation Continuing if they meet the accreditation standards. Programs may be awarded 1 year, 3 years, 5 years or 7 years of accreditation depending on their compliance with the accreditation standards and years in existence.

Once PA Programs have Accreditation Continuing, they must complete a self-study and an on-campus site visit depending on the number of years a program has been accredited for. In addition, the ARC-PA continues to monitor all programs for adherence to accreditation standards annually. Their role is to accredit and monitor new and established PA Programs to assist in ensuring the highest quality of PA education nationally.

Whether a PA student graduates from a program that has Accreditation Provisional or Accreditation Continuing, he or she will be graduating from a nationally accredited program.

For further information regarding the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA), please visit their website at:

UAMS PA Program
UAMS PA Program
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