What we’re talking about at the 2017 PAEA Education Forum

Oct 23, 2017 | Our Activities

PA programs have the extraordinary challenge of preparing competent, highly trained healthcare practitioners in just 27 months. The short, demanding curriculum means students need to be fully ready to learn from day one! In the clinical phase of their training, students need to be able to think critically, solve problems and learn to make good clinical decisions. We are presenting resources at PAEA 2017 to help PA programs solve both of these challenges.

We are gearing up for the 2017 PAEA Education Forum in Denver and looking forward to it. This year we are highlighting two important initiatives where we are helping PA programs to prepare the best possible practitioners. Educating, training and preparing aspiring PA professionals in an average of 27 months is no easy task. So, on the front side of the curriculum, we have developed a new readiness program designed to help PA educators get a better handle on what their students know at the start of the program. Within the curriculum, we are helping PA educators better assess how well their students can think critically and apply what they’ve learned from the didactic portion of their training. Together these resources are designed to further support a PA program’s mission of graduating competent, ready-to-practice professionals in just 27 months.

Our readiness program had as its genesis what we learned from the many conversations we’ve had with health science educators. Our focus has always been health sciences, and we work with programs across many disciplines, from medicine to nursing. Many struggle with two common issues. Some of their incoming students are not fully prepared for the curriculum they face. Even for highly selective programs, there is still great variability in the core foundational subject knowledge and understanding that students bring with them on the first day of class. And secondly, there is great variability in what the students were taught and learned in their undergraduate coursework. Together, these challenges mean that there are at-risk students needing further support at the start of the program, and that there are some students who have difficulty in mastering the core foundational subjects such as anatomy, physiology or pathology. Health science programs continue to have students who fail key courses in the early part of their curriculum. Within a demanding, packed curriculum, students that fall behind are at a significant disadvantage.

What our readiness program does is test students in up to 11 foundational subjects including anatomy and physiology, to see what they really know at the start of the program. Admissions exam typically do not provide this detailed level of information, or, in the case of Physician Assistants, there is no specific admissions exam for the discipline. With our readiness assessment program educators baseline information on student preparedness that they can then to provide additional support for their students. Students can use this information formatively to guide and focus extra study they might need to do to stay on track. We also offer supplemental questions in all 11 subjects so that students needing help can improve their knowledge with quizzes and self-directed study.

For the clinical decision-making and critical thinking areas, we offer a special assessment type modeled somewhat on the OSCE-type questions they use on the Canadian dental boards. These questions are challenging to develop well, but they are very powerful in their scope. For each question, students can be presented with some type of interpretive information including a clinical case, a lab image, or other interpretive information such as a patient chart. Students must then answer one or more challenging questions related to the case by selecting from a set of possible answer choices. Typically, more than one answer choice must be selected for achieving full credit. Students must navigate through the choices, avoid guessing (they are penalized for that) and avoid the landmines in terms of choosing a seriously wrong answer choice (automatic failure). We have found that these are more difficult for students to answer correctly, and even with students who may be good multiple choice test-takers, they still are very challenged. Consequently, these questions serve as excellent discriminators for determining which students can think critically and which ones cannot.

So, back to PAEA… We will be presenting these resources and explaining how they can help any PA program. Of course, we continue to support PANCE preparation, and PA programs in other ways. We look forward to the conversations happening at booth 606!