PA Education, Certification & Competencies


Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the PA

In the United States, PA programs are accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. (ARC-PA) which is charged with protecting public interests and the physician assistant profession. The ARC-PA publishes the Accreditation Standards for Physician Assistant Education, minimum standards of proficiency that all U.S. PA Programs must follow to obtain and maintain accreditation. Only ARC-PA accredited (provisional or continuing) programs are permitted to train entry level physician assistant students and only graduates from accredited programs are eligible to sit for their national certification examinations. The standards cover Program Administration, Curriculum & Instruction, Program Evaluation, Provisional Accreditation, and Accreditation Maintenance. 

Physician Assistant Education Association

In addition to the ARC-PA Standards, PA programs also receive guidance from the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA). The PAEA is our national organization representing PA programs in the U.S. and is charged with collecting and disseminating information on PA programs and developing educational services and products to assist PA programs. 

Besides offering excellent faculty development workshops, assisting programs with accreditation processes, operating the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA), developing training examinations for students, and publishing the Journal of Physician Assistant Education (JPAE), the PAEA also regularly collects and publishes surveys from matriculating students, graduates, faculty and programs.

One  of their particularly useful survey reports is the Matriculating Student Survey. By reviewing this report, individuals can discover general and specific information regarding PA programs in the U.S. and the qualities and characteristics of students who were accepted into PA programs, including, but not limited to, general demographic information, academic, occupational and personal experience, and information on GPAs, healthcare experience, volunteer experience, etc. Such information may help an individual get a sense of their general competitiveness for acceptance into a PA program. 

Although the most recent report is restricted to PAEA members, the previous report is available to the general public:

Our Program's Curriculum


In the United States, PAs are certified by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). After successfully graduating from an accredited Physician Assistant program (with either provisional or continuing status), students are eligible to sit for their national board examination, the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE). After successfully attaining credentialing, and meeting annual continuing medical education (CME) requirements, Physician Assistants must retake and pass a recertifying board examination, the Physician Assistant National Recertification Examination (PANRE), every 6-10 years.

The NCCPA has developed and regularly updates their content blueprint for the PANCE and PANRE. The Blueprint, based upon national primary care surveys, represents the organization of exam materials by Organ Systems (and the diseases, disorders and evaluations related to those systems) and Practice Task Areas.

Presently, the percentage of exam content related to organ systems is as follows:

  • 16%: Cardiovascular
  • 12%: Pulmonary
  • 10%: Gastrointestinal/ Nutrition
  • 10%: Musculoskeletal
  • 9%: Eyes, Ears, Nose & Throat
  • 8%: Reproductive
  • 6%: Endocrine
  • 6%: Genitourinary
  • 6%: Neurologic System
  • 6%: Psychiatric/Behavioral
  • 5%: Dermatologic
  • 3%: Hematologic
  • 3%: Infectious Diseases

Presently, the percentage of exam content related to task areas is as follows:

  • 18%: Formulating the Most Likely Diagnosis
  • 18%: Pharmaceutical Therapeutics
  • 16%: History Taking & Performing Physical Examinations
  • 14%: Clinical Intervention
  • 14% Using Laboratory & Diagnostic Studies
  • 10%: Health Maintenance
  • 10%: Applying Basic Science Concepts

In developing our Program, we used the NCCPA blueprint as a foundation - a starting point - then augmented that foundation to include additional diseases and conditions not listed but, as seasoned medical clinicians and educators, we recognized as vital to our students' education. Additionally, we did not constrain our Program modules to the percentages of the NCCPA's Organ System blueprint, viewing organ systems that were given a relatively low percentage as equally or near-equally important to those assigned a relatively higher percentage. 


The Competencies serve as a map for the individual PA, the physician-PA team, and organizations committed to promoting the development and maintenance of professional competencies among physician assistants.... [As an overriding theme, the competencies] include an unwavering commitment to patient safety, cultural competence, quality health care, lifelong learning, and professional growth.

                    ~ Competencies for the Physician Assistant Profession

In 2003 and 2004, the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA), the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA), the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), and the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) collaborated to define our professional competencies, some of which occur via PA education and others mastered during one's career. The effort resulted in the Competencies for the Physician Assistant Profession. The document was updated in 2012 and formally adopted by all four organizations by 2013. Our own Program Learning Outcomes are based, in-part, on these nationally recognized competencies.

Emory, Va. Campus: P.O. Box 947, Emory, Va. 24327 (map)    276.944.4121
Marion, Va. Campus: 565 Radio Hill Rd., Marion, Va. 24354 (map)    276.944.6342 ·  276.781.7200