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Physician Assistant Studies (MS)
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  • About Physician Assistant Studies (MS)

    UW-L LogoGundersen LogoMayo Logo


    The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, in partnership with the Gundersen Medical Foundation of La Crosse and the Mayo School of Health Science of Rochester, Minnesota, established this physician assistant educational program in 1995. The program's initial Bachelor of Science program enrolled eight classes that have completed courses at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, at Gundersen in La Crosse, and at the Mayo School of Health Sciences, Rochester, Minnesota. Most graduates are now employed in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa.

     In June of 2004 the program enrolled its first class in the Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies program.  Students take classes on the campuses of all three partner institutions.  Program instructors include renowned clinicians and scientists, along with dedicated UW-L PA program faculty.  Clinical rotation sites include primarily Gundersen, Mayo Clinic and Mayo Health System practices in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. 

     Mission Statement

    The mission of our program is to educate highly competent and compassionate physician assistants who excel in meeting the healthcare needs of the regions served by the partner institutions.

    Vision Statement

    We will continue to be a nationally recognized program by:

    • Selecting students with the academic background, interpersonal skills and maturity necessary to be outstanding physician assistants
    • Educating students who will excel in improving the health and wellness of patients through the supervised practice of medicine
    • Developing students who are grounded in professional ethics, cultural sensitivity, and the use of evidence based medicine. 

     The program is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA).  The last ARC-PA site visit was April 2010 at which time the program was granted full accreditation for seven years - the maximum allowed by the ARC-PA.  The program will next go up for review in 2017.

    Students complete nearly all required clinical rotations at Gundersen and Mayo sites. These sites include many rural sites in the Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa area, as well as sites in the major medical centers in Rochester and La Crosse.  The program assigns students to clinical sites after getting input from students regarding their geographic interests for the clinical phase.  All students do their family medicine rotation(s) at rural sites outside of La Crosse and Rochester.

    Though some clinical sites are able to provide housing to students at their facility, the program does not require sites to provide housing.  Ultimately, securing housing during the clinical phase is the student's responsibility.  Students are able to secure housing through contacts with previous students at the site, their own personal connections and the program's index of clinical housing opportunities.

    In the MS PAS program each student is required to complete a total of 44 weeks of clinical rotations, which can include up to 8 weeks of elective rotations in disciplines and at sites of their choosing.  Some students choose to do elective rotations at international locations, some pursue experiences in medical specialties not in the required curriculum, while others select electives with practices in which they are considering employment.  Thus, students have a great deal of flexibility and choice in selecting their electives.

    The following presentation provides a summary of the clinical year experience - Clinical Rotation Presentation

    Additional information about Gundersen and Mayo Clinic specialties and practice sites can be found at the following websites: 

    Pass rates on the Physician Assistant National Certification Exam ( PANCE ) are consistently above the national average.  Graduates' scores on the PANCE have routinely placed the program in the top 25% or higher of programs nationally since moving to the master's degree in physician assistant studies in 2006.  To view PANCE performance please visit National Certifying Examination Five Year First Time Taker Summary Report.

    As of May 2012 the program has 180 graduates.  The program graduated its first Master's degree class in 2006 and to date 79 students have graduated from the Master's degree program.  Specialty Area of Practice

    Most of those graduating from 2006-2011 have located in Minnesota and Wisconsin.  Location of Practice

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the national median average salary is $86,410 in 2010.  The 2010 median average salary in Wisconsin  for 2010 is $87,100 and $88,800 in Minnesota , per the U.S. Department of Labor sponsored Career One Stop . 

    What is a Physician Assistant?

    Physician assistants (PAs) are health professionals licensed to practice medicine with the supervision of a physician.  PAs work in a variety of practice settings including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and research centers.  PAs are qualified to take medical histories, examine patients, order and administer tests, make diagnoses, treat illnesses, and assist in surgery.  They are trained to provide care that otherwise would be administered by a physician.  PAs can provide care as generalists in primary care situations, or in subspecialty areas of medicine.  Common specialties in which PAs practice include family practice, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, emergency medicine, surgery, and pediatrics.  

    Education Programs for PAs began in the mid-1960s to help offset a shortage of doctors. Many of the first PAs were former military medical corpsmen who wanted to use their training and continue in the medical field. Now there are over 180 PA education programs in a variety of academic and clinical institutions.  PAs have become vital to bringing health care to underserved areas, such as rural communities, and enhancing efficiency in nearly every health care setting.  In 1973 there were fewer than 1,500 practicing PAs.  Today there are more than 100,000 PAs working across the United States.

    What is the difference between a PA and a NP?

    If you are the patient being cared for by either a PA or nurse practitioner (NP) and can't see your provider's name tag, you probably can't tell the difference. In any given practice setting the care provided will likely be indistinguishable based purely on the profession of the provider. Philosophically though, the approach each of these two professions takes in the care they provide their patients is different.   NPs describe themselves as advanced practitioners of nursing, while PAs practice medicine with physician supervision.  There is also some difference in specialty mobility.  NPs are trained in only one specialty (e.g. Family NP, Pediatric NP, Geriatric NP) and usually require additional formal training in order to move from one specialty to another. PAs are trained in a broad-based, primary care curriculum that allows mobility between specialties, typically with on-the-job training. 

    Employment Outlook

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of Physician Assistants is expected to grow 38% from 2012-2022, considerably faster than the national average for all occupations.  To learn more about the current employment outlook please visit – Bureau of Labor Statistics