Physician Assistant Studies

A day in the life of a grad student

Our students were challenged to describe their graduate experience with one image and six words. Below are the 2021 "Say it in 6" entries from the Physician Assistant Studies program. 


UWL PA Program Logo

Our Physician Assistant program is unique in that it is a partnership between four organizations, including the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Gundersen Medical Foundation, Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences, and Marshfield Clinic Health System.  Students benefit from the expertise of dedicated academic and clinical instructors from all four institutions. Didactic instruction during the first year of the program occurs at the Health Science Center located on the campus of UWL, while clinical instruction during the second year occurs within the three clinical partners’ healthcare systems. Through our partnership, the program strives to educate highly competent and compassionate physician assistants who excel in meeting the healthcare needs of the regions served by Gundersen, Mayo, and Marshfield healthcare systems. 

The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, in partnership with the Gundersen Medical Foundation of La Crosse and the Mayo Clinic School of Health Science of Rochester, Minnesota, first established this physician assistant educational program in 1995 as a Bachelor of Science program.  In June of 2004, the program enrolled its first class in the Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies program.   In August of 2017, Marshfield Clinic joined the programmatic partnership, providing additional sites for student clinical rotations.  While our mission remains committed to educating competent and compassionate physician assistants, the regions served by the partner institutions has expanded to include central Wisconsin as well as western Wisconsin, eastern Minnesota, and Iowa.   

The program, accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) since 1997, has maintained 100% five-year pass rate on the Physician Assistant National Certification Examination (PANCE) and exceptional job placement upon graduation.  In keeping with the mission of our program, most graduates are now employed in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. 

Accreditation expanding section

The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) has granted Accreditation-Continued status to the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse Physician Assistant Program sponsored by the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.  Accreditation-Continued is an accreditation status granted when a currently accredited program is in compliance with the ARC-PA Standards.

Accreditation remains in effect until the program closes or withdraws from the accreditation process or until accreditation is withdrawn for failure to comply with the Standards.  The approximate date for the next validation review of the program by the ARC-PA will be September 2027.  The review date is contingent upon continued compliance with the Accreditation Standards and ARC-PA policy.

ARC-PA Program Accreditation History

Mission & Vision expanding section

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. 
Clinical Rotations expanding section

All students complete 11, 4-week clinical rotations during their second year (June through the following April).  Seven rotations are in required or core areas of medicine and intended to provide a broad foundation for a generalist PA:  general surgery, emergency medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics, internal medicine, family medicine and behavioral health.  The remaining four supplemental rotations occur in practice environments intended to broaden the student’s skill and base of knowledge as well as providing depth to interest areas expressed by the student.  Supplemental choices are determined by the program based on preceptor/site availability and student interest. 

In keeping with the mission of the program, a majority of the required clinical rotations are completed with our partner institutions:  the Gundersen, Mayo Clinic, and Marshfield Clinic Health Systems.  Student experiences are varied and take advantage of the many rural and suburban clinics and hospitals within the respective health systems in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.  Family medicine rotations will typically occur in rural sites outside of La Crosse, Rochester, and Marshfield.   

The student will be responsible for their own housing and transportation during the clinical year.  Some clinical sites are able to provide housing, however this is highly specific to the location and current availability.  Students are encouraged to secure housing through known contacts, personal connections, former students and the program’s index of clinical housing opportunities. 

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

Goals & Outcomes expanding section

Goal 1:  The program will attract highly qualified applicants with the academic background necessary to successfully complete the rigorous training required to become a physician assistant. 

Since 2010, the number of applicants received and the ratio of applications to available spots has progressively increased.  The pool of applicants remains strong academically, as indicated by GRE scores and undergraduate GPA of those matriculating into the program.  Our graduation rate over the past 5 years has been 97% with a first time pass rate on the PANCE of 100%.

Number of
Ratio of
to Available Spots
2010 167 19 8.8 3.82 3.80 1270
2011 220 19 11.6 3.79 3.75 1240
2012 240 19 12.6 3.86 3.84 1230
2013 274 19 14.4 3.88 3.87 318
2014 290 19 15.3 3.87 3.87 315
2015 319 19 16.8 3.91 3.89 318
2016 354 19 18.6 3.88 3.88 318
2017 366 19 19.3 3.88 3.83 315
2018 394 25 15.8 3.91 3.89 315
2019 416 28 14.9 3.89 3.86 314
2020 413 28 14.8 3.87 3.86 315
2021 486 28 17.4 3.92 3.89 314
2022 491 28 17.5 TBD TBD TBD

Recent student attrition information is available at Student Attrition

Goal 2:  The program will ensure that its graduates attain the medical knowledge necessary to become highly competent physician assistants. 

The first time pass rate on the PANCE for our 5 most recent graduating classes has been 100%.  The students consistently demonstrate excellent patient care as assessed by preceptors during clinical rotations, formative and summative faculty assessments, and employer surveys.  To view PANCE performance please visit NCCPA PANCE Exam Performance Summary Report Last 5 Year

Goal 3:  The program will ensure the development of excellent interpersonal skills essential for the effective practice of medicine as a physician assistant.

During the didactic year, faculty members assess professionalism and interpersonal skills during formative assessments of history-taking skills as well as classroom interactions before students may progress to the clinical year.  Preceptors of students during the clinical year and employers of graduates have consistently rated our students’ interpersonal and communication skills favorably on clinical rotation evaluations and employers’ surveys, respectively.

Goal 4:  The program will educate physician assistants who will meet the healthcare needs of the regions served by the partner institutions. 

The Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies was first offered to the graduating class of 2006.  Since that time, 90% of our graduates have stayed and helped meet the needs of the tri-state area served by the partner institutions.  

of Practice
Number of
Minnesota 113
Wisconsin 89
Illinois 4
Iowa 4
Oregon 3
Texas 3
Virginia 2
Alaska 1
Arizona 1
Indiana 1
Michigan 1
New Hampshire 1
North Carolina 1
North Dakota 1
Washington 1

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the national median average salary is $101,480 in 2016.  The 2016 median average salary in Wisconsin was $98,420 and $106,710 in Minnesota , per the U.S. Department of Labor sponsored Career One Stop . 

What is a Physician Assistant? expanding section

Physician assistants (PAs) are licensed and certified healthcare professionals who practice medicine in partnership with physicians.  Upon graduation from an accredited PA program and successful completion of the Physician Assistant National Certification Examination (PANCE), a PA seeks licensure from the state in which they intend to practice. Licensed PAs are qualified to take a medical history, conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, develop treatment plans, provide preventive care, assist in surgery, write prescriptions, make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes and perform clinical research. PAs perform these duties within a scope of practice established by the supervising physician, in accordance with state regulations.   PAs work in a variety of practice settings, including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and research centers.  They can provide care as a generalist in primary care settings or in subspecialty areas of medicine. 

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.  There are now over 225 PA educational programs in a variety of academic and clinical institutions.  PAs have become vital in 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 115,500 certified PAs working across the United States.  

For more information on the PA profession, the following resources may be helpful:

Employment Outlook expanding section

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of Physician Assistants is expected to grow 31% from 2018 to 2028, considerably faster than the national average for all occupations.  To learn more about the current employment outlook, please visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

UWL - Gundersen - Mayo - Marshfield Class of 2023




UWL - Gundersen - Mayo - Marshfield Class of 2022