Physician Assistant Studies

Frequently Asked Questions

About the PA Profession

Q: What is a Physician Assistant (PA)?
A: A Physician Assistant or (PA) works with a physician in a variety of clinical settings. Physician Assistants are trained to assess healthcare issues, to perform physical exams, provide preventative care, to counsel behavioral health issues and to diagnose and treat acute and chronic illnesses and injuries. There are over 68,000 practicing Physician Assistants serving in private practice, in the military and federal government, in clinics and hospitals, community and rural clinics and hospitals and overseas.

Q: Who is eligible to become a Physician Assistant?
A: South College's Masters of Health Science, School of Physician Assistant Studies is very competitive. Applicants are required to have an undergraduate degree including prerequisite courses in the sciences. Applicants should have experience within the medical field supervised by a healthcare provider such as a physician or physician assistant. Candidates should have personalities which demonstrate good working relationships with patients and co-workers. Physician assistant students must have coping abilities in order to succeed in this rigorous 27 month program.

Q: Are the laws governing Physician Assistants the same from state to state?
A: No. While Physician Assistants are licensed to practice in the United States, each state has specific regulations regarding licensing and limitations of health care providers. This information is available through each state's licensing medical board. Information regarding practice and prescriptive rights for each state may also be obtained through the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

Applying to the South College PA Program

Q: Why haven't I heard anything about my application?
A: You will be notified only when your application is complete. Once we receive your CASPA application, Supplemental application (with fee), and GRE scores, we will generate an e-mail to let you know that your application is complete and ready for review.

Q: How can I get a status update on my application?
A: As a rule of thumb, we send out notifications once your file is complete and ready for review. Interviews are held January–May and applicants selected to interview are notified 3-4 weeks prior to their interview date. Due to the large number of applications that we receive each year, we are unable to give individual status updates during the application process. Status updates will be sent to all applicants by July.

Q: CASPA only allows three letters of recommendation. Can I send additional letters to you?
A: Yes. You can send additional letters directly to us to be added to your file. Please send the additional letters to: Attn: School of Physician Assistant Studies 400 Goody's Lane, Knoxville, TN 37922.

Q: I can no longer access my CASPA file to update information. Who do I send updates to?
A: You can update your file by sending an e-mail to pa_program@southcollegetn.edu.

Q: My e-mail, address, or phone number has changed. I have a transcript update. Who do I contact to update my file?
A: You can update you file by sending an e-mail to pa_program@southcollegetn.edu.

GRE / MCAT

Q: Can I substitute the MCAT for the GRE?
A: No. The GRE is the required test.

Q: I have a Master's Degree; do I still have to take the GRE?
A: Yes.  The GRE test is required from all applicants.

Q: Why does the PA Program require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE)?
A: Most graduate level educational programs require the GRE in order to determine if a candidate has the aptitude to be successful in an intensive program of study that requires higher order thinking and problem solving. The GRE scores assist the Admissions Committee evaluate candidate's academic ability and supplement the information we can gain from review of the overall grade point average and transcript. Additional information about the GRE can be obtained at http://www.gre.org/.

Q: Is there a limit on how many times I can take the GRE?
A: No.

Q: If I have taken the GRE multiple times, how do you determine which scores are used?
A: We will use the highest score from each section of the test.

Q: Is there a time limit on how old a GRE score can be?
A: No. We do not have any limitation on how long ago the GRE was taken at this time.

Q: What is the department code for the GRE?
A: The department code is 0699, but any code is acceptable.

Q: I took the GRE but I did not take the analytical writing. Do I need to go back and re-take the test with it?
A: We will not accept a GRE score without analytical writing.

Q: What is your school code for the GRE?
A: Our school code is 1310.

Applicant's GPA

Q: How do you calculate the overall GPA?
A: We utilize the CASPA GPA which is an average of all completed courses and does include any courses that have been retaken.

Q: What is the average GPA for students accepted into the program?
A: The minimum GPA required for admission is 2.75 and the average class GPA varies above that for each class we have accepted. We focus on your academic preparation in total and other areas such as references, background in healthcare, and your passion for being a PA, not just the GPA.

Q: What is the minimum GPA requirement?
A: The minimum GPA that an applicant must have is a 2.75 overall.

Applicant's Patient Care Experience

Q: Do you accept students with little or no patient care experience?
A: We do not require health care experience, but the majority of our accepted students have had direct patient care experience.

Q: What is the best way for me to obtain direct patient care experience?
A: One option is to take a certificate course to become a CNA OR EMT or volunteer in a free clinic.

Application Review Process

Q: How many applications do you receive?
A: We currently receive over 1000 applications per cycle.

Q: How many applicants do you interview?
A: As many as we feel are necessary to fill our class.

Q: How many applicants do you accept?
A: We plan on accepting about 70 students into the class of 2014.

Q: How many applicants are placed on the wait-list?
A: We always have a large wait-list and use it when needed. The number varies with the number of candidates we interview.

Q: Do any applicants placed on the wait-list ever gain admission to the program?
A: Yes. Every year we will pull from the wait-list.

Q: What is the application deadline?
A: March 1st is our CASPA deadline for classes beginning in the fall. Applicant's E-submitted CASPA application is required by this date.

Accepted Coursework

Q: I have taken Anatomy and Physiology but my school did not offer a lab. Is this ok?
A: No. A lab component is required.

Q: Can I substitute an advanced biology course for Biology I or II?
A: Yes, for Biology II with approval. Please send in course description for review

Q: I am currently in the process of applying to your PA program and I am wondering if I am going to be taking courses that are prerequisites for the program in the upcoming semester (or quarter) will I still be eligible to be considered for admittance into your program?
A: Yes. You can be in the process of finishing your pre-requisites while applying to the program; however, you must successfully complete those courses prior to the start of fall classes. With that said, it is preferable that you have all pre-requisites completed prior to the March 1 deadline as that will make you a more competitive candidate.

Q: Do you accept online courses for pre-requisites?
A: Yes with approval. Please send course description, syllabus, and name of institution for review.

Q: Do you accept Advanced Placement (AP) courses for prerequisites?
A: No.

Q: Do you accept College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) credits for prerequisites?
A: No.

Q: I have a foreign degree. Am I eligible for the program?
A: In order to be eligible for admittance into our program, every applicant must have a Baccalaureate Degree from a regionally accredited school in the United States.

Veteran Applicants

Q: I just read about your "VET-UP: Life Savers then, Caregivers for the Future" program. Can you give me more information on this program?
A: The VET-UP program has been set up for those medics and corpsmen who have prior military medical experience. Please contact the School of Physician Assistant Studies directly about this specific program.

Applicants Wanting to Visit

Q: Can I schedule a visit to meet with a faculty advisor of the PA Program and tour the facility?
A: We hold information sessions, during which you will see a presentation on our program and have an opportunity to ask questions. Dates and times of the information sessions can be found on our web site.

Q: Can I visit and sit in on a class or shadow a student to see what a typical day is like?
A: Due to the intensive nature of our courses, we believe this would be too much of a distraction to the students and therefore do not allow anyone to sit in on a class.

Attending South College PA Program

Q: How long is the South College Physician Assistant Program?
A: The Physician Assistant Program at South College is 27 months in duration of approximately 15 months of didactic and 12 months of clinical studies.

Q: Can I attend your program on a part time basis?
A: No. Our program requires full-time attendance for 27 months.

Q: Can I remain employed while I attend the Physician Assistant program?
A: Students are not permitted to work in a full-time status while attending the Physician Assistant Program. The intensity of the curriculum is such that employment outside of class time will negatively impact academic and clinical performance.

Q: I am an incoming PA student. Is there an Apartment Guide available?
A: There are several Apartment Guides for Knoxville. Here is one resource that may be helpful: http://www.knoxvilleapartmentguide.com/index.asp

Online Classes Within PA Program

Q: Do you offer online courses?
A: No. Our program does not offer any online courses.

Clinical Preceptors

Q: What is an Adjunct Clinical Preceptor?
A: An Adjunct Clinical Preceptor is a licensed health professional who provides clinical education to students in their area of expertise. Clinical preceptors assist students in strengthening their foundations in physical exams, problem assessment, diagnosis, procedural skills, treatment, recording and reporting, and consulting. Preceptors are mentors and role models who instruct the student academic and clinical environment. Preceptors receive guidance from academic and clinical objectives provided by the South College, School of Physician Assistant Studies.

Q: What are some of the responsibilities of a clinical preceptor?
A: Some of the responsibilities of a preceptor include and are not limited to:

  • Allowing for clinical space and a variety of clinical patient encounters necessary for experience within the rotation.
  • Ensuring the student receives a wide clinical experience by reviewing the necessary clinical objectives for the specific rotation. Preceptors supplement the student with information to build upon and strengthen the student's current foundation of knowledge.
  • Preceptors must be on site to teach, consult and supervise the student. This commitment may be shared by two or more approved Clinical Preceptors. Students are expected to work an average of 45 hours per week.
  • Preceptors assist in developing the student's skills through observation, demonstration and advising during the clinical phase of the rotation.
  • As preceptors get to know the student, he or she may increase the level of responsibility to the student in clinical assessment and management.
  • Preceptors provide the student an opportunity to utilize and become proficient in electronic or manual medical record skills.
  • Preceptors re-evaluate each patient a student presents ensuring accuracy in history and physical examine techniques.
  • The preceptors supervision ensures students do not practice outside of their known competencies and within the state's legislation.
  • Preceptors ensure all patients seen by a student are presented and an accurate diagnosis and medical management plan is transcribed. All documentation by a student must be reviewed for accuracy and counter-signed by the preceptor.
  • Preceptors evaluate the student's didactic and clinical knowledge through feedback with the student, faculty, by completing the student's clinical evaluation form and via telephone should he or she have concerns or questions regarding students or the clinical phase of the program. Any concerns or questions regarding mentoring, clinical syllabi, clinical rotations, and student concerns should be directed to the Director of Clinical services via phone or e-mail.

Q: Am I allowed to pick my own clinical rotation sites and preceptors?
A: Clinical learning rotation sites and preceptors are selected and evaluated by the PA Program's Clinical Faculty. Students are not required or permitted to supply their own clinical sites or preceptors. However, students may suggest a clinical site/preceptor to the Director of Clinical Services a minimum of four months prior to the start of the suggested clinical rotation. The Director of Clinical Services will approve or disapprove of the prospective site/preceptor following evaluation of the site and preceptor by the Clinical Faculty. Students are not permitted to make formal arrangements for clinical learning rotations with clinical sites or preceptors without prior approval from the Director of Clinical Services. Students are responsible for their own travel, meals, and lodging during the clinical year.

If you or someone you know are a licensed health care provider in Behavioral Health, Woman's Health, General Surgery, Emergency Medicine, Pediatrics, Internal Medicine, Family/Geriatric Medicine, Cardiology, Pulmonology, Gastroenterology, Urology, Orthopedics, Infectious Disease or other specialty, and are interested in mentoring a physician assistant student, please make inquiries to rdailey@southcollegetn.edu.

Graduate Employment

Q: What percent of graduates are employed and in which clinical areas?
A: Our most recent alumni employment review was completed in March 2012, with 68 respondents from the classes of 2009 & 2010 (94% response rate). Of those reporting, 100% have reported employment in the field. The majority are working in Primary Care (defined as Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, OB/GYN, and Pediatrics).

Grad Employment