Overview of 1st year Courses at McMaster’s  PA Program

Overview of first year physician assistant courses mcmaster

We sat down with Saif, who at the time was in 1st year PA school at McMaster University. Here he shares his experience in McMaster’s PA Program, and does a quick overview of courses he has been taking in first year.


What is Problem Based Learning (PBL)?

Tutorial – We have tutorial, and tutorials is where we learned our content through Problem Based Learning. 

Problem Based Learning is used in many health care programs at McMaster University. The Nursing program, Bachelor of Health Sciences (BHSc), Physiotherapy, Speech Language Pathology (SLP).

PBL is where you take a problem and then you learn from it. What that looks like in the PA program is that in tutorial you are given a case. The case is a trigger for a research question and learning objectives.

So and then when you come together, it’s not a lecture style. It’s tutorial, which is seven to eight people in a room with a tutor who will guide you along when you are straying from the path and you all come together after doing your research and you just discuss what you’ve learned and seeing where you have differences in research.

If there’s a difference in what was found, or if someone does not understand, you can explain. And you’re kind of just using this group-based setting to learn about the problem and to be able to solve the problem. So when you have a problem, you’re trying to find the solutions and learning solutions is the main part. So the problem gives you a solution.

Saif’s Favourite PBL Resources

Medical Textbooks including  Toronto Notes (now called Essential Med Notes), which provides you  the Canadian perspective or Canadian guidelines on, on long list of different diseases and complications and it condenses it really well.

I also like using because I’ve heard that it’s used pretty frequently in clinic and hospitals use it a lot. So I thought I should get used to it too. I have gotten somewhat used to it. There’s a lot of information. If you go to the summary tab it condenses it pretty well.

I also like to use AMBOSS, which provides also really good summaries and connect this information is the most important stuff. They provide links to videos.

I like watching Khan Academy videos, or any organization that does YouTube videos on diseases.

I watched a variety of those to get kind of a better picture and because sometimes being taught stuff is definitely helpful in those videos. They’re usually 10 minutes long so you can re-watch it a few times and add that to your notes.

It’s about using a variety of resources and finding resources that work for you, what kind your palate can, can take, is, is the best idea. I know a lot of people use a lot of different resources, but there’s some that are more popular than others like AMBOSS’s are popular and up to date. And watching Khan Academy videos or Osmosis videos are definitely a popular option.

Interviewing Examination & Reasoning (IER)

And then we have our I.E.R class so interviewing, examining and reasoning. And that is basically our clinical skills class where we learn how to take a history, how to take vitals or how to do a physical exam, listening to the heart, lungs, abdominal exam, lymphoid exam.

Wednesdays, which is our kind of flex day. We have communications class, which happens once a month. And that’s basically how we learn and practice talking to difficult patients or patients that are going through difficult scenarios that are a little bit more touchy.

This class is more just about communicating. You normally don’t have to bring knowledge or content. It’s kind of just being empathetic and relating to a patient. So for example, a patient who just found out that they have cancer, how do you approach that and how do you talk to them?

Professional Competencies (Pro Comp)

On some Wednesdays we have our professional competencies class and that’s where when we have usually a subject matter expert come in and explain a topic to us. These topics can include health policies, Canadian government, learning about the history of the PA role, PA advocacy, how social media affects the profession, affects healthcare, and learning about the interactions between PAs and other stakeholders. As well as what people are saying about PAs and their perspectives on them. So we are more well-rounded PA’s and clinicians when we’re working.

Large Group Sessions (LGS)

And then we also have LGS’s, which are large group sessions. These include learning about ECG or spirometry, other investigations. Sometimes we have sessions about a disease, so we’ve had sessions on congestive heart failure, and maternal complications during pregnancy.

Longitudinal Placements (LPs)

Longitudinal Placements (LP’s) are clinical placements that the students organize, and there are basically four half days per LP (approximately 16 hours). And LP’s can be completed with any specialty, or any PA or doctor.

The PA students organize them – finding contacts and putting together a schedule or a time. I really enjoy LPs as they allow you to explore anything that you’re interested in.

So if you are really interested in geriatrics, you can do a LP in geriatrics. I have personally done an LP in family medicine, Cardiac ICU and in the ER and all three were great. I had amazing preceptors for all three, and all were with practicing Canadian Physician Assistants who had been working for a while.

The PAs that I did LPs with all understand where I am in the PA program, and they have a lot of experience taking on students.

They were really good at teaching me and allowing me a glimpse into their life.

They also took time to just talk to me about what they go through their day-to-day, things they think about, things that they kind of encounter and their perspective on the profession, and on the future of the profession. We had really good conversations in the time that I was with them, and I really enjoyed that aspect. My PA Preceptors became my role models in a sense of -like- one day I want to be like them and also advocating for the profession, but also just being a great PA.

The PAs were all very respected and shared collegiality with the nurses and physicians they work with. So a big goal of mine is to, as a PA, integrate well within the health care team.

What I enjoy about attending McMaster’s PA Program

I really enjoy the people I’ve met at McMaster’s PA Program. I’m lucky enough to be with a lot of great people. I’ve become really good friends with these, with, with the students that I’m with. We’ve bonded over a lot of, you know, hardships and stress, but also we’ve gone out and hung out at people’s houses and it’s just kind of, we all know what we’re going through. No one knows what you’re going through like PA students when you’re also a PA student.

I really value that face to face contact. So I see my tutorial group twice a week for three hours each. So six hours with my tutorial group. I see my clinical skills group, which is a different group, three hours a week. And then I see another group in communications once a month. Then we have pro comps where I see everybody, so we see each other pretty often.

I value the preceptors and the tutors that we’ve had. They’ve all been just really great and I think I’ve been especially lucky because I keep getting paired or put into groups with people that I think that are just amazing.

“They advocate for practical and clinical content, they advocate for our learning and they want us to be prepared for next year and clerkship and prepared for the real world.

They’re not just doing this just because it’s something to do – they’re really invested in us and I really appreciate that and I think I will be that much of a better PA because I’ve had such great experiences with the McMaster PA tutors and preceptors.”

And also, McMaster’s is kind of like my home. I did my four years there. I’m from Hamilton so I didn’t have to adjust to a new school in any way. I have my set places that like to study, places I like to get food. I know where the dance studio is.

Choosing to join the McMaster PA Program was probably the best decision I could’ve made.