Overview of the University of Manitoba’s Masters of Physician Assistant Studies

University of Manitoba Master of Physician Assistant Studies hosted a PA Information Session on October 23, 2017, and had this taped. The following is a brief summary of the information session taken place with helpful links throughout.

University of Manitoba Physician Assistant Masters Program

Manitoba MPAS Info Session

This was hosted by Ian Jones, Assistant Professor and Program Director of the Masters of Physician Assistant Studies at the University of Manitoba. Prior to becoming a PA he was a firefighter/EMT-paramedic, and a Canadian Armed Forces (Reserve) Medical Assistant.   Professor Jones is a PA with 20 years of  experience working in Primary Care, Emergency, Addictions, and Neurosurgery. Ian was a recipient of the Tom Ashman PA of the Year Award, a Life-time Achievement Honoree from his alma mata at MEDEX-NW PA program,  president of the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants, served on the board of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba Medical Council,  and is the current president of the Canadian Physician Assistant Educator Association.

Contact Info –


Twitter: @ianjonesMPAS

Overview of the Sesssion

The session took place on October 23, 2017 prior to the September 2018 intake. Use the links to jump to a specific section, or continue scrolling through:

  1. What is a PA?
  2. About PA Education in Canada
  3. About MPAS
  4. MPAS Admission Requirements
  5. PAs in Manitoba
  6. Q&A

university of manitoba physician assistant students

There were University of Manitoba Masters of  PA Studies students, including Justine, Jennifer and Michelle. Justine is in her first year at the MPAS program, Jennifer is at the tail end of her 2nd year, and Michelle is a recent MPAS graduate who works in Paediatric Oncology.

1. What is a Physician Assistant?

What is a PA? – “PAs are medically educated clinicians who practice medicine in a formalized relationship with physicians. PAs are academically prepared and highly skilled healthcare professionals working in many settings, practicing medicine in a collaborative model that extend physician services.”

Where do PAs work? – PAs work in a variety of settings including primary care, cardiac surgery, paediatric oncology, neurosurgery, infectious disease, endocrinology, and more. PAs can work remotely, in rural areas, and in large urban centres. Manitoba graduates are found in over 30 specialties.

What do PAs do? – PAs have a scope of practice that mirrors that of physician, and their role includes assessment (history and physical), interpretation of investigations, performing diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, making decisions regarding a diagnosis, admissions, discharges, treatment plans, supporting the Physician but most importantly taking care of the patient.

How are PAs supervised? PAs do not always require on-site supervision. PAs work together on a health care team with physicians and other health care providers (i.e. nurses, physiotherapists, social work, occupational therapists, pharmacists, etc). Manitoba has a law allowing Physician Assistants to practice remotely with supervision being through telecommunications and electronic platforms. For example, PAs may review cases with the supervising physician who is available over the phone.

PAs currently practice in Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick, the Northwest Territory,  and Manitoba.

Horizontal Mobility – PAs can work in any area of medicine. This differs from physicians, who cannot switch their specialties unless they complete another residency in their new field of interest.

The State of the PA profession in North America – This is the 50th year of Physician Assistants in North America, and today there are ~120,000 PAs in the United States. As of October 2017 there are now 750 Canadian Physician Assistants, regular or student members, with another 80 new PA graduates writing their licensing exam at the end of October.

2. About PA Education in Canada

Physician Assistant are trained to think like physicians. This includes approach to patients, assessments, clinical reasoning, diagnosis and treatment.

PAs are trained as medical generalists and develops further knowledge of a specialty over time. A ‘generalist’ is trained to assess, diagnose and treat a wide variety of conditions, and not focusing on just one system. Generalists also treat patients of all ages, from newborn to geriatric patients. Family physicians, for example, are considered generalists.

PA education is 24 to 25 months in duration and this is based off the CanMEDS-PA national approved professional curriculum. The goal is to develop clinical expertise and clinical reasoning skills from academic, didactic and clinical experiences.

After completing a Canadian PA program (or American PA Program), Physician Assistants can challenge the PACCC exam and become a Canadian Certified Physician Assistant.

3. About University of Manitoba Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MB MPAS)

The mission of the University of Manitoba Program is to:

“…educate outstanding Physician Assistant clinicians as generalist medical providers in service to our communities in Manitoba and Canada.

We nurture the future of the profession and lead the field in academic preparation of Physician Assistants in Canada”.

You can learn more about the MPAS Education Philosophy and Curriculum based on this PDF.

At present, the University of Manitoba is the only graduate level PA Program in Canada. It is 48 weeks of didactic education, with 52 weeks (2200 contact hours) on clinical rotations.

The program accepts 15 students each year, with January 15 being the deadline to submit application. 

MPAS uses a a revised spiral curriculum, which focuses on building foundations in the sciences (anatomy, physiology, organic chemistry and biochemistry) in order to learn medicine. MPAS builds upon the core courses in addition to clinical experiences, and throughout the curriculum PA students revisit the material in increasing complexity in order to reinforce previous learning.

University of Manitoba Revised Spiral Curriculum

Visit the MPAS Course Descriptions to see the full curriculum.

1st Year PA School

The academic year includes biomedical sciences  case-based tutorial approach:

  • Medical Sciences
    • Biochemistry
    • Anatomy
    • Pharmacology
    • Physiology
    • Genetics
    • Microbiology
  • Adult Medicine
    • Paediatrics
    • Emergency
    • OB/GYN
    • Psychiatry
    • Infectious Disease
    • Surgery

Throughout the program there is also emphasis on professionalism, social determinants, bioethics, reflection and scholarly activity.

A typical 1st year PA student schedule includes 35+ hours per week (note from students: this schedule is grossly underestimated).

University of Manitoba Physician Assistant Program 1st Year PA Student Schedule

Jennifer’s Schedule in 1st year PA school – Jennifer found her classmates had very different study schedules. She would wake up at 5 am, 6 am arrive on campus and study prior to classes beginning. She would leave campus at 5 pm and use the rest of the evening for self-care, setting things in order for the next day and ensuring she got enough rest. She spent 8 hours studying on Saturday, and Sunday was usually reserved for rest, unless she had an upcoming exam.

Justine’s Schedule in 1st year PA school – Justine is only 8 weeks into her first year of PA program, she wakes up at 6:30 AM where she attends her classes and studies between classes and in the evenings. Friday night she reserves for time off. She casually studies on Saturday and Sunday. Justine noted that this did not differ too much from her undergraduate study habits, as she spent time establishing good routines and habits around studying, while also managing to make time for family and friends. First year material is difficult and challenging, but she enjoys studying medicine as she loves what she is learning.

2nd Year PA school

2nd year PA school is clinical experiences. Core rotations include:

  • Family Medicine (Normally a Rural site)
  • Community Medicine
  • Internal Medicine
  • General Surgery
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Paediatrics
  • Women’s Health
  • Behavioural and Mental Health

Three Elective rotations of 2 weeks can be done in many areas of medicine includes:

  • Cardiology
  • Northern Medical Unit
  • Plastic Surgery
  • Correctional Medicine
  • Orthopaedic Surgery
  • Oncology
  • … and more!

Each core rotation is 4-6 weeks in length and is an opportunity for learning.  Passive absorption does not work.

Michelle’s Schedule in 2nd year – First year is much more routine than second year, which may change week to week or month to month. Her schedule as a second year PA student varies depending on what clinical rotation she is on. In trauma surgery, she was on the ward at 6:30 AM for morning rounds, and finished her day at 6 pm. Some of these days were 12-14 hour days. In family medicine, she found it was more common to have days that ranged from 8 to 4 pm (more regular day time hours). In Paediatric Surgery, in addition to being at the hospital, she was on-call once every four days, for 24 hours. This involved staying at the hospital in one of the on-call rooms, going down to the operating room or to the ER department for a consult, and you don’t get to go home until 9 am. As a 2nd year clinical clerk you have to be okay with occasional lack of sleep, long hours on some rotation.

University of Manitoba Physician Assistant Program

Program Director Ian Jones, alongside Manitoba PA students Jennifer Justine and Michelle (left to right).

4. MPAS Admission Requirements

A few requirements for the University of Manitoba Master of Physician Assistant Studies includes:

Successful applicants into the program have some of the following characteristics:

  • Ages 22 and 47, with average age being 29
  • GPA 3.9 / 4.5 scale
  • 66% female
  • Majority from Manitoba (or ties to the province) 70%
  • 65% with health care experience
  • International experience
  • Team work experience
  • About 25% have a graduate degree

Some previous careers successful Manitoba PA student candidates have included International Medical Graduates (IMG), Registered Nurses, Genetic counsellors,  physiotherapists, respiratory therapist, athletic therapist, kinesiologist, EMT/Paramedics, and healthcare volunteers.

5. Physician Assistants in Manitoba

Cost of Education – Tuition for PA program in Manitoba is $16587.82 for each year of study (2 years total) in addition to other costs which includes books, equipment, travel, CPSM registration, certification exam and cost of living. This is substantially less expensive than American PA programs which starts at $35,000 USD per year  for programs 2.5 years.

Scholarships and Awards – MPAS Students are eligible for Graduate Student funding including the University of Manitoba Graduate Fellowships, the Gordon Bell Scholarship, MPAS  Academic Achievement Awards.  Visit Financial Aid

PA Salary – In Manitoba, pay starts at $78,000. The starting pay scale in Manitoba is $80,000 to $110,000.

Where PAs work – Canadian PAs have the potential to work in all fields of medicine and surgery, with horizontal mobility between specialties. PAs can work shift work, regular day hours, or have a mix. PAs work across Canada in Alberta, Ontario, Manitoba and New Brunswick.

Manitoba Physician Assistants work across 32 specialties and across the country in urban, rural and remote areas. Some areas where Manitoba PAs work include:

  • Critical Care
  • Emergency medicine
  • Rehabilitation
  • Cardiac Sciences
  • Neurosurgery
  • Surgery
  • Paediatrics
  • Internal Medicine
  • Primary Care
  • Orthopaedics
  • Vascular Surgery
  • Oncology
  • Mental Health
  • Education
  • Hospitalist Roles

6. MPAS PA Info Session Q&A

Q. Does MPAS take students who do not have a science degree?
A. Yes. You have to have a 4 year degree, but it can be in any program, as long as you take the required courses. Examples of backgrounds we’ve had at Manitoba include theatre arts, psychology and Political Sciences.

Q. How do I go about shadowing a PA in Manitoba?
A. On the website there is a PA shadowing checklist you have to complete, which includes a letter of intent that you can submit on the website

University of Manitoba Masters of Physician Assistant Studies Q and A

Manitoba PA students Jennifer, Justine, and Michelle answer questions about their life experiences.

Q. Question to the students – what were your life experiences prior to applying to the PA program?

Jennifer – “I worked in remote settings and definitely challenging – so lots of life experience there. I also got involved volunteering in different groups. You can really grow your supply of experience in life by doing things like working and volunteering… I was an EMT before, and worked for about 5 years. I went back to school, and did a degree in biological sciences and anthropology here at the University of Manitoba. It was a long process, and I initially thought I’d go to medical school.  At the end of that I did not want to go to school for four years plus residency. What else could I do that would be rewarding and challenging? The PA program was a good fit. ”

Justine – “From my background, after university, I worked with UofM as a recruitment officer where I was passionate about education advocacy, but I always wanted to get into health care. I worked in pharmaceutical sales, and I was worked out in the United States. There were so many PAs, and the profession was so well established there. Whenever I would visit the clinic, I would speak to the PA. Fortunately there was a PA program in Manitoba, everything lined up really well. That is when I reached out to PAs in Manitoba”

Michelle – “While doing my undergrad I worked in a group home, so that really peaked my interest in mental health, learning about the brain, and why things go wrong. What about the rest of the body? When I graduated from my undergrad, I wanted to get my foot in the door – I worked in a podiatry clinic for about 3 years. I also volunteered in quite a few different areas – paediatric wards, community health clinics, Diabetes Clinic, H1N1 clinics…. So really little bit here and there. And then, the year before I got into the program, I completed a placement with the “Rural Medical Program”; its 1 week long, you apply and interview, and you pick 3 rural hospital.  I was picked to go Dauphin, there was a PA there as well, really getting my foot in the door in different areas of medicine. Especially when it came to the interview process, this demonstrated what a PA is, and what you are signing up for”.

Q. What is involved in the interview process for Manitoba?
A. In addition to the Multi-Mini Interview, Manitoba MPAS also has a written station and panel interview. You will be interviewed by 3-4 people during the interview where the admissions committee has an opportunity to get to know you.

Q. Can Canadian PAs practice in the United States?
A. No, the accrediting body in the United States does not recognize any PA programs outside of the United States. Canadian PAs cannot practice in the United States.

For more answers to frequently asked questions:

Websites of Interest