McMaster PA Info Night: Q&A

At the end of the McMaster PA Program info night on Wednesday, November 23, 2016, the Assistant Dean Kristen Burrows and Academic Coordinator Nancy Aza fielded questions from the prospective students in the audience. Questions ranged from specific questions about admissions to employment outlook upon graduation.

Question and Answer Period

Q. What is average GPA of students that get into the program?
A. Average GPA of students who were accepted in the McMaster PA Education Program was 3.7 in the last round of applications.

Q. I did not do well in my first year, are summer courses included in GPA calculation?
A. Yes. All undergrad courses in your entire university career are included in the GPA.

Q. Do you have to have paid clinical experience to apply to the program?
A. No. McMaster does not require previous health care experience.

Q. What are requirements for being on call?
A. This occurs in second year of PA school. Being “on call” means that the PA students are available to make visits at the hospitals at any time they are needed (e.g. Being on call at the weekend means you do not necessarily have to be at the hospital – you can choose to stay at the hospital or go home, however if the hospital pages you, you are required to come in to the hospital). This will vary between settings depending on what your rotation. You may do a whole day, and may be on call for an overnight. Call may occur in Surgery, Psychiatry, and in other specialty practices.

Q. How much do PAs earn in Ontario?
A. This varies depending on what you are able to negotiate and the employer setting (e.g. hospital vs private office). Around $80,000-$110,000+ is a starting salary, however this varies between urban vs rural, hospital vs office/private, and specialty practice. Some hospitals have a pay scale (via google: “a graded scale of wages or salaries paid within a particular organization or profession”) for their PAs, other PAs have to negotiate each year for better benefits and increase in salary.

Q. Is there a guarantee of employment upon graduation? 
A. The program does not guarantee that you will get job, very few – if any – post-secondary education programs offer that. They also do not guarantee that you will get a PA Career Start Program grant either. Some PA graduates do find work outside of the PA Career Start Program (i.e. sometimes their supervising physicians they did rotations with in 2nd year choose to hire them with or without funding).

Q. Can PAs be involved with organizations like Doctors without Borders?
A. PAs have done international elective as students (e.g. most recently Sandy Vuong, now PA grad recently completed an internal elective in India). However at this time, Doctors without Borders will not take on PAs in a clinical role, from their website:

Q. Is there a role in PAs in geriatric medicine?
A. The challenge is going into the PA profession with a specific area of medicine in mind. There is no way to predict what jobs will be released by the Health Force Ontario Program by the time you reach graduation. Jobs will vary by area of medicine, city/town (urban or rural Ontario) and by employer type (hospital, solo physician, group of physicians, Family Health Team, etc.). If you find a supervising physician who is working in Geriatrics who is interested, you can encourage them to apply for Health Force Ontario’s PA Career Start Grant funding or propose a funding model that might work in this clinical setting.

Q. Who qualifies for the Career Start Program Grant funding?
A. Each year only the new graduates of the University of Toronto and McMaster PA Program in Ontario. American PAs, IMGs, Military PAs, even PAs who are gradates of UofT and McMaster PA graduates from previous years do not qualify.

Q. What settings/scope do PAs work in?
A. It is difficult to generalize the scope of how PAs work since it varies so much between PAs and practice settings. For example, there are some PAs that may work in internal medicine 4 days per week and dermatology 1 day per week. Some PAs that may be in charge of well baby exams & maternal health only in family medicine setting, whereas other PAs do a wide variety of clinical problems and procedures. Your scope of practice depends on what setting you work in, how much experience you have, the scope of your supervising physician and what they choose to delegate to you.

Q. Can Canadian trained PAs work in the US?
A. We cannot work in the US unless we are a certified American Physician Assistant. In order to write the American National Exam, you have to have graduated from an accredit PA program. We can work in the UK, as one of my classmates has worked there for over a year as well as in Ireland. Read on about PAs practicing in the US and Canada.

Q. Can PAs prescribe in Ontario?
A. This depends on the setting you are in. PAs cannot prescribe independently, however if they are working in a practice setting that has medical directives, the PA may prescribe certain medications.  For example, PAs in hospitals with connection to the hospital pharmacist, or PAs in community settings with the community pharmacist. PAs do not have access to restricted medications (narcotics, benzodiazepines).

Q. When will PAs be regulated in Ontario?
A. At this time it is not known. The last application was done in 2012, as PAs applied to be regulated under the Regulated Health Professions Act (1991).  This was declined for several reasons, however one being that PAs do not reach threshold for harm which is a criteria required to get regulated. There needs to be another application submitted to the Health Professions Regulation Advisor Council (HPRAC). HPRAC advises the Minister of Health whether unregulated professions (e.g. paramedic, physician assistants) should be regulated, and whether amendments to the Regulated Health Professions Act should be made.  This application will be submitted once it reaches the health minister’s agenda. Things that would strength the application This is dependent on PAs numbers, demonstrated risk of harm. PAs involved in advocacy and the Canadian Association fo Physician Assistants are working towards this.

Thanks for reading! Have any questions you’d like to add that you don’t see here? Feel free to comment below or email: 

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