Overview of the McMaster PA Program

Information here is from the McMaster PA program websiteMcMaster PA Student Resource website, interviews & profiles from McMaster PA students and alumni.

If you have any questions, feel free to comment here or post your question in the Canadian Pre-PA Student Network Facebook group!

About the McMaster PA Education Program

McMaster PA Education Program

School: McMaster University

Spots: 24 candidates selected to be part of the program (with roughly ~1200+ applicants that apply each year)

Degree: Bachelor of Health Sciences in Physician Assistant Studies (BHSc PA)

Location: Hamilton, Ontario

Tuition is $12,500 per year + supplementary fees estimated at $1300 per year. Additional costs such as books, diagnostic equipment & other learning resources is $2500.

McMaster’s PA program is one of two PA programs in Ontario offering a Bachelor’s Degree in PA Studies. The first inaugural class started in 2008 starting with 21 students. There are now 24 spots.

The PA program is located in Hamilton, Ontario and is a part of the Faculty of Health Sciences. This is a full-time program with no option for part-time completion. McMaster’s approach to curriculum includes small group, inquiry, problem-based and self-directed learning.

McMaster’s PA Education Program Mission Statement is: 

“The mission of the McMaster University Physician Assistant Education Program is to educate energetic, innovative, committed and caring individuals to become role models in a new health care delivery model practicing medicine under the supervision of a physician to expand health care access for the people of Ontario.”

Watch “A Day in the Life” Of a McMaster PA Student:

McMaster PA Admissions

McMaster’s PA program has a few admission requirements in order to qualify to apply. You can view the McMaster PA program website for the most up-to-date information.

Admission Requirements: 

  • Be a Canadian Citizen or Permanent Resident of Canada 🇨🇦
  • Complete a minimum 2 years of undergraduate
  • Minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 out of 4.0 on the OMSAS scale

There is NO required coursework and NO health care experience hours required to apply to the McMaster PA program. You do NOT submit any references. There is NO MCAT, NO PA-CAT, NO GRE

Steps for Admissions: 

  1. Complete OUAC form 105, Submit GPA, transcripts (due by February 1)
  2. If you meet admission requirements after submitting OUAC, GPA and transcripts, you will be invited to complete the McMaster PA Supplemental Application through Kira Talent (candidates are provided access to this application mid to late February, and have 1 week to complete it in one sitting)
  3. Out of the 1200+ candidates who apply, usually 60-80 candidates are invited for a final interview. McMaster’s PA program uses the Multi-Mini Interview. MMI questions deal with communication, collaboration, ethics, health policy, critical thinking, health awareness. Applicants are NOT assessed on scientific knowledge.

Watch an excerpt from the “I was in your footsteps” webinar hosted by Pradha and McMaster PA Students providing an overview of McMaster PA Admissions:

View the PA Admissions Comparison Chart

Stats of Past Successful McMaster PA Applicants

You can visit past class statistics from the Canadian Pre-PA Student Network Facebook Group, which contains statistics for all 3 PA programs (free to join).

McMaster’s PA Program Curriculum

McMaster’s PA program is a 2-year course of study that starts in September. Year 1 is medical foundations and clinical skills delivered over 12 months. Year 2 involves clinical rotations taking place in different areas of medicine.

Classes usually take place in-person (with some going online due to the pandemic).

Year 1 PA School

Year 1 is a mix of small group learning and large group sessions based around material for PAs to graduate with competencies outlined by CanMEDS-PA and the Canadian Physician Assistant Competency Framework (Canadian EPA-PA).

Year 1 is divided into medical foundations, with 4 sections:

  • Clinical Sciences – Problem-Based Learning, tutorial style covering topics outlined in the Medical Foundations.
  • Interview, Examination and Reasoning (IER): 
    • IER Classroom Learning:  Hands-on sessions with an instructor where you learn history taking, and physical examination skills, interpretation investigations, documentation and clinical reasoning.
    • IER Placements: These are different than LPs (see below) where there are half day or full day one-time observerships relevant to the area of study you are in. (e.g. if you in Medical Foundation 1 – Respiratory Unit, you may do a half-day observership with a respiratory therapist in clinic. Here the clinical conditions you witness on placement correlate with what is being taught in Clinical Sciences). Read about Sandy’s IER placements (specialty, and location).
  • Professional Competencies: Where PA students learn about their professional role, responsibilities, scope of practice when navigate patient care and working within a health care team. Topics vary for each session.
  • Longitudinal Clinical Experience Program (LP)  is early exposure to clinical practice for first-year PA students. Students complete half days or full-day observerships over a period of time with a clinician in different health care settings. This can be done with PAs, physicians, social workers, dietitians, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, paramedics, and pharmacists. See the McMaster PA Student Resource Guide on Arranging Observerships and LPs as well as the McMaster PA Student blog where students recount their experience on their longitudinal placements.
View a Typical Weekly Schedule of a McMaster PA-S1
Overview of McMaster 1st year PA Classes

Year 2 PA School

Year 2 of PA school involves completing clinical rotations in different areas of medicine. Being a second-year PA student is like having a full-time job.

Clinical Rotations: 

Here is a list of different rotations that you may complete rotations in. Note duration and areas of specialty can change year to year.

  • Core Rotations:
    • Family Medicine (12 weeks)
    • International Medicine (6 weeks)
    • General Surgery (4 weeks)
    • Surgery Selective: 2 weeks (can be in Orthopaedic Surgery, Urology, Plastics, ENT or another surgical subspecialty)
    • Paediatrics: 4 weeks (2 weeks in Neonatal ICU, 2 weeks in Paediatric Emergency Medicine)
    • Geriatrics (2 weeks)
    • Psychiatry  (6 weeks)
    • Emergency Medicine (4 weeks)
  • Elective Rotations: are rotations where you can complete several weeks in an area of medicine that is of your choosing.  Examples may include:
    • Orthopedic Surgery
    • Plastic Surgery
    • Nephrology
    • Cardiology
    • Forensic Medicine
    • Interventional Radiology
    • Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
    • Rheumatology
    • Neurology
    • Neurosurgery
    • Oncology
    • Dermatology
    • Rural Emergency Medicine
    • Rural Family medicine
    • Infectious Disease
    • Cardiothoracic Surgery
    • Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery
    • … and more!

What order do you do the rotations? Some PA students start with Family medicine, emergency medicine, internal medicine, etc. Others may start with Surgery, Internal medicine, etc. Or you may start with an elective rotation. PA students find out what rotations they are assigned to by the PA program while in first year of PA school.

What kind of hours do you work during clinical rotations? You are in placement 5 days a week, and hours may vary depending on the setting. For example in:

  • Family medicine:  Monday to Friday 8 am to 4 pm.
  • Surgery:  6 am to 2 pm, with occasional overnight call.
  • Emergency Medicine: you may have four shifts per week, 8-12 hours per shift (which could be, for example, 8 am to 4 pm, 4 pm to midnight, or midnight to 8 am).

Where do placements take place? Many of the placements take place within Hamilton Health Sciences, but can include Niagara region, GTA, and other areas. Students can also complete placements in rural settings through the Rural Ontario Medical Program (ROMP), providing exposure to practice of medicine with unique presentations and limited resources. You will need a car/transportation in order to get to your rotations. 

Is it possible to do international electives? There have also been examples of students who have completed international electives (pre-COVID-19). Maggie Canadian PA working in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, and recounts how she was able to setup an 2nd year clinical rotation in the West Himalayas.

Learn more about Saif’s experience with Clinical Rotations

What is Problem-Based Learning (PBL)?

McMaster’s PA program utilizes small group, problem-based learning style which is very different than traditional,  lecture-based learning that students in undergraduate study at a university are accustomed to. This approach to problem-based learning was developed in 1969 at McMaster University’s medical school.

In problem-based learning, there is a tutorial-style setting that includes small groups of student participants. Students are assigned a “patient case” resembling real cases they may see as future PAs. This case serves as a catalyst to learning clinical sciences and medical foundations around a subject. Students examine and define the problem, explore what they understand and then design learning objectives around their knowledge gaps identifying resources they can use to solve the problem. They then come back as a group to discuss their findings.   Students are assigned a facilitator who solicits student feedback and addresses student gaps in knowledge during tutorial discussions.

Traditional vs. Problem Based Learning

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Does McMaster’s PA program accept out-of-province students. 

A. Yes.

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.

Q. Where do McMaster PA graduates practice? 

A. PA grads work in Family medicine, Internal Medicine, Emergency Medicine, Orthopaedic Surgery, Surgery, ICU, Obstetrics/Gynaecology, Urology, Neurosurgery,  and other specialty clinics.

PAs work in Hamilton and the GTA. However, there are a number of individual PAs working in other cities across Ontario, including rural settings. There are some McMaster PA grads that are also currently working in Manitoba and Alberta.

View McMaster PA alumni in the news. View Canadian PA practice profiles.

Q. If I identify as indigenous, what is the process to apply? 

A. McMaster’s PA Education program has a facilitated admissions process for First Nations, Inuit and Metis applicants. See the McMaster PA program website for more information on Self-Identification Criteria and process.

Q. Who can I contact if I have more questions about admissions or the PA program at McMaster? 

A. You can get in touch with the program by emailing pa program@mcmaster.ca.

Alternatively, you can also post your question (with an option to do so anonymously) in our Canadian Pre-PA Facebook Group. You can browse previously posted topics around McMaster PA Admission Questions, McMaster PA Supplemental Application/Kira Talent Questions, Interview Invites, and Multi-Mini Interview Questions.

Q. Can I get in touch with a McMaster PA Student or Alumni? 

A. You can contact the PA program paprogram@mcmaster.ca, the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants admin@capa-acam.ca, or reach out to a PA on social media (e.g. LinkedIn or Instagram).

Q. How is the PA Job Market for PAs in Ontario? 

A. There are several determinants for PA Job Opportunities:

    • Government Support – Interested employers apply to Health Force Ontario to get funding for a new PA grad. Employers complete an application. If the ministry determines, they get a grant. The employers will then pick up the salary of the PA after 1 year.
    • Medical Profession Support – Physicians and Employers
    • Funding – What monetary resources are available to different clinical practices will determine what staff can be hired. Having a Health Force Ontario Career start grant is certainly helpful.
    • The imagination, drive and determination of the PA – You cannot expect anyone will hand you jobs. You have to think about what you want to do, what you have to offer, and what you can bring to the organization to demonstrate benefits/value-added to the profession.

Final Notes

Are you planning to apply for this upcoming PA Admissions Cycle? Visit McMaster’s PA Student Resource Website. Get in touch with the McMaster PA program if you have any questions at: paprogram@mcmaster.ca or join the discussion in free Canadian Pre-PA Facebook Group

Otherwise leave your question in the comments below!

2 Comments

  1. Corrina February 12, 2022 at 9:48 am - Reply

    Hi I have a question!
    How are courses evaluated? Letter grades or P/F?
    Thanks!

    • Olivia April 7, 2022 at 2:58 pm

      Hi there! I am a current Mac student. We get a “zone” either green, yellow, or red based on how many z-scores you are from the mean score of the class. I would categorize this system as more of a P/F, however, Mac is very supportive when you are red zoned and simply provides tutoring and resources to get you back into green. Hope this helps!

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