Overview of University of Toronto’s Physician Assistant Program

PA Consortium Physician Assistant Booth Info Session Anne Dang

Attending the PA Booth where 1st year UofT PA student was speaking with prospective students.

Information from the PA Consortium PA Program Information Session that took place during Fall Campus Day, St. George Campus at University of Toronto. During Fall Campus Day, the PA Consortium was hosting a PA Booth from 9:30 AM to 4:00 PM,a s well as a half hour information session with Jeff Straw.

The PA Info Session was very educational and enlightening. Although everything on the website is also presented at the PA info session, there are a few things that are covered in the session that you might not get off the website, including answers to Q&A from the audience that can help with your application.instagram live We did live stream the event through Instagram on our channel @canadianpajourney.

The PA Booth took place the entire day and was next to rehabilitation sciences (Occupatinal Therapy, Speech Language Pathology and Physiotherapy) as well as next to Faculty of Medicine. We had a PA student from UofT manning the booth and answering student questions.

PA Consortium Info Session

Jeff Straw Physician Assistant University of Toronto Info Session

The presenter was Jeff Straw, a clinical PA who teaches with the PA Consortium Program and has been involved with University of Toronto in the past few years. He started with an introduction, overview of the PA Profession, how to become a PA, then covered PA Education Program, and tips on Admissions.

What are PAs?

PAs are advanced practice providers educated int he medical model. PAs perform patient assessments (histories, physical exams), ordering and interpreting investigations, formulating a differential diagnosis, and managing patient conditions. This may include treating conditions, performing procedures, patient education or referring. This can include acute or chronic conditions, such as Diabetes Management.

PA Scope of Practice

PA Scope of Practice depends on the setting that the PA works in. PAs can switch specialties, going from generally primary care to Emergency medicine without going back and “completing” a residency the way that a physician does. What a PA does also depends on the supervising physician.

Where do PAs work?

PAs work in a variety of specialties, majority of new PA grads do work in Primary Care and Internal Medicine. Some PAs work in Surgery and smaller subspecialties such as mental health, dermatology, neurology, Orthopaedic Surgery, respirology, and vascular surgery. These numbers and specialties change year to year.

where physician assistants work university of toronto canada

Where the most recent PA graduates found employment in the last year. Statistics vary year to year.

A PA can essentially work in any area of medicine that a physician / hospital or other institution is interested in having a PA.

How do you work as a PA?

A PA must graduate from an American or Canadian accredited PA Program. There are currently three civilian PA programs in Canada – PA Consortium, McMaster University and University of Manitoba. There is also a military PA Program with a different track.

How are Physician Assistants different than Nurse Practitioners?

Physician Assistant versus Nurse Practitioner comparison tableYou might ask “What is the difference between a Physician Assistant and a Nurse Practitioner”. There are a couple of similarities and differences:

  • Both PAs and NPs graduate from accredited programs The PA training model is based on the medical model, which is the same model physicians learn from. NP training is based on the nursing model, which has a different philosophy and focus than the medical mod. However each are trained in assessments, differential diagnosis and critical thinking skills.
  • PAs and NPs are considered non-physician health care practitioners
  • Both PAs and NPs provide direct patient care PAs and NPs can prescribe. PAs prescribe under medical directives in Ontario, whereas NPs have a broad prescription formularly from which they prescribe
  • PAs are trained as generalists, and can work in any field of medicine. NPs do not switch specialties (there are four tracks in Ontario – NP-primary care, NP-adult medicine – NP-paediatrics, NP-anesthesia).

Read more about the differences between Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners.

Overview of the PA Consortium

What is the Consortium of PA Education?

The way the PA Consortium is setup is the merging of three different institutions, which each bring expertise in their respective specialties to make one comprehensive and diverse program.

  • University of Toronto is with the Faculty of Medicine within the department of family and community medicine. The PA Program, as a result, has a close connection with primary care physicians and programs within the DFCM. All students who graduate from the PA Consortium program receive a University of Toronto degree
  • The Northern Ontario School of Medicine provides expertise and experiences from the rural and northern health care settings.
  • The Michener Institute of Applied Health Sciences provides access to simulation experiences and interprofessional relations in other health care settings.

These three institutions work together to make up the PA Consortium.

Year 1 PA School – Approach to Learning in your PreClinical Year

There are different avenues and tools to delivery content and learning experience. The UofT PA Program involves online learning as well as “face to face” residential blocks in the 1st year.

Year 1 schedule Physician Assistant University of Toronto

Residential Blocks (In Class, Face-to-Face Learning)

There are “residential blocks” where students come to Toronto to learn the face-to-face component. There are four residential blocks where students come to the University of Toronto campus occurring 3-5 weeks for each residential blocks. Here students learn sit in on lectures, learn interviewing and clinical exam skills, procedural skills. Here is a sample schedule, which is quite regimented.


Online Self-Directed Learning

Online, self-directed learning. Outside of these residential blocks students have lectures online. They participate in classes, online meetings and discussions. There are also small and large group study sessions. This distance learning allows students to stay within their communities and with their families so they do not have to move away from Toronto. Clinical placements are also completed within the student’s community, helping the student build connections & network within their own community.

Year 1 Online Learning Physcian Assistant Education Program University of Toronto PA Consortium

Don’t be deceived by what appears to be the sparse schedule. The time in between classes is for self-study, office hours, meetings and completing of longitudinal clinical experiences (LCEs). Most students in the PA program report spending 8-10 hours per day studying for lecture prep.

You’ll notice Tuesdays have nothing scheduled, as this is time designated for longitudinal clinical experiences (LCEs). This is where PA students shadow health care providers (whether PA, physicians or other allied health providers).

Read Learning Distance Education at University of Toronto’s PA Program by Alicia Petrie!

Year 2 PA School – Clinical Clerkship

2nd year is clinical clerkship. This is where PA students complete rotations in different areas of medicine for several weeks at a time. Here they function as “clinical clerks” (similar, if not identical to 3rd or 4th year medical students in rotations). There are 40 clinical weeks that are completed, with 10 total rotations. This includes primary care, ER, internal medicine, surgery, mental health, women’s health, paediatrics, and 1-2 electives in areas of interest.

Year 2 Physician Assistant PA School Clinical Clerkship

Location of Clinical Placements

Because of involvement of NOSM, 50% of clinical rotations are in rural, and underserved areas of Ontario, whereas 50% are in the South. Students do enjoy the split of experiences and there are several advantages to completing rotations in rural areas:

  • Less medical learners in rural rotations – this means you may be more likely to get one-on-one teaching at a community hospital/ rural hospital, rather than the clinical preceptor dividing their attention with 6 other medical students, 2 residents, and 1 fellow (or 1-2 other PA students) at large academic teaching hospitals within the GTA.
  • In rural settings, it is not uncommon to have primary care providers complete shifts delivering babies (some responsibilities in OB/GYN) or doing shifts in the ER or performing some surgeries due to the lack of providers – your experience in rural may include more than your run-of-the-mill practice in a large downtown family practice.

Year 2 Physician Assistant University of Toronto PA Clinical Clerkship Rotation Locations

Have more questions about the PA Consortium program? Visit their website, leave a comment in our Canada Pre-PA Facebook Group!