Physician Assistant Applicant Pool: The First 50 Years

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The physician assistant (PA) profession's first attempt to characterize the applicant pool for PA education began with publication of the first Annual Report on Physician Assistant Educational Programs in the United States in 1985. The methodology used in the report was limited, however, in identifying the number of unique applicants to PA programs. Collecting accurate and reliable data on the profession's applicant pool was the primary motivator leading to initiation of the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) in 2001. In the past 15 years, CASPA has provided increasingly valuable data on the profession's applicant pool, allowing for accurate tracking and analysis of trends in the growth and changing demographics of those applying to PA educational programs. This special report presents a unique analysis of CASPA data that relates the competitiveness of entry into PA programs with that experienced by our colleagues in medicine, for both Doctor of Medicine (MD) and Doctor or Osteopathic Medicine (DO) schools. We present data reflecting the most notable changing demographics of the profession's applicant and matriculant pools in sex, age, grade point average, and health care experience. We use aggregate data of self-identified race descriptors to compare the contributions of PA, medical, and osteopathic medicine schools to the improvement of diversity within the health professions. To date, the applicant pool of PA programs seems to have kept pace with the expansion of existing programs and the development of new programs. This article poses serious questions for the profession to ponder, as the demographics of those entering PA education change and the number of PA graduates continues to grow.

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