Inaugural PA Program Director: Continuous Action Items

Last week, we discussed the first steps an inaugural PA program director should take when developing a new PA program. We covered how you can develop a timeline, begin filling key positions, develop an advisory committee, get familiarized with institutional policies and procedures, and introduce yourself to key persons. Now, we’ll be focusing on the continuous action items inaugural PA program directors need to focus on.

Continuous Action Items

As we mentioned last week, you’ll be managing several parallel processes as you develop your PA program, including curriculum development, the ARC-PA application completion, and facility development. These are continuous action items you need to be working on each day. Let’s examine each in detail.

Completing the ARC-PA application

The most important task a PA program director needs to focus on is the ARC-PA application. It must be completed and submitted 90 days before the ARC-PA site visit. You may choose to complete the appendices first, including policy manual development, learning outcomes, syllabi development, and building the website. (Massey and Martin, LLC highly recommends using only the language given you by the ARC-PA on the PA program website!) Regardless of where you start, it’s important to begin as soon as possible.

Collaboration is imperative

Launching into the application requires cooperation and collaboration between multiple persons within the institution. You’ll be required to request assistance from higher administration for many of the A standard narratives. As team members join the program, recruit them into this process. You can orient new faculty members to the standards and program itself by giving them small sections of the application to complete.

Use all the time available

Remember, the deadline for submission absolutely must be met. There is no advantage for an early submission; instead, use all the time possible to ensure you have a polished, complete, and professional document. If you choose to hire an external consultant such as Massey & Martin, LLC, some of this time can be used to send them the completed documents to receive expert feedback. Always have another set of eyes review your document. Much like writing an article you are too close to it and no longer see typographical errors or other issues. I highly recommend that you have an editor reviewed the application not for content but for grammar.

Your direct reports, such as the Dean, will also want to provide feedback about the application. This is an opportune time to educate them about the standards and the differences between the ARC-PA and regional accrediting bodies.

Keep detailed records

Be sure to maintain formalized meetings and minutes as decisions are made about the PA program. This will be extremely important during the onsite visit from the ARC-PA. Also note, the commission requires a senior administrative official also be responsible for overseeing the development of the program. This reinforces that the institution is meeting standard A1.02:

A1.02 The sponsoring institution is responsible for:

a) supporting the planning by program faculty of curriculum design, course selection, and program assessment

b) hiring faculty and staff

c) ensuring effective program leadership

d) complying with ARC-PA accreditation Standards and policies

Create a list of critical action items

Just as you should be developing an overall timeline (as suggested in Part 1: First Steps), we recommend creating critical action items each day to keep yourself on course. You’ll be pulled in many different directions; knowing your critical action items will help you prioritize.

Overseeing facility development

If you already have a laboratory facility for your PA program in place, consider yourself lucky. Most individuals will need to put on a hardhat and oversee a construction project. Though you are a program director and not an architect, you will likely be educating the architects about the planning process and requirements for your future history and physical lab and procedures lab.

Things to consider

The institution will certainly use architects and subcontractors, but you will be responsible for providing your vision for the facility. If you find yourself supervising the development of a laboratory facility for your program, here are a few things to consider:

  • What is the budget for construction and development?

  • Does this require new building construction or an existing retrofit?

  • The size of the class will mitigate the physical dimensions of your lab (i.e., the number of physical diagnosis rooms will need to be more robust with a larger enrollment)

  • Does the institution have an existing simulation lab with the medical school or other health science programs? (This may be sufficient, allowing a greater budget to be allocated to the physical plant)

  • Is there a possible donor who will endow the laboratory facilities? (Some PA programs have collaborated with the donor development office to facilitate a named PA facility)

Choosing the layout

Consider the basic requirements for a physical diagnosis lab. You get to choose the style of your exam cubicles. Do you want open exam bays with curtain-enclosed rooms? Will you have a contiguous procedure lab, letting students move seamlessly in between? Consider designing a “classatory,” a pedagogical model blending the classroom and the laboratory, which allows for a seamless transition between lecture and laboratory.

Example of architectural renderings for a physical assessment lab and clinical procedures lab

In this example, there are ten exam rooms with a basic learning center in the middle. There is another room nearby for clinical procedures. These facilities are solely dedicated to the PA program.

Curriculum Development

As you begin developing the curriculum, consider the PA program’s mission statement and graduation competencies; the curriculum should be developed as a logical extension of these factors. As the curriculum develops, faculty should map the learning outcomes within classes to the graduation competencies. In addition, the curricular content should also be mapped to the ARC-PA B standards to ensure all required curricular elements are embedded within the program. It is essential to develop learning outcomes and instructional objectives that directly validate all B standards are covered and are identifiable within specific courses. The curriculum must be logical from both a horizontal and vertical viewpoint. The breadth and depth of the material needs to reflect requirements for clinical practice.

As an inaugural PA program director, it is important to recognize the curriculum is going to evolve considerably over time; things may look great on paper, but during the first implementation year, the program’s assessment system must logically drive appropriate improvements and modifications.

Models of curriculum development

Often, the structure and methodology of the curriculum are heavily influenced by the inaugural PA program director’s experience. There is a crosspollination from existing programs as the developing PA program develops its own unique characteristics. Here are a couple basic curriculum models that have been emerging nationwide:

  • Systems-based Model: Involves all aspects of the medical sciences and clinical sciences, organized into one organ system class; delivered in a modular fashion

  • Traditional Model: Many PA programs have separate classes for clinical medicine, pharmacology, physical diagnosis, social sciences, etc.

  • Problem-based Model: Involve considerable training among the faculty; more labor-intensive; variants of this model exist in several PA programs across the country


Managing multiple tasks at once requires excellent time management skills. Remember to employ your longitudinal timetable to continuously track achievements—and celebrate the small victories. These continuous action items will require your attention on a daily basis; don’t become so overwhelmed you lose perspective about why you’ve taken on this herculean task.

Developing and implementing a PA program will impact many lives in the future; your institution and future students will benefit immensely. It’s all based on the work you do now, so embrace these challenges with a can-do attitude.

All PA program directors developing a PA program face similar challenges; know you are not alone. Use whatever resources are at your disposal, such as the PAEA (we recommend the PD 101 workshop) or hire an external consultant like Massey & Martin, LLC.

Next week, we’ll discuss the development of the program’s assessment system, clinical site development, and final preparation for the first provisional visit.

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