Strategies for Student Success

Case Study

Three weeks into your Physician Assistant program’s first semester, a PA student has taken the first clinical medicine exam. He has a family and moved across the country to attend your PA program. He comes to you for guidance about the results of the medicine exam; he is distraught because he received a 60% on the exam, despite studying for numerous hours.

What is the best approach you can take to help this student succeed?


Here are a few strategies PA programs can use to raise PA student retention and persistence rates among students.

Implement skill development

Early in the first semester, provide a series of student success workshops. This may seem rudimentary since Physician Assistant school is a graduate curriculum; however, it is helpful to never overestimate your student’s skill level. Many students have a difficult time adjusting to the rapid pace of the curriculum in your PA program. Providing workshops focused on teaching students various skills will better prepare them for success in the program, potentially increasing student retention.

Here are a few ideas for workshop topics to equip your students for success early on:

  • How to create a study plan and daily schedule

  • How to develop an academic or educational learning plan

  • How to develop effective strategies for managing the volume of course content

  • The benefits of study aids and tools (e.g., graphic organizers, flash cards, diagrams, tables)

  • How to enhance team processes and performance

  • How to enhance test-taking strategies (including how to read and answer PANCE-style questions and enhance performance on standardized tests)

  • Various note-making approaches

  • How to improve strategies for review and self-testing

  • The importance of managing your time effectively and efficiently

  • How to organize and synthesize information

  • Pre-reading techniques

Incorporate Consistent Academic Counseling

It is worthwhile to have a standardized academic counseling form whenever students come to course directors or advisors for academic counseling. It’s imperative to document conversations with students, placing it in their file to provide a longitudinal record. You can download our FREE template for capturing specific information points here.

Use Academic Improvement Plans

Since student performance in specific courses is an indicator of possible future struggles, your PA program’s assessment system can provide significant insights, such as regression analysis, to determine the most predictive courses. For example, student performance at the end of didactic year PACKRAT can provide insights about whether students need academic improvement plans entering into the clinical year.

Many of us may have been told simply to “study harder” when we were struggling. The Academic Improvement Plan model is the antithesis of shaming students for performing poorly.


Click here for a FREE download of our Academic Improvement Plan template.


Academic Improvement Plans (AIPs) are meant to be supportive and informative. Faculty members can provide ongoing academic counseling to provide real-time recommendations for improvement. Many times, students will respond to continued positive reinforcement.

© 2021 by Massey & Martin, LLC

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