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WRITER: Amy Couteé
283 Medical Laboratories
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-8032; fax (319) 335-8034

Release: Immediate

UI physician assistant graduates excel on national certification exam

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The 1997 graduates of the University of Iowa Physician Assistant (PA) Program received a perfect pass-rate on the Physician Assistant National Certification Examination. All 22 graduates earned their certification while scoring well above the national average.

Performance reports released in January by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA), which administers the test, showed the UI's performance between the 96th and 100th percentile compared to all other PA programs across the nation.

"There's no way to specifically determine what our rank would be among all programs but it certainly puts us in the top three to five programs," says Dr. David Asprey, interim director of the UI program.

The NCCPA does not officially rank PA programs but rather posts percentile rankings. No program ranks at the 100th percentile.

Based on the number of UI students taking the test for the first time, the UI program was ranked between the 91st and 97th percentile. "That's probably the more meaningful figure," Asprey says.

Since 1974, the UI has maintained a first-time pass rate of 99 percent by all graduates, well above the national average of 84 percent. The 1997 graduates scored above the average in all 12 clinical content areas of the examination.

Three keys to the excellent results, Asprey says, are the high-quality candidates admitted to the program, the program's emphasis on primary care and family medicine, and the demands made of PA students. Typically PA students are not integrated with medical students in the curriculum. PAs at the UI, however, complete several of the sophomore-year medical courses. At the UI, PAs are held to the same standards as the medical students, resulting in the uniformity of scores, all above the mean average, Asprey says.

According to Asprey, the scores are proof not only of exceptional PA students but an exceptional program. "The graduates are not just shining brightly in a couple of areas that pull up their scores. They are doing well uniformly in each of the 12 content areas. That, coupled with the high pass rate, speaks to the fact that they have received a well-rounded education that prepares them very well to enter the profession and provide competent patient care. That is obviously the ultimate concern. We have a responsibility to the public," Asprey says.

Of the 1997 graduates, 95 percent entered primary care with 47 percent practicing in state or federally designated underserved areas. The high percentage of graduates employed in underserved areas is important to the program which sets this as one of its primary goals.