The 2019 Master of Physician Assistant Studies cohort at St. Ambrose University achieved a 100 percent first-time pass rate on the National Commission on Certification for Physician Assistants (NCCPA) exam, an accomplishment that speaks to the strength of the program, dedication of faculty, and the deep drive of our students to achieve their goals.
Additionally, the 30-member class scored at or above the national average in all eight task areas and 13 of the 14 content areas in which they were tested. Kerry Humes, MD, associate professor and director of the MPAS program, said the achievement is significant because they were the first class to take the newly-revised, more difficult, exam.
"This illustrates that the program's didactic year is providing students with a good base of knowledge, and as they do their clinical rotations with providers in our community and other communities in the Midwest, they are gaining strong clinical experience. It also shows how highly motivated our students are to do well," Dr. Humes said.
"It is a combination of caring faculty and students helping one another that makes this program a success," she added. "We can provide our students with all of the tools, but they have to study and be motivated because it is an intense 29-months. They knocked it out of the park."
This is the fourth MPAS cohort to graduate from St. Ambrose and the second to achieve a 100 percent first-time pass rate on the NCCPA exam. The first class to achieve that milestone graduated in 2017.
St. Ambrose launched the only MPAS program in the Quad Cities and Western Illinois region in 2014 and annually receives about 600 applicants for each cohort of 30 students. The 29-month program begins with 14 months of didactic classroom and laboratory studies, followed by 15 months of supervised clinical rotations in family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, emergency medicine, surgery, OB-gyn, psychiatry, and four medical specialties the students choose.
Korbyn Granado-Bolton '19 MPAS said faculty were very clear and concise about what they needed to know for the NCCPA board exam and continually revisited content when they returned from each clinical rotation. Faculty shared their professional experiences and personal advice and provided resources to help their students succeed. The clinical rotations "were straight hands-on. You learned quickly and you learned on your feet," Granado-Bolton said.
That level of preparation sent her into the exam room with confidence. "I knew I was as prepared as I could be," she said.
"There was no doubt in my mind we'd all pass. We all wanted to succeed and are so passionate about our careers. With as much as we did and learned throughout the program and all of the drive and motivation in our class, I knew no one was going to fail. We blew it out of the water," she said.
The strength of SAU's MPAS program was evident to Granado-Bolton before taking the exam. She accepted an offer to join the neuro-surgical team at MercyOne Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, two months before graduating. In fact, more than 50 percent of the class had accepted PA positions or were negotiating offers - some negotiating multiple offers - before graduation, Dr. Humes said.
"I had no concerns going into the exam. I had no doubt they prepared us," said Marie Brewer '19 MPAS, who is now a practicing PA with an Ear-Nose-Throat (ENT) physician group in the Quad Cities.
When faculty learned the exam was being revised to be more difficult, they quickly accommodated the changes and strengthened its program and delivery, Brewer said. "For a program that is five years old, it is well-organized. They made a lot of changes and made them go as smoothly as possible for students," she said.
"Faculty did great structuring the delivery of our material and tying everything together. If we were doing ENT in medicine classes, we were focusing on the same in pharmacokinetics and pharmacology. They did a good job balancing our coursework throughout the semester. They set you up to succeed and did not try to make it harder than it needed to be. They want you to succeed and it shows in the way they structured everything and in the way they treat their students," Brewer added.
"It is a combination of caring faculty and students helping one another that makes this program a success. We can provide our students with all of the tools, but they have to study and be motivated because it is an intense 29-months. They knocked it out of the park."
Dr. Kerry Humes, MPAS Program Director
Dr. Humes said faculty are proud of the individual attention they give each student and are confident each one can succeed. "We remind them that they are doing fine and will be a great PA. You can definitely do this," she said.
Brewer said their class was supportive of each other and deeply invested in their education. "We all wanted to do well as a class. We used our strengths to make sure each of us did well and had a good time doing it," she said.
"The MPAS program is a great resource for the community. It has pumped a lot of Physician Assistants into the area, which is cool to see," she said. "The field of medicine is constantly changing, and St. Ambrose does a good job of keeping up with that," Brewer added.
Granado-Bolton said she and her classmates learned an amazing amount of medicine in 29-months.
"We have the flexibility to work in every medical specialty. There is always a role for a PA. There are things we can do, and in times like now, we are on the front lines. To be a part of that, a part of something bigger and making a difference, the value is priceless."