USD currently offers the only physician’s assistant (PA) studies program in South Dakota. The Pre-Physicians Assistants’ Club on campus seeks to provide medical students who are planning on becoming physician assistants with resources and assistance on that path.
Gracelyn Sales, a member of the PPAC, said the club helps USD students who are either applying to PA school or thinking about applying.
“Applying to PA school is a rigorous process,” Sales said. “We share information about the PA profession so our members can decide if this is the career for them.”
Heather Block, president of the PPAC, said the club is designed to provide a clearer path for students looking to become physician’s assistants. While there are clear nursing and pre-med academic route, Block said the route for physician’s assistants is harder to figure out.
“Basically, the club is to kind of fill in the gaps for people, because it’s something that you find in the healthcare setting, but not a lot of people know what it is,” Block said. “And not a lot of people know how the schooling works.”
The club hosts student panels and guest speakers from the PA field, in the past including the chairman of the USD PA program as well as working physician’s assistants from the area surrounding Vermillion. Block said an upcoming speaker is Natalie Crump, who spoke at a Zoom conference during the summer of physician’s assistants against racism.
“I just had to reach out to her because I was like, ‘you know, what you’re saying is just very straightforward,'” Block said. “It’s good to hear from someone who knows what they’re talking about. And students at USD need to hear what you have to say.”
As far as the job market goes, Block said the outlook for students looking to become physician’s assistants is good, with high demand for more PA’s in the medical field.
“It’s only increasing. It’s extremely competitive to get into the PA schools and of course, competitive for jobs as well,” Block said, “But the demand is there.”
The path to becoming a PA involves first getting a bachelor’s degree. The degree can be in any major, even outside science-related majors, as long as it comes with the prerequisites to apply to PA school. The PA program typically lasts around two years.
Emma Hoffman, PPAC member, said the demand for PA’s is especially strong in underserved rural settings.
“South Dakota is kind of like the perfect place for it right now, because they’re looking for them everywhere, basically,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman said the club helped her with the application process for the PA school.
“Starting as a sophomore, I knew nothing about applying to PA school, and now I have applied and have gotten an interview,” Hoffman said. “So it kind of came full circle.”