Accelerated PA to DO Program Waives MCATs

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by Juliet Farmer

There was a time when, if you were a physician assistant (PA) and wanted to pursue a Doctor of Osteopathic medicine (DO) degree, you would have to ignore the fact that you already had medical curriculum and at least a year of clinical rotations under your belt. That meant taking the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and preparing to spend years of time (and money) to obtain a DO often rehashing curriculum that you had already succeeded in learning once before.

Then along came the Accelerated Physician Assistant Pathway (APAP), a program developed by Mark Kauffman, DO, MS, PA, assistant dean of graduate studies and professor of family medicine at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) offered at the LECOM campuses in both Erie and Greensburg. The idea was a fast-track for current PAs that shaved off one year of medical school while still earning a DO. LECOM’s APAP program is currently in its third year, with the inaugural class graduating this year.

In LECOM’s APAP program, students complete the first year of didactic instruction followed by eight weeks of primary care clinical clerkships. They then return to the second year of didactic instruction followed by 48 weeks of clinical clerkship training. This program is 138 weeks of training and cuts the total cost of medical school by one quarter.

When LECOM’s APAP program first launched, the requirements were thus: be a certified PA having passed the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE); obtain a minimum of 23 on the MCAT; have a minimum 2.7 grade point average; and complete an osteopathic residency. The APAP program at LECOM is small–just 12 slots are offered, with six designated undeclared (students may choose their osteopathic residency) and six primary care requiring a commitment to a residency and practice for five years in either family practice, general internal medicine, pediatrics or OB/Gyn. All students are required to complete an osteopathic residency upon graduation.

LECOM recently announced a change to their APAP program—the dropping of the MCAT requirement, thus allowing PA students who have never taken it to bypass the time and cost of the exam. LECOM now looks at undergraduate and graduate GPAs, as well as ACT and/or SAT Critical reading and math scores in consideration of offering interviews.

“Recognizing that alternative measures that can be used demonstrate the ability to handle challenging curriculum, that grade point is more predictive of successful completion of medical school, and the fact that MCAT drives potential physicians away from osteopathic medicine, LECOM has started a small pilot where we now consider alternatives for outstanding applicants who have not taken MCAT,” said Kauffman.

Kauffman said he expects the change to reach a wider audience. “Many PAs who are interested in achieving a DO degree are exceptional candidates,” he explained. “PA curriculum does not prepare the students to take the MCAT, with only 54 percent requiring organic chemistry and only 4 percent requiring physics. APAP students have been practicing clinically for an average of nearly six years. To require that they take the MCAT to be assessed on topics that are not consistently used in the practice of clinical medicine, fails to recognize the knowledge base that they possess.”

As for why this change wasn’t always part of LECOM’s APAP program, Kauffman added, “We have received exceptional applications from PAs who have aced their national certification exam, the PANCE, but could not apply because they did not take the MCAT.”

LECOM’s APAP program, which officially started with the incoming class of 2011, was approved by the American Osteopathic Association Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation in May 2010. That approval arrived on the heels of the PA Clinical Doctorate Summit of March 2009, which conducted the 2009 Physician Assistant Doctoral Summit Survey. The results of the survey indicated that although PAs wish to return to medical school, only four percent do so, noting cost and time away from clinical practice as major barriers.

PAs interested in applying to LECOM’s APAP program may do so through the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine.

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