Successful PA Admissions Part 4: Expanding Diversity and Inclusion

Apr 7, 2023 | PA Admissions Corner

By Jim Pearson and Dr. Scott Massey

Welcome back to PA Admissions Corner. If we looked back 30 years and observed PA program applicants, they would have many different demographic characteristics than the average applicant today. The same would be true if we compared graduates from 30 years ago to graduates today. What might surprise you is that the applicant pool and enrolled student demographics were much more diverse 30 years ago than they are now.


The demographic changes over the last 30 years within the PA educational community have been happening across all graduate-level health science programs. More and more individuals have been drawn to graduate-level health science programs like PA, PT, and OT, but now the average graduate of a PA program is a 26-year-old White woman.

These changes have led to fewer underrepresented students being enrolled than ever before. Everyone agrees that medicine in particular needs strong and equitable representation across all demographic population groups in the United States, not just White women. Unfortunately, some PA educators are unsure of how they can widen their pools of applicants and enrolled students to improve representation.


Rethink Admissions

How do we move this from a theoretical discussion on diversity and inclusion to a methodology that can be applied to any PA program? It starts with understanding data and understanding that an applicant’s incoming GPA is not the only gateway to a successful enrollment strategy.

HBCs and similar universities have successfully enrolled a large group of diverse students and have helped them succeed at the undergraduate and graduate health science levels for decades.

PA programs nationwide have an advantage because there are more qualified applicants who could be enrolled, graduate, and become physician assistants than there are seats available. So, the problem is not a lack of qualified underrepresented applicants – the problem is that we don’t know how to select or recruit them!

Let’s examine some statistics from CASPA from the 2019 – 2020 admissions cycle:

  • 61% of applicants are White
  • 13% of applicants are Asian
  • 13% of applicants are Hispanic
  • 7% of applicants are Black
  • 17.3% of applicants are economically disadvantaged

With proper understanding and analysis of your admissions data, you can expand your applicant pool — and most importantly the breadth of your student population—to fill a large part of your cohort with underrepresented students, without a significant reduction in your program’s outcomes.

Exam Master’s PA Admissions Pre-Enrollment Risk Scoring Model is specifically designed to help PA program admissions departments acquire and analyze their admissions data to better identify their underrepresented students and to identify those students who can succeed in their program.

One of our key findings from reviewing extensive admissions data is that incoming student GPA is not a major factor for student success within certain GPA ranges. Applicants who come from different backgrounds from today’s average PA student (White woman) should be viewed through a different admissions lens compared to the traditional approach many PA programs still use (What top university did you graduate from? Do you have the highest GPA? etc.).

Most underrepresented students often miss the same early life advantages that the average current PA student (white female) enjoys. They may not have an opportunity to attend the best K-12 and undergraduate schools, or they may lack good support systems, tutors, or equipment. As a result, many underrepresented student applications will not display the best-ranked undergraduate institutions or the highest undergraduate GPA. Even without such line items, these underrepresented students can show determination and perseverance. They have worked hard throughout their undergraduate education, many times in healthcare fields. Due to their different circumstances, it’s entirely possible they have taken longer than four years to complete an undergraduate degree.

By looking deeply at your admissions data and using a different lens to view your admissions pool, you will be able to greatly expand your diversity and inclusion in your PA program and realign your program to maintain your program’s mission and vision.


Look at Your Program’s Mission Statement

There are two possible reasons why your program does not have a sufficient breadth of underrepresented students enrolling:

  1. They are not applying to your program in the first place.
  2. Your program’s mission statement and goals do not adequately express their enrollment as a priority.

In your admissions process, there must be intention to identify students in these desired categories. In some cases, these applicants may not be the most competitive at a glance, but remember the image you have created of your ideal student. Now consider if your program’s philosophy and mission is in line with that ideal student’s identity.

Consider including a point system that rewards students from underrepresented populations. Some programs emphasize that students who meet these criteria are given preference. It is paramount that you are transparent about giving preference to specific populations.


Meeting Standard A1.11

Work with your institution to ensure there is support to meet ARC-PA’s Standard A1.11 as described below.

A1.11 The sponsoring institution must demonstrate its commitment to student, faculty, and staff diversity and inclusion by:
a) supporting the program in defining its goal(s) for diversity and inclusion,
b) supporting the program in implementing recruitment strategies,
c) supporting the program in implementing retention strategies, and
d) making available, resources which promote diversity and inclusion.


Embracing Standard A1.11 means taking a holistic approach to enhancing diversity and inclusion.

  • Incorporate recruitment strategies for future faculty that enhances the diversity on your faculty team.
  • Ensure that there are diversity and inclusion resources on your campus.
  • Students of color are less likely to accept a seat in your program if there is little or no support within your campus community.
  • Ensure that your entire team embraces this movement.
  • This may take a paradigm shift in your admissions process to ensure that diversity and inclusion is considered within the framework of decision-making involving future students.

Ultimately, some of your strategies to improve diversity and inclusion might include additional remediation resources, which we will address in the upcoming Issue 25 of PA Admissions Corner.


Example of Real-World PA Program Aspirational Goal and Results

Here is an example of a real-world PA program’s goal to recruit students from medically underserved regions (in Appalachia and across the country) who demonstrated commitment to academic and professional excellence.


1A: The program exceeded the minimum benchmark annually with students who have identified themselves as residing in the medically underserved regions in each incoming cohort.

1B: The program was able to meet the minimum benchmark for the admission year cohort 2021 with students identifying as Appalachian residency, but a three-year trend analysis shows the program below its goal during multiple years despite preference given on applicant scorecard.

This provides measurable outcomes, which follow ARC-PA 5th Edition Standards Appendix 14 H. Making this information available to ideal potential applicants will increase awareness of the program’s particular desire to recruit them and encourage them to pursue enrollment.



Increasing diversity in your program requires altering your program’s goals. This will lead to aspirations that change the composition of your class. Over time, this evidence will be available and displayed for all prospective applicants. This will lead to more applications from prospective students who come from diverse and underrepresented populations. You’re going to need to put your matriculation where your mouth is.

Expanding your PA program’s diversity and inclusion should not be a side project. It needs to be an everyday occurrence at the forefront of your normal admissions practices and procedures.

Consider how you can realign your admissions practices and procedures to become more transparent in your diversity and inclusion goals. What steps could you make in the next 90 days that would be impactful regarding diversity and inclusion?


Issue 21 of PA Admissions Corner will wrap up our five-Issue series on Successful PA Admissions by answering some of the most common questions we’ve encountered over the years. We’ll discuss how you can:

  • Improve your interview process, even with a limited staff of interviewers
  • Improve your pre-admittance screening for behavioral issues
  • Improve your mission-based outcomes in your selection process
  • Ensure that your outcomes stay strong even as you improve diversity/inclusion


To your admissions and program success,

Jim Pearson, CEO
Exam Master

Dr. Scott Massey Ph.D., PA-C
Scott Massey LLC

If you are in need of admissions support and services for your PA program, we can help.

Jim Pearson and Dr. Scott Massey have helped hundreds of educational institutions and programs improve their admissions outcomes.

Exam Master supports Physician Assistant Educational Institutions with the following services:

  • Admissions Support Services
  • Student Progression Services
  • Data Services
  • Accreditation Services
  • Board Services

Learn more about Exam Master’s products and services and how we support PA education by reaching out to [email protected]

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