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Education: Higher Education

Physician Assistants: loving what they do!

  • Grade level: 9–12
  • subject: health education

Time Needed

Two 45-minute class periods


First, students learn what a PA is and how to become one, using online resources, such as the video, “Why I Love Being a PA – PA week” (1:06 mins). Then, students work in small groups, where they research and gather information from websites that inform about the PA profession’s employment outlook, and educational and certification requirements. Students present and share their research findings in a poster session, where they view and learn from all group posters. Afterward, students delve deeper into the PA profession as they explore the diversity among PAs and their patients, represented in Physician Assistants: Collaboration and Care, the Physician Assistant History Society website, and the AAPA’s specialty organizations and PA practice web pages. Finally, students write essays in order to demonstrate what they have learned about PAs and the profession, as well as their understanding of PAs’ roles in health care.

  • learning outcomes

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    Students will be able to:
    • Describe in general what PAs do and where they work, as well as examples of specific accomplishments and contributions of PAs.
    • Outline how one can become a PA.
    • Compare and contrast PA programs at three different colleges or universities.
    • Demonstrate critical observation skills and effective reading comprehension through oral and written summaries.
    • Practice evaluating websites for credibility and accuracy, writing clearly and informatively with supporting evidence, and citing sources correctly in MLA, Chicago, or a class-established bibliography format.
  • Background Information

    Physician Assistants: Collaboration and Care is an online exhibition that highlights the accomplishments of physician assistants, commonly known as PAs, and the ways in which PAs respond to patients’ needs. The exhibition features examples of PAs who work collaboratively with physicians to diagnose, treat, and care for patients in order to provide the best possible care. These case studies show PAs’ diverse and dynamic work environments, identify their professional collaborators, and describe the communities that they serve. Teachers are encouraged to preview all six exhibition sections online.

    The lesson plan assumes that students have prior instructions on school-based bibliographic formats and ways to evaluate websites for credibility and accuracy. Teachers may work with school media specialists or other colleagues in identifying or creating references that students may use to review the criteria related to source citation and website evaluation.

  • Vocabulary

    The following words and phrases may be introduced or incorporated into the lesson: acronyms such as PA and PAs (physician assistant and physician assistants), NCCPA (National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants), AAPA (American Academy of Physician Assistants), ARC-PA (Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc.), CEC (continuing education credits); postgraduate, accreditation, licensing, specialty organizations, licensing, mean wage.

  • Materials

    Other materials and set-ups:
  • class 1 procedures

    1. Display the “Become a PA” page. Using this AAPA website, discuss as a class what makes the site credible, and assess students’ knowledge of how to evaluate websites. Provide clarifications and correct misinformation on what makes a website credible and accurate. If needed, work with a school media specialist in creating a check list of criteria for evaluating websites to use for this lesson.
    2. Read aloud the text on the right of the video image on the “Become a PA” page—“A PA is…”, and view “Why I Love Being a PA – PA week”(1:06 mins).
    3. Ask students the following questions after watching the video:
      • What are the reasons the interviewees love being PAs?
      • What are some observations you’ve made about the PA profession through the video?
      • What aspects of being a PA do you want to know more about?
    4. Review what students want to know about PAs and the profession. Tell students that their research task will help learn about becoming and practicing as PAs.
    5. Put students into groups of three and hand out copies of Group Assignment Outline. Review the assignment outline as a class and address any questions students may have. Provide students Internet access and allow them to research and work on group posters.
    6. Provide guidance to students, as needed, while students research and prepare group posters.
    7. Class 1 Evaluation: Teachers assess students’ existing knowledge of information literacy, citation, and physician assistants during class discussion.
  • class 2 procedures

    1. Have students set up their posters, as well as their source citation papers. Display the following three prompts on walls or display boards:
      • One important piece of information I now know about PAs and the profession is…
      • Some interesting or surprising facts about PAs and the profession are…
      • One question I have about PAs and the profession is…
    2. Tell students that they will view all group posters and record their answers to the prompts on the wall or display boards.
    3. Hand out post-it notes for students to record and post their answers under corresponding prompt walls or display boards. Allow students to view all group posters and post their responses to the three prompts.
    4. As a class, review and provide any corrections to the bibliographic citations in the students’ source citation sheets.
    5. Review students’ responses posted under the prompts on the walls or display boards. First, summarize student responses to prompts a and b. Then address a few of the questions students posted on the prompt c display board. Assign the remaining questions to each group and have groups find answers and report back in the next class.
    6. Tell students that they now know a lot about how to become a PA and that they will explore how and where PAs work.
    7. Distribute copies of Essay Assignment to students. Review the assignment outlined on the handout, as well as the following four pre-selected websites, from which students can gather examples to include in their essays:
    8. Allow students to use the remainder of the class for conducting research and drafting their essays. Plan to use the following 1 or 2 class periods for providing students with editorial comments on their essays via peer- or teacher-review.
    9. Class 2 Evaluation: Teachers use group posters and citation sheets to evaluate students’ knowledge of the PA profession and proper citation style. Class discussions allow for any additional instructions needed in addressing student outcomes. Teachers also can evaluate students’ skills and knowledge through the draft and final essays that they write and revise in the following classes.
  • extension activities

    • Have students interview and create profiles of a local practicing PA and a PA student. The class may create a website and publish the profiles of their interviewees during National PA Week, which is Oct 6–12 each year.
    • Assign students to create an informational chart that compares national educational requirements, local (your state) license renewal requirements, and local median hourly wages among different health care professions that interest students. The class can hold poster presentations or publish the information online, in order to inform other students.
  • common core standards: college and career readiness

    • Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
    • Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
    • Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
    • Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
    • Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
    • Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
    • Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.
    • Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.
    Research to build and present knowledge
    • Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
    • Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
    • Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.