Q&A Session from McMaster PA Info Night November 2016 by Anne Dang


Here are some questions that I had the pleasure of answering on my blog thus far. I just thought that other readers would be interested as well. You may contact me with your questions at the end of this page using the contact form.

“What is a PA? What are things they can or cannot do?”

See “What is a PA” by Anne of Blog of a Canadian PA

Physician Assistants are physician extenders. They practice medicine under a licensed physician to decrease wait times for healthcare access. PA’s are trained in the same medical model that doctors go through. As generalists, PAs are knowledgeable in a majority of fields in medicine. With that being said, PAs can do most things that doctors can do.  PAs work under the physician’s license, which dictates two things:

  1. The physician must be comfortable with what the PA can do and at the same time, the PA must be comfortable with what the physician asks him/her to do.
  2. The PA can only do as much as what the physician can do. An example someone used was: if you (the PA) know how to perform lumbar punctures but your supervising doctor does not, then you are not allowed perform lumbar punctures in his practice.

The PA’s scope of practice will be agreed between the physician and PA. It will be written down in the PA’s Medical Directive, a list of things the PA can and cannot do, for that supervising doctor.

 “I don’t have a background in post-secondary science courses, would I be at a disadvantage?”

For McMaster University, there are no prerequisite courses you need to take before applying. McMaster welcomes any student who have completed at least two years of undergrad to apply. So, there is no disadvantage in terms of getting into the program. However, once you get in, you must be comfortable with learning human physiology on your own as the program will not have lectures on these materials.  PA students are welcome to attend current MD lectures and they are available online as well.

In terms of doing well in the program itself, coming from a non-science background, in my opinion, does not put the student at a lower disadvantage in the program… or else the program would have specified that students must have a science background to apply. 

I don’t really consider myself to be coming from a strong “science” background (the majority of my undergrad courses were in psychology). Sometimes I find myself struggling to understand a concept but that’s when determination and working hard come into play. I use resources that explains information at a level I am comfortable with and I ask questions to help my understanding. Because the program is so small, classmates are always there to help. I work with a few other students on tutorial to make sure we all understand the material.

You also have to understand that this is a tough program, having a science background or not! It is expected because it is a program based off of the MD program. So, you can’t slack off and blame not doing well on your non-science background. Be prepared to work hard and I promise you it will be a rewarding experience! 

“Do you have to provide verifiers/references when you submit the application form for extra curriculars/work experiences”

The supplementary application will not ask for references or verifiers. They only ask you to put down your most recent employment history and volunteer involvement. Eg. “Humber River Hospital, Volunteer, May 2014 to August 2014”. Something like that.

“What kind of clinical science courses are you going to be taking?”

You can see the curriculum overview here. It consists of tutorials where students work in a group on a case study. We also have a class on communications to help us when talking to patients and a course called IER (Interviewing, examining, reasoning) where we learn how to take patient history and examine the patient. As you can see these courses are not like undergrad courses where we attend lecture with a professor. They are more like discussions and hands on learning.

“How is GPA calculated?” (From my own understanding)

“The application for university of Toronto’s program requires previous patient interaction. How would you recommend I achieve this requirement?”

First, I want to clarify that I am only familiar with McMaster’s PA Education Program. Please visit the University of Toronto’s Admission webpage for their requirements and contact them instead because they will be the best people to inquire.

If you are looking for patient interaction experiences just to know what it feels like to work with patients, volunteering is a great option. I have volunteered at a hospital and at a family clinic during my undergrad. They are both great experiences that require only a 2-3 hours per week, usually asking for at least 3 months commitment.

  • For hospital volunteering, visit the volunteer page on the hospital’s website.
  • For family clinics, you can visit the clinic’s webpage if they have one and contact them through email. If not, do it the old fashion way and walk in with a resume.

“Can you please tell us what kind of questions are on the MMI?”

Questions pertaining to the MMI are confidential information that I cannot share since I signed the confidentiality agreement. For information on how to excel on the MMI, visit this post by Anne.

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