Leadership Blog

Rethinking PA Program Admissions

When considering how to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within PA education, I often encourage colleagues to start at the beginning: Look at your program’s admissions process. If we want to produce a PA workforce that is more representative of the patients we serve, we must develop holistic admissions policies that meaningfully center and represent diverse communities and individual lived experiences.

According to PAEA’s DEI Toolkit, a holistic admissions review process is “a mission-aligned admissions and selection process that considers the ‘whole’ applicant, balancing experiences, attributes, and metrics. It is an individualized and flexible process to evaluate criteria demonstrating the abilities and contributions of each applicant related to the program’s mission while promoting diversity.”

It isn’t enough to define admissions standards based on quantifiable metrics. Although those metrics may make the admissions process easier, they don’t help us make medical education accessible to more people. When we decide who is and isn’t eligible to train as a PA based on GPA, test scores, or volunteer hours, we deny applicants who don’t fit the mold the chance to tell their story. For example, I value a 3.0 GPA for a student that had to work 40 hours a week to put themselves through school or raise a family. What purpose does it serve to flatten the lived experiences of people who may be great students and even better PAs through arbitrary admissions standards?

We must think about what type of students we want. We must think about the types of people we want to see become our colleagues by looking past our inherited assumptions of what our PA school applicants are capable of solely from applicant statistics. By increasing the number and diversity of PAs through holistic admissions standards, we increase the value and longevity of our profession in the health care landscape. Find more ideas and best practices for developing a holistic admissions process in the DEI Toolkit.