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Department of Physician Assistant Studies
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Frequently Asked Questions
How many applications do you typically get?
We have received over 900 completed applications in the past couple of years.
How many new students do you enroll each year?
We enroll up to 42 new students each year. Our Program is very competitive— we have roughly 20 applicants for each seat.
What instructional methods does your Program use?
We regard our students as adult learners—they are guided in their education but we hold them responsible for their learning. Our instructional methods include:
- lectures by PA faculty and guest lecturers who are specialists in their fields
- interactive technologies
- case scenarios
- classroom presentations by students
- demonstrations and practice in labs
- independent work by students
- use of original medical literature
- simulation lab with interactive technology
- interprofessional classes with other healthcare disciplines
- standardized patients
- discussion—in class and online
- supervised clinical practice, both in first-year clinical experiences and second-year rotations
What is your Program’s mission statement?
“The mission of the Radford University Carilion Physician Assistant Program is to graduate competent and compassionate physician assistants who are well versed in the art and science of medicine and are prepared to effectively function as members of the healthcare team.”
When is the deadline?
November 1. This deadline is the date by which you must hit the “submit” button on the CASPA web site. We require that all prerequisites are met before matriculation, but they are not required in order to apply. See below for what our program requires by the November 1 deadline.
What are the steps in applying through CASPA?
First, before you even begin a CASPA application, determine if you are a good fit for our Program. See our web site and read through these Frequently Asked Questions thoroughly. Look at our prerequisites carefully to determine what you have already and what you will need for consideration.
When you have decided to apply, go to the CASPA web site and read thoroughly the information there, including their FAQ page. Once you create an account with CASPA and start the application process, you can check the progress of your application—look for outstanding documents, etc.
Be sure to print out a copy of your application for your personal records. Do NOT send printed copies to CASPA or to our Program.
When should I apply?
CASPA does not send an application to us until they have received the required references and transcripts of ALL college work completed up to the time of application. This usually takes 3-4 weeks, therefore we encourage applicants to complete their applications well before our deadline of November 1. You may send updated transcripts directly to our Program once you have completed more courses, so there is no need to wait until you have finished fall semester courses before you apply. Do keep in mind, however, that the more complete your application is, the more competitive it will be.
CASPA begins accepting applications each spring. Our PA Admissions Committee begins reviewing applications in the fall, so it is in your best interest to complete your application early so that you can be considered for an interview when we first start scheduling them. We begin the interview scheduling process in early November each year.
After the posted deadline of November 1, you will no longer be able to specify our Program on the CASPA application. However, supporting documentation can still be submitted to CASPA.
Can I apply directly to the College rather than through CASPA?
No, you must apply directly through CASPA and submit a CAS supplemental application to Radford.
Can I transfer credits from another PA program? Can I gain credit for experience in the healthcare field?
The answer to both questions is no. All students in our PA Program must earn all their PA credits by attending all the classes and doing all the rotations in our PA curriculum. No transfer credit is accepted, nor is credit given for pre-admission experiential learning.
How can I update my CASPA application once I have submitted it?
At some point during the winter, CASPA will notify you by e-mail when they initiate their academic update window, and you can update your coursework information at that time. Any time that you have new information for your application—an updated transcript, for example—it is best to arrange to have it sent directly to the Radford University Carilion PA Program.
What happens if my references or transcripts do not arrive at CASPA by the deadline?
Sometimes supporting documents get delayed. Please check the CASPA site often to make sure they have received all your transcripts and references. If a transcript seems to be delayed, call the registrar’s office of that institution and remind them. Similarly, call the person who is to write your reference if the reference hasn’t arrived at CASPA within a reasonable time. People get busy and sometimes they just need a little nudge.
This is why we suggest you start your application well before the deadline.
Does CASPA send my transcripts to your institution?
No, although CASPA does use your official transcripts to verify the information you fill out online. After that verification process, CASPA sends us a folder of information— including your coursework, your personal statement, work and volunteer experience and anything else you have entered on the form; it also sends copies of the reference letters and checklists.
CASPA does not send original documents to any program. Only after you are offered a position in our PA Program will you be asked to arrange for all colleges and universities you attended to send original transcripts directly to the Program before classes start. Radford University Carilion cannot enroll anyone as a student until we receive those official transcripts.
Do you need my GRE score report?
The GRE is not required for the 2023-2024 admissions cycle.
Do you require any other supporting documents to be sent directly to your Program?
Send all required documents to CASPA—do NOT send them to our Admissions Office or to the Program (with the possible exception of the GRE scores). The only supporting documents to send directly to Radford University Carilion are your GRE scores and your updated transcripts after you have been accepted. If you have any new supporting documents after you have submitted your CASPA application you may send them directly to the Program.
What are the course requirements to enter the Program?
Required prerequisites are the courses listed on our web page. In general, they are anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry, genetics or immunology, psychology, medical terminology, statistics, biochemistry or cell biology and associated labs where relevant. You will be required to communicate effectively both verbally and in writing during our Program; we encourage you to take writing-intensive courses (courses in the humanities that require a good bit of writing).
Prerequisites may be taken at any regionally accredited college or university, including community colleges. Online courses are accepted, provided the institution is regionally accredited and can issue an official transcript.
A minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better, with all coursework included, is required for consideration.
Please note: The PA catalog page on the Radford University Carilion site lists specific course requirements.
Will you do a transcript evaluation to determine if I have met the prerequisites?
No. We are not able to provide that service, due to the large number of applications we receive. We apply the “common sense” rule for determining if a specific course will fulfill a requirement. If the course title includes “Biochemistry”, we will count it as a Biochemistry course. If you have questions about a specific course which has a title that does not reflect the content, please feel free to contact us.
Must I complete the required courses before I apply?
No, but you must show in writing, or at the interview if you are selected to be interviewed, that you have specific plans to complete these courses by mid-August, when our Fall semester begins. Once you have completed these courses, arrange to have original transcripts sent directly to the Radford University Carilion Admissions Department. As mentioned elsewhere, CASPA does not send transcripts to institutions, so you must arrange to have original transcripts of all your college work sent to the Radford University Carilion Admissions Department if you are accepted.
What courses would be good to take in addition to the required courses?
We recommend pathophysiology, critical thinking, pharmacology, cadaver-based human anatomy, and additional humanities. Upper level science courses are very helpful for preparing you for the rigors of our instructional curriculum. Courses in public health or health care administration may also be quite useful in developing and demonstrating your breadth of health care knowledge.
What about online courses for prerequisites?
We will accept online prerequisite courses. One caveat is that if you have little or no upper level science coursework in a more traditional classroom setting, it is hard for us to assess your ability in that kind of courses. This might happen, for example, if someone has a Business background and needs to catch up on all their prerequisite science courses. We quite honestly don't know how to weight online coursework at this time, so we do like to see at least a good part of your prerequisites done in the classroom.
My GPA is a little lower than your recommended GPA. Do you make exceptions?
It’s rare, but we have made individual exceptions. If an applicant’s transcripts show steady improvement, if a student got off to a shaky start in college but then got turned around, or if an older applicant has a lot of relevant healthcare experience and demonstrates ability for coursework in recent coursework— any of those factors will be considered in the case of a lower GPA. We look at the overall GPA, science GPA, and particularly prerequisite GPA and the GPA for the last 30 hours.
Do you really need the GRE before interviews?
The GRE is not required for the 2023-2024 admissions cycle.
What are you looking for in the CASPA essay/personal statement?
We look for the evidence of following:
- understanding of the role of the PA
- motivation to become a PA
- desire to improve your community
- last, but not least, good grammar, spelling, and punctuation
Do you have any recommendations about my references?
Make sure you tell the people from whom you request references exactly what you are asking of them. Sometimes we get a reference from someone who thinks an applicant is applying to medical or some other school. References should be from:
- people who have known you for a significant amount of time
- people who know you academically or professionally
- a variety of sources—a professor, an employer, a PA or other healthcare professional you have worked with; a clinical supervisor, if possible, is ideal.
It should go without saying that references from friends family friends, and relatives are not acceptable.
Do you require previous healthcare experience?
Yes—500 hours of healthcare experience is required of all candidates prior to enrollment in the PA Program, but they do not have to be completed at the time of application. The experience should be in areas that have patient/client contact. Examples are EMT, respiratory therapy, medical technician, nursing, and phlebotomy. Our program does count scribing as direct patient care (although not all programs do).
Patient contact hours in fields such as health education, health promotion, and social work may also be considered as long as the work was in patient/client services. The hours can be either paid or volunteer. Applicants with formal certifications in a health-related field should be prepared to provide copies of licenses or certifications upon request.
Please realize that shadowing is different from direct patient care, and that we do not count shadowing hours as patient care.
How do I arrange to shadow a physician assistant?
The Program cannot provide assistance in locating physician assistants who will provide shadowing. Because of the recent Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which was enacted to ensure patient privacy, fewer and fewer healthcare providers are allowing shadowing, but it is still possible. You will have to locate PA’s to shadow on your own.
I am an international student. How does the application process differ for me?
You still need to complete all prerequisites, even if you have a foreign medical degree. Please be aware that your university transcripts must be evaluated by a foreign credential evaluation service, such as World Education Services, Inc. and sent to CASPA. Please see the CASPA page FAQ for their policies and contact information for other evaluation services.
If English is not your first language, our school requires a minimum TOEFL score of 550 (paper-based), 213 (computer-based), 80 (web-based), or successful completion of two college level English courses; have the TOEFL score sent directly to the Admissions Department. We encourage international applicants to have some course work at an accredited U.S. or Canadian institution.
Does every applicant get an interview?
No. After members of the PA Admissions Committee review an application, they recommend whether or not to offer an interview to the candidate. About 140 applicants were invited for interviews this past year. All interviews take place on the Radford University Carilion campus.
What main criteria will the admissions committee use to select applicants for interviews?
We look at many factors: overall GPA, science GPA, GRE scores, references, writing skills, and healthcare experience. We are looking for an understanding of the PA role, communication and problem-solving skills, understanding of patients, understanding of healthcare delivery systems, leadership and experience, and ability to work as part of a team. These things we attempt to surmise from your essay and previous work experience, even if it has not necessarily been in the healthcare field.
We do place an early emphasis on “adequate” academic numbers. Although the average GPA of accepted applicants is about 3.5-3.6, we accept a wide range. However, because we intend to graduate every student we accept, we want to be confident that they will be able to maintain a 3.0 GPA in the program so they can graduate. If we have doubts about academic ability for someone, their application will become lower priority.
What do you look for during the interview process?
We want students and subsequent graduates who are self-starters and able to handle the stress of the academic load, people who understand the health care system and the role of the PA, people who are confident but not arrogant, caring, capable, good team players, and mature. Our students participate in many group projects during the Program; we want students who can work well with others, carry their own load, and complete tasks on time.
What does the interview session involve?
At the interview session, candidates will
- be introduced to faculty and staff and be presented an overview of the Program by a PA faculty member.
- be given a tour of the facilities by current PA students.
- participate in an individual interview by PA faculty, former grads, or admissions counselors.
- participate in a group interview with other candidates.
- have the opportunity to ask questions about our Program of interviewers, staff, and current students.
When will I be notified of your decision on my application?
If you have been interviewed, you will receive your admissions decision letter within 2 weeks (usually less than 1 week) after the interview. Interviewees receive one of three decisions: Accept, Deny, or Hold. If you are accepted, you are given two weeks to make a $500 deposit, which will be credited towards tuition at the time of your enrollment.
The Admissions Committee will again review applications of candidates put on Hold after all interview sessions have taken place (sometime in March). After that time applicants on Hold will receive their second decision letter—they will either be accepted, denied, or placed on a wait list. If an accepted applicant withdraws so that a seat becomes available, we will offer that spot to a wait-listed candidate. This could possibly happen anytime before classes start in mid-August.
Is it possible to defer to a later Fall semester if I am accepted?
Sometimes, under unusual circumstances, it is possible. If, after you have paid your enrollment deposit, circumstances arise that prevent you from starting the Program in the current Fall semester, you may request to defer to the following Fall. You need to put your request in writing. Your deposit is put on your student account so you needn’t pay another deposit. Deferment requests are considered on their individual merits.
What if I have applied for a previous year but didn't attend, and now I have decided that I still want to attend your Program. Must I reapply?
Yes, you need to reapply, no matter what the situation was—whether you withdrew your application before a decision was made, or you were placed on the wait list and didn't get an offer of acceptance, or you were offered admission but declined, or even if you paid the enrollment deposit and then canceled without being granted a deferral. Each year the applicant pool is new, the competition is different. Anyone who was considered in a previous year must start all over again with a new CASPA application, pay the fee, send new references, and have the transcripts sent again.
What if I don’t get accepted?
First, make sure you review our Program’s requirements—courses required, work experiences, GRE, GPA, references, and personal statement. If you believe you could better meet these requirements in another year or two, do the work and then apply through CASPA again.
How do I apply for financial aid?
To start the financial planning, go to the Radford University Carilion Financial Aid web page. You need to fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Our College FAFSA code is 003732. All students interested in federal financial aid for college and graduate school need to complete this application to determine eligibility for Stafford loans (the Federal Student Loan Program).
You should start this process even before you receive an admissions decision from the Program. The FAFSA has no bearing on the application decision.
The federal and non-federal aid may not be enough to cover the entire cost of attending the PA Program. We encourage you to seek scholarships and grants from other sources.
What types of scholarships are available?
There are several scholarship opportunities for PA students at Radford University Carilion; to find out more, go to the Radford University Carilion Financial Aid web page.
Would it be possible to work outside or for the College while attending the Program?
The Physician Assistant Program is an extremely challenging and time-intensive educational experience. Successful completion requires that you give Program-related activities the highest priority. The Program strongly discourages outside employment for a student enrolled in the PA Program. Students should make every attempt to secure adequate financial assistance before entering the Program. Financial difficulties are not grounds for special academic consideration. Students are also not allowed to do clerical work for the Program or for preceptors.
Do you offer on-campus tours or on-campus information sessions?
Yes, we usually have 3 or 4 sessions per year. Three of these are in the spring and summer, on Fridays, and we often have a fourth session at the end of September or the first of October. These are open to all who are interested. View upcoming information session dates. These sessions will also be advertised on RUC and PA program Facebook pages, and in other formats. These are a Q&A format, with a short intro, and last about two hours, with an opportunity for a campus tour afterwards.
We are also happy to discuss specific questions with potential applicants, and can arrange for individual meetings. It is best to contact the RUC Admissions office (888-985-8483 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org) to make an appointment for an interview with an admissions counselor or an on-campus tour. If you just drop in, we may not be available, so it is best to make prior arrangements.
Is there a difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition?
There is a difference in in-state vs out-of-state student tuition. Please refer to the Estimated Costs tab for tuition information.
What about additional fees, such as lab fees, clinical fees, exam fees?
The student is responsible for paying for books, medical equipment, a computer, and housing. The tuition includes most program costs. However, there are additional program costs for some formative and summative standardized exams that have been developed by the PA Education Association. These include a simulated PANCE Board exam (PACKRAT), exams for evaluating clinical rotation learning, and a comprehensive exam at the end of the entire curriculum. The total cost to the student for these exams is about $500.
Do you give preference to Virginia residents?
We encourage applicants from everywhere, including international students who meet the requirements. No preference is given to any geographical group, and we have students from all over the country. About half our students usually are from Virginia.
Can I complete all my prerequisites, including the Bachelor’s degree, at Radford University Carilion? Is there any advantage to doing so?
Radford University Carilion offers several Bachelor's degrees. By earning the B.S. degree in the Radford University Carilion's Biomedical Sciences Program or Health Sciences Program, a student can complete all the prerequisites needed for our PA Program. A student with a previous Bachelor’s degree who lacks prerequisites for our Program may also fulfill the prerequisites at Radford University Carilion, either on-campus or through Distance Learning, for some courses.
Completing your prerequisites here at Radford University Carilion is convenient, but it in no way guarantees admission to the Program. All applicants for the PA Program must go through the same application process (CASPA) and meet the same requirements.
We have committed to offer an interview to applicants who are holders of a Radford University Carilion bachelor’s or higher degree, if they have met all other prerequisites. However, no additional special consideration will be given.
When does the Program start?
The PA Program starts in mid-August each year. There is no accommodation for alternate times, nor can students attend part-time.
Are students required to purchase their own laptop computers?
Yes. Much of the classroom work comprises PowerPoint presentations and Web-based testing. And a lot of our communication is done on the Internet—through e-mail, and the web-based Desire 2 Learn (D2L). D2L compatibility is necessary for online testing. Computers with either Windows or Macintosh operating systems are preferred, Chromebooks and iPads can work with D2L, but there may be other software that will not work well. Android tablets are not currently supported by D2L.
Are Smartphones/tablets required?
At this time we don’t require students to have smartphones or tablets (e.g. iPads), but many students find them very useful, especially during the second-year rotations. There are numerous medically-related applications for smartphones.
Do Radford University Carilion PA students get hands-on clinical experiences during the first year?
There are regularly scheduled experiences throughout the year; we strive to have each student experience 4-6 real-life patient encounters during the didactic portion of the curriculum. This is in addition to clinical training involving other students or standardized patients. This has been impacted by the COVID pandemic, but we intend to reinstate these experiences when possible.
Do I have to find my own rotation sites?
No. The clinical coordinator will place all students in appropriate clinical rotations. If you should identify a potential rotation site that we do not yet use, you would have the clinical coordinator contact that site with any inquiries.
Where do Radford University Carilion students do their second-year clinical rotations?
In general all clinical rotations will be completed at established Program sites. Most rotations are completed at Carilion Clinic in Roanoke and affiliated sites. Assignments are based on availability of clinical sites, programmatic needs and, in the opinion of the clinical coordinator, appropriateness of “fit” between the site and student. You must be prepared to complete some rotations out of town, in areas throughout Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Currently, the Program provides housing for these required rotations.
Generally, students are given more flexibility in selecting their elective rotations. However, assignments are on a case-by-case basis, and are left to the discretion of the clinical coordinator.
What is the current and expected demand for physician assistants?
Most of the graduates of our Program are working as clinicians in family practice, internal medicine, urgent care, and other medical areas. Others go on to do residencies or graduate studies. Many of our graduates serve as preceptors and guest lecturers for our current students.
Job outlook and starting salaries for PAs are excellent. The American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) reports that the median yearly salary for all PA’s in 2010 was $90,000 and the median first year salary for new graduates was $77,000.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that PAs will be the second-fastest-growing profession in the next decade, increasing from 74,800 in 2008 to 103,900 in 2018. AAPA projects that in 2020, there will be between 137,000 and 173,000 certified PAs.
In answer to growing physician shortages, there is a push for more PAs to help ensure access to care. Coupled with this are the prospects of an aging population (who will need more healthcare services) and the fact that more people are expected to seek care due to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Do PA students have opportunities for professional activities?
Our students regularly attend regional, national and international conferences and develop strong professional networks while they are still students. Several of our students have had national leadership positions.