Quality and importance of education on health policy and public health topics: a study in physician assistant higher education

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Educational Leadership


Department of Educational Leadership


Advisor: Carolyn R. Benz


The purpose of this study was to assess the perceptions of graduating physician assistant students about the importance on topics of health policy, reform and public health as well as their perception of their preparedness in these areas. PA accrediting bodies have broadened the scope of program standards by requiring PA educators to expand curricula to include these content topics. Physician assistants are important players in the U.S. healthcare system, which is undergoing systematic reform. The question to be answered was: Do PA students identify these topic areas as important and, for each topic area, do they feel adequately prepared with sufficient knowledge for clinical practice? Participants in the study included 352 PA students from 14 PA programs randomly selected from 4 geographic regions of the continental U.S. The programs were all single campus, non-probation, master's level and fully accredited for at least 5 years. A 20-item instrument, the Health Policy Perception Tool, was developed and validated for data collection. In general, the majority of PA students rated content items high on the importance scale. However, they displayed a wide range of ratings on their perceived preparedness in each content area. Findings were aggregated into 3 areas: health policy and reform, health system structure/function and public health. Health policy/reform items demonstrated the highest disparity, with students indicating that they were least prepared on areas relating to the Affordable Care Act, newer concepts such as Patient Centered Medical Homes and Accountable Care Organizations. They also rated health system structure/function items as moderately important, but they indicated they were ill prepared. PA students did indicate that public health topics were very important to them and they rated their level of preparedness on these items moderately high. The findings from this study have implications for PA education leaders. PA programs appear to be addressing public health issues well; however, PA education leaders must address the low levels of preparedness in the other areas of healthcare. Better curricular incorporation and practice of these topics is necessary to create a more holistic" approach to providing medical care. Essential learning outcomes need to be adopted to ensure that PA students can critically analyze and respond to policy and reform issues that will affect their practice and the medical community they will be a part of. PA Educators must ensure that this is supported across the entire PA curricula and educational experience to ensure that PA students are trained not merely as "technicians" but as healthcare professionals. They need to assure that PA students are empowered with the resources they need beyond how to diagnosis and treat disease, i.e., the broad understanding and knowledge of the healthcare community they will operate."


Physicians' assistants Education, Medical policy Study and teaching United States, Public health Study and teaching United States, Health services administration Study and teaching United States, Physicians' assistants Attitudes, Educational Leadership, Health Care, Health Education, Higher Education, Health Sciences, physician assistant education, health policy, public health, health reform

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