McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Mac pioneers physician assistant program

Published: May 16, 2008
John Cunnington
Dr. John Cunnington, director of the McMaster PA education program

A program to train physician assistants to work alongside Ontario physicians is being launched at McMaster University

This will be Ontario’s first physician assistant program; and Canada’s first civilian program at an undergraduate level for these health care professionals who will practice medicine under physician supervision in a wide range of health care settings.

Physician assistants (PA) have been part of the U.S. health care system since the 1960s. In Canada, PAs work in the Canadian Armed Forces and in Manitoba, where they are designated clinical assistants.

"McMaster is pleased to lead the development of new types of health care professionals who will improve access to quality health care for the residents of Ontario," said Dr. John Kelton, dean and vice-president of McMaster University’s Faculty of Health Sciences. 

The first 20 students will begin the full two-year program in September. The program will be taught using McMaster’s internationally-renowned small group, problem-based-learning approach, which focus on critical thinking, problem-solving, initiative and promotion of lifelong learning.

"Our mission is to educate energetic, innovative, committed and caring people to become role models in this new profession," said Dr. John Cunnington, director of the McMaster PA education program.

Audio: CBC Radio One: Interview with Dr. John Cunnington on the Physician Assistant Program at McMaster.

Clip provided courtesy of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Hamilton MPPs Ted McMeekin and Sophia Aggelonitis are supportive of the new program funded by the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care.

"Once again McMaster leads the pack in addressing the need for well trained health professionals," said Ted McMeekin, MPP for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale which includes the campus. "This initiative adds to the innovative approach now taken to meet needs health care needs of our citizens."

Sophia Aggelonitis, MPP for Hamilton Mountain, added: "McMaster's vision for healthcare professionals will go a long way to keeping our province strong.  Our citizens deserve the very best, and McMaster recognizes the importance of providing excellent healthcare options to the people of Ontario."

Depending on the scope of the supervising physician’s practice, PAs may conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care and assist in surgery. Within the physician-PA relationship, physician assistants exercise autonomy in medical decision-making and provide a broad range of diagnostic and therapeutic services. A PA's practice may also include education, research, and administrative services.

Graduates will qualify to take the national physician assistant certification examination.  They will have the skills and competencies necessary to practice as PAs in Canada.

Applicants must have completed two years of a university program, but there are no prerequisite courses. Candidates have a June 15, 2008 deadline to submit both a program application through the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre (OUAC) and a supplementary application directly to the program.

More details on the program and application process may be found on the program’s website at:

McMaster University Physician Assistant Program


Physician Assistant Program

May 2008

  • A physician assistant (PA) program will begin at McMaster University in September 2008 with 20 first-year students.
  • Applicants must have completed a minimum of two years of undergraduate work at an accredited university. (A minimum of 10 full course or 20 half courses are required.) By June 2008, applicants are expected to have achieved an overall simple average of at least 3.0.
  • The program is a two-year course of study delivered over a 24-month period. Year 1 will be clinical science courses. Year 2 will be clinical training. Graduates will receive a Bachelor of Health Sciences (Physician Assistant) degree.
  • Upon acceptance, successful applicants will be required to provide detailed medical information, including a record of required immunizations, evidence of Basic Cardiac Life Support certification and a satisfactory police records check.
  • The 2008-2009 tuition fee for a student are estimated at $9,000, plus supplementary fees estimated at $1,000 a year. Additional costs include books, diagnostic equipment and other learning resources estimated at $2,500. Students are also responsible for their transportation costs related to clinical study. A bursary program is available for Canadian citizens based on financial need, however, bursaries cannot supplement the full cost of education.
  • Graduates will qualify to take the national physician assistant certification examination. They will have the skills and competencies necessary to practice as PAs in Canada.
  • PAs have played a role in health care in the United States for the past 40 years and there are currently 139 accredited PA programs in the USA.
  • In Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces Medical Services School in Borden (CFMSS), Ontario offers a PA educational program that provides training to military personnel. It is the only PA program in Canada and is accredited by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA).
  • In Ontario, there are over 30 practicing military PAs and 20 more have recently graduated from the (CFMSS).
  • In 2005, The Canadian Association of Physician Assistants (CAPA) implemented a certification exam for graduates of an accredited Canadian or American PA program.
  • The University of Manitoba will offer a civilian PA program as a graduate program starting this year, using the CFMSS curriculum.
  • McMaster has developed its own PA program curriculum using the curriculum for the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine as a model, along with extensive consultation with many of the faculty and staff in the Faculty of Health Sciences, the Ontario Physician Assistant Implementation Steering Committee, an experienced PA consultant, and PA educational professionals in the United States.

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