An assessment of physician assistant student diversity in the United States: a snapshot for the healthcare workforce

Carolyn Bradley-Guidry, Nicole Burwell, Ramona Dorough, Vanessa Bester, Gerald Kayingo, Sumihiro Suzuki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The Physician Assistant (PA) workforce falls short of mirroring national demographics mainly due to a lack of diversity in student enrollment. Few studies have systematically examined diversity across PA programs at the national level, and little is known about best practices for consistently graduating a diverse group of students. We descriptively characterized the extent to which PA programs are graduating a diverse group of students and identified top performing PA programs. Methods: Data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) were used to calculate the number and proportion of racial or ethnically diverse graduates. The study sample included 139 accredited PA programs that had graduated a minimum of five cohorts from 2014–2018. Within each of the United States Census Divisions, programs were ranked according to the number and proportion of graduates who were underrepresented minority (URM) race, Hispanic ethnicity, and of non-white (URM race, Hispanic, and Asian). Results: Amongst PA programs in the United States, a large disparity in the number and proportion of racial and ethnic graduates was observed. Of 34,625 PA graduates, only 2,207 (6.4%) were Hispanic ethnicity and 1,220 (3.5%) were URM race. Furthermore, a large number of diverse graduates came from a small number of top performing programs. Conclusion: Despite the abundance of evidence for the need to diversify the healthcare workforce, PA programs have had difficulty recruiting and graduating a diverse group of students. This study provides empirical evidence that PA programs have not been able to attain the level of diversity necessary to shift the lack of diversity in the PA workforce. Based upon this study's findings, the top performing PA programs can be used as role models to establish benchmarks for other programs. The results of this descriptive study are currently being used to guide a qualitative study to identify the top performers’ strategies for success.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number680
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • Diversity
  • Graduates
  • PA students
  • Physician Assistants
  • Top-performing PA programs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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