Jul 14, 2024  
2022-2023 Graduate Catalog 
2022-2023 Graduate Catalog [Archived Catalog]

Physician Assistant Studies Department

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Program Chairperson: Wade Nilson, Ed.D., MPAS, PA-C

Physician Assistant Studies Program
School of Health Sciences Building, Room 316
Phone: 605-658-5926
Fax: 605-677-6569



Professor Emeritus:

H. Bruce Vogt, Medical Director, M.D., University of Nebraska Medical Center


Tracy Cleveland, Ed.D., MS, PA-C, University of Missouri- Columbia
Wade Nilson, Program Chairperson, Ed.D., MPAS, PA-C, Bethel University
William Schweinle III, Ph.D., University of Texas 

Associate Professors:

Betty Hulse, MSPAS, PA-C, University of South Dakota

Assistant Professors: 

Amber Evenson, MSPAS, PA-C, University of South Dakota
Katie Kassin, MSPAS, PA-C, University of South Dakota
Nancy Trimble, DMS, MPAS, PA-C, Lincoln Memorial University 



Master of Science  

Program Description

The mission of the Physician Assistant Studies Program at the University of South Dakota is to provide a comprehensive primary care education that prepares graduates to deliver high quality healthcare to meet the needs of patients in South Dakota and the surrounding region.

To accomplish this mission, the USD PA Program:

  • Promotes and supports the ideal of a competent, caring, and compassionate physician assistant
  • Promotes and supports excellence and professionalism
  • Fosters an evidence-based approach to patient care
  • Expects students to be accountable for individual learning
  • Expects faculty and students to be partners in the educational process
  • Empowers students to be lifelong learners
  • Selects individuals likely to practice in South Dakota and the surrounding region
  • Fosters interest in primary care to rural and underserved populations
  • Selects individuals who have the interpersonal aptitudes and maturity that are necessary for successful practice as a physician assistant

Physician Assistants and students should demonstrate the following core beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors at all times:

  • Professional and ethical behavior
  • Honesty and integrity
  • Compassion
  • Service to those in need
  • Advocacy for an interprofessional approach to healthcare and collaborative practice
  • Commitment to lifelong learning
  • Sensitivity to cultural and individual differences
  • Promotion of the physician assistant profession and its ideals

Physician Assistants (PAs) are health care providers who practice medicine. The University of South Dakota Physician Assistant Studies Program is a 24-month program, half as a Preclinical Phase in Vermillion and a half as a Clinical Phase at practice sites around South Dakota. At the conclusion of the 24 months and successful completion of course work, students are awarded a Master’s Degree. The USD PA Studies Program received national accreditation in April 1995 and has been awarded Accreditation-Continued.


Students in the program are selected through a competitive application process. One class of students is selected each year. The USD PA Program participates in the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA). This service collates application materials and grades and transmits the information to all PA Programs designated by the applicant. The service takes no part in the evaluation or selection of applicants. Applicants can utilize this service by contacting them at their web site, CASPA.

Complete, verified applications must be received by the PA program by Oct. 15 to be considered for an interview. We highly recommend submission of all materials to CASPA four to six weeks prior to the September 1 deadline.

For Graduates of Foreign Institutions and Non-U.S. Citizen Applicants, please visit the PA program website.

In addition to completion of the CASPA application, the program requires all applicants to meet the technical standards and the admission criteria below (please note, these are the minimum requirements for admission - see our website for more detailed information):

  1. In order to complete your Graduate School application to the University of South Dakota, you must submit a $35 application fee, in addition to the CASPA fee. The USD Graduate Application Fee cannot be waived or deferred, and it is nonrefundable. The fee can be paid on the USD Deposits and Fees website (Due September 1st).
  2. Applicants to the program must have completed a bachelor’s/master’s degree from an institutionally accredited college or university before entering. No preference is given to any specific major.
  3. Applicants must be a US citizen or Permanent Resident.
  4. International applicants with a degree outside of the U.S. must have the equivalent of a U.S. bachelor’s degree as verified by World Education Services, and a minimum of 40 semester hours from an institutionally accredited U.S. higher education institution. It is highly recommended that these 40 hours include the majority of the required prerequisites and/or upper level science courses. The PA program requires a course-by-course evaluation including verification of lab components where required to be completed and included in the CASPA application. Admission will not be considered and credit will not be reviewed for possible transfer acceptance until a report is received.
  5. Obtain a cumulative and prerequisite GPA of 3.0 or better on a 4.0 scale (please see selection criteria).
  6. Complete a minimum of 500 patient care experience hours prior to submission of the CASPA application.
  7. Successfully complete a criminal background check upon acceptance.
  8. Complete the following prerequisites with a grade of C or better by June 1 of the year of the intended enrollment: Note: Required coursework graded pass/fail, survey courses and CLEP credits will not be accepted for any of the hours and clinical and work experiences will not be accepted in place of coursework.
  • 2 Semesters of Biology 8 credit hours
  • 2 Semesters of Chemistry with Lab 8 credit hours 
  • 2 Semesters of Anatomy and Physiology with Lab 8 credit hours*
  • Microbiology 4 credit hours (lab required)**
  • Biochemistry 3 credit hours***
  • General Psychology 3 credit hours+
  • Abnormal Psychology 3 credit hours
  • Statistics 2 credit hours e.g., Biostatistics, General Statistics, Psychology Statistics

*If Anatomy and Physiology are taken separately, a minimum of one lab is required if not offered with both courses.

**USD graduates - please note USD’s MICR 230/232 (Basic Microbiology) are not accepted for this requirement. Only MICR 420/421 are accepted from USD; MICR 320/321 will be accepted from previous catalogs.

***Combined Organic/Biochemistry courses are not recommended, but if taken must be 300 level (Junior) or above.
+An exception for general psychology may be permitted. Requests for this exception must be approved by the program director

Although not required it is highly recommended that courses be taken within the last 10 years. 

Application Deadline

  • September 1 - fall start

Policy on Advanced Placement 

The University of South Dakota PA Program’s curriculum is administered in a sequential fashion with each subsequent semester of coursework building upon the previous one. Consequently, the program does not routinely consider applicants for advanced placement. 

Applicants are not considered for advanced placement unless they have successfully completed a University of South Dakota course that is identical to those taken in the University of South Dakota PA Program.  Individuals who have previously completed courses that are a part of the PA Program’s current curriculum may request advanced placement for these individual courses. Applicants must meet the Graduate School time limit and validation of credits policy to be considered for advanced placement. 

Individual’s requesting consideration for advanced placement must complete all traditional application materials utilized by the PA Program. The Chair will consider and act upon all requests for advanced placement of any individual selected for admission to the program who has requested advanced placement. The Chair may request additional information in making a determination regarding a request for advanced placement. Additional assessment techniques may be utilized in assessing the appropriate level of advanced placement for candidates. The Chair may accept or reject all or any portion of a request for advanced placement. Individuals requesting advanced placement will be enrolled in the program in a manner that will serve to synchronize the student with one of the currently enrolled classes. 

Program Competencies for Physician Assistant Studies (M.S.)

The education of a physician assistant involves developing a broad base of general, scientific, and medical knowledge, and developing strong interpersonal, professional, and clinical skills.  This skill and knowledge base is acquired through pre-professional education and experience in the PA Program’s Preclinical and Clinical phases of education which ultimately lead to graduation from the program.  After the conclusion of this formal education program, a PA’s education continues through a process of life-long learning that involves both formal continuing education programs and individual study. 

The overriding objective of the program is to provide program graduates with the demonstrable ability to identify, analyze, and manage clinical problems in order to provide effective, efficient and humane patient care with physician supervision.

The University of South Dakota Physician Assistant Studies Program is designed to provide students with knowledge, skills and activities that enhance their professional and personal growth as physician assistants.  Graduates will be able to: 
  1. Medical Knowledge:
    Demonstration of the pathophysiology, etiology, risk factors, epidemiology, signs and symptoms, differential diagnosis, diagnostic work-up, patient management, surgical principles, health promotion, and disease prevention for a variety of medical conditions. 
  2. Interpersonal and Communication skills:
    Demonstration of interpersonal and communication skills that effectively and compassionately articulate medical information
  3. Clinical and Technical Skills:
    Demonstration of the delivery of patient-centered assessment, evaluation, and management, as well as education and/or counseling for health promotion and disease prevention in all patient populations. Graduating students must also demonstrate the ability to appropriately and safely perform procedures, diagnostic interpretation or other clinical techniques within the scope of practice of a physician assistant. 
  4. Clinical Reasoning and Problem Solving:
    Demonstrate the ability to interpret and integrate an evidenced-based approach to clinical practice through clinical reasoning, and decision-making processes to improve patient care practices.
  5. Professional Behaviors:
    Demonstrate a high level of professionalism through personal behaviors, sensitivity to others, and/or accountability essential to patients, society and the profession.


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