Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Physician Assistant Program
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This page represents a general overview of the PA Program's policies. A complete guide to these policies is contained in the Program Handbook, distributed to all matriculating students.

 Academic Policies

Honor Code

The Standards of Honor and Professional Conduct Policies are guided by the mission and vision statements of our institution.  

Physician assistants are called to the highest standards of honor and professional conduct. Understanding that this responsibility begins not upon graduation but rather at the inception of one's medical education, the students of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine Physician Assistant Program uphold the following standards which serve as an embodiment of conduct and integrity. These standards strive to foster an atmosphere of honesty, trust and cooperation among students, instructors, patients and society.

Behavior considered appropriate for a career in medicine includes, but is not limited to, honesty, trustworthiness, professional demeanor, respect for the rights of others, personal accountability and concern for the welfare of patients. In these areas, PA students are bound by:


  • Be truthful in communication with others.
  • Refrain from cheating, plagiarism or misrepresentation in the fulfillment of academic requirements.


  • Maintain the confidentiality of patient information.
  • Maintain confidentiality of student assessment/evaluation information.
  • Admit errors and not intentionally mislead others or promote ourselves at the student peer, professional colleague or patient's expense.

Professional demeanor

  • Be thoughtful and professional when interacting with patients, their families, our professional colleagues or student peers.
  • Strive to maintain our composure under pressures of fatigue, professional stress or personal problems.
  • Avoid offensive language, gestures or inappropriate remarks with sexual overtones.
  • Maintain a neat and clean appearance, and dress in attire that is reasonable as a student and accepted as professional to the patient population served.

Respect for the rights of others

  • Create an atmosphere which encourages learning, characterized by cooperative relationships to my student peers and/or to the patient population served.
  • Deal with professional, staff and peer members of the health team and in my study groups in a considerate manner and with a spirit of cooperation. 
  • Act with an egalitarian spirit toward all persons encountered in a professional capacity, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual preference, socioeconomic status or educational achievement. 
  • Respect the right of patients and their families to be informed and share in patient care decisions.
  • Respect patients', standardized patients’ or peers’ modesty and privacy.
  • Respect the diversity of learning styles within my student class.
  • Personal accountability.
  • Participate in our study groups and class assignments responsibly to the best of our ability.
  • Participate responsibly in patient care to the best of our ability and with appropriate supervision. 
  • Undertake clinical duties and persevere until they are complete. 
  • Notify the responsible person if something interferes with our ability to perform clinical tasks effectively.

Concern for the welfare of patients

  • Treat patients, their families and our peers or professional colleagues with respect and dignity both in their presence and in discussions with others.
  • Consider what is hurtful or helpful to patients and use that as a guide for participating in patients' medical care. 
  • Consider what is hurtful or helpful to our student peers and use that as a guide for participating in our study groups.
  • Discern accurately when supervision or advice is needed and seek these out before acting.
  • Recognize when our ability to function effectively is compromised, and ask for relief or help.
  • Avoid the use of alcohol or drugs in a way that could compromise patient care or our own performance.
  • Avoid engaging in romantic, sexual or other non-professional relationships with a patient, even upon the apparent request of a patient. 

 Academic Progress

To graduate from the PA Program and earn a Master of Medical Science degree, the candidate must:

  • Achieve a grade of C or better in all PA Program courses.
  • Achieve a minimum overall GPA of 3.00 at the end of the program.
  • Successfully complete the PA Program Summative Evaluation.

To achieve satisfactory academic progress in the Physician Assistant Program, the student must maintain an aggregate grade of B (GPA of 3.00). The PA Program considers a grade below “C” in any of the Physician Assistant Program courses to represent unsatisfactory academic progress and may result in academic warning, probation or dismissal from the program. Unsatisfactory academic progress will result in a review by the academic review committee and may result in repeating course work, academic warning, academic probation or dismissal from the PA Program. 

The principal PA Program faculty members review each student’s progress each semester. The purpose of this review is to clarify each student’s academic status and his/her progress toward completion of the Physician Assistant Program. Factors to be considered in this review include an internal audit of grades earned in completed courses, professional development and professional/ethical behavior.

Academic progress in the second year is evaluated with end of rotation exams scores, preceptor evaluations and other course work requirements.

To remain in good academic standing, all PA students must receive a grade of C or better in all PA Program courses and a passing grade in all clinical rotations. The academic review process exists to assist students with identification of problems and issues that may be associated with academic or professional difficulties. The process occurs so that appropriate guidance, advice and remediation options may be effected.

 Advanced Placement

Course work in the Physician Assistant Program is different from most traditional graduate programs. Due to the knowledge base each semester building on the knowledge gained from the previous semester, it is vital that all students of the Northwestern University Physician Assistant Program complete the required work in the prescribed sequence. No advanced placement within the Physician Assistant Program will be allowed for prior academic or clinical experience.

 Background Checks

Once admitted to the program, all matriculating students will be subject to a background check to be completed prior to matriculation. The program will follow background check procedures used by other programs within the Feinberg School of Medicine. Matriculating students will not subject to any fees directly related to this process.

Should criminal or other dubious legal histories be uncovered during the background check, the program reserved the right to rescind offers of admission.


The program will not employ any physician assistant student as a graduate assistant or in any other capacity within the program. Students enrolled in the PA Program cannot substitute for practicing physician assistants or provide unsupervised services while at any clinical site. Northwestern University employee policies do not apply to students while in the program. PA students credentialed or licensed in other non-PA professions cannot function in that role while in the role of a PA student.

While the program does not encourage students to work during the didactic or clinical years of the program, the program does not prevent students from obtaining outside employment. The program will not make any exceptions, due to outside employment, in regard to course work or clinical assignments for the student who does engage in outside employment.


Within the syllabus of each course the grading methodology and elements are defined. Each element (quiz, exam, group session, etc.) are assigned a point value within the context of each course. The points are totaled and a final grade determined. The letter grade is determined from the point scale outlined in the course syllabi.

 Health Insurance

All PA students are required to have health insurance throughout their two years of the program. Students are to complete the Coverage Selection Form to either elect or decline the insurance that Northwestern University offers. Proof of University or other health insurance coverage must be provided to the PA program. See the Health Services-Chicago website for more information.

 Health Requirements for Admitted Students

All PA students at Northwestern are required to meet entrance health requirements. Please review the Admitted Students page for more detailed information.

 Leave of Absence

Due to the intensive nature of physician assistant education, all academic activities are considered to be an important part of the overall educational experience. The program encourages all students to engage in their education with consistent attendance.  Leaves of absence will be individualized to the specific situation but will follow the general policies and procedures outlined below. Program faculty will be notified of all instances of leaves of absence. Students are urged to submit requests for absence as soon as an absence is anticipated. All requests for a leave of absence, whether administrative or medical, should be submitted in writing to the program director or their designee.

A. Administrative Leaves of Absence

Administrative leaves of absence may be granted for personal, educational, financial or other reasons, which must be stated in the letter of request. If the student is in academic difficulty, the program director or designee will consult with the faculty and course instructors of record prior to approval of the request. During both the Pre-Clinical and Clinical year, administrative leaves will be considered on a case-by-case basis. During the Pre-Clinical year, when more than two weeks of leave are needed, the usual recommendation is withdrawal from school and readmission.

B. Medical Leaves of Absence

Medical leaves of absence require a statement from the appropriate licensed healthcare provider as to the expected duration of absence. Details as to the reason for the medical leave are not required. Reinstatement must be approved by the program director or their designee, who will need to be assured that the student is again ready for the rigors of medical studies. While a statement of readiness from the student's healthcare provider may be sufficient, the right to require a second opinion regarding readiness is reserved. This consultation will come from a healthcare provider approved by the program, and any cost involved will be borne by the student. With medical leaves of longer than two weeks, the usual recommendation is withdrawal from school and readmission.

C. Excused Absences (Up to 72 Hours in Length)

Excused absences will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Valid reasons for requesting an excused absence include personal illness and family emergencies. Personal illness lasting longer than three days may require documentation by a medical provider. The student must notify the program via phone or email to report all absences. Please note that absence requests related to attending weddings, homecomings, the need to make an early flight for vacation, etc., will not be granted.

With excused absences during the didactic year:

  • The student should arrange to make up any work missed.
  • The student must notify the PA Program of his/her absence.
  • For excused absences that include missing an exam, refer to the Exam Policy.
  • With excused absences during the clinical year:
    • Each absence will be considered individually.
    • For excused absences that include missing an exam, refer to the Exam Policy.

D. Exit Interview

Should you be granted an extended administrative or medical leave of absence, withdraw from school or be dismissed, you are required to have an exit interview with the PA program director or designated faculty member. This will involve returning any instructional property that has been entrusted to you and turning in your identification badge and white clinical jacket. Other things to be considered at this time are clearance of all current debt with the University, the onset of the grace period if you should have school loans and termination or conversion of your health and disability coverage. You may also want to arrange for an exit interview with Financial Aid. Students dismissed from the program will no longer be able to attend program classes and activities unless an appeal is in process.

 Refund Policy

Once enrolled, a student wishing to withdraw from the program will have his tuition refunded to the degree determined by the following schedule:

  • 0-25% of term elapsed: 75% of tuition paid will be refunded
  • 26-50% of term elapsed: 50% of tuition paid will be refunded
  • 51-100% of term elapsed: 0% of tuition paid will be refunded

Financial aid recipients who withdraw from the University may be required to return a portion of their financial aid to the federal programs. The policy is subject to change in accordance with revisions in federal regulations. A full description of the University's refund and repayment policy as it applies to PA students is contained in the Financial Regulations of 2013-14. This pamphlet is distributed by the Office of Student Accounts (Abbott Hall, first floor). See also the handbook Financial Regulations for Students on the Chicago Campus.

 Safe and Healthy Learning Environment

Feinberg believes that an effective learning environment is one in which all involved are treated with respect. Discover how we foster a safe and healthy learning environment and connect with student support resources.

 Student Grievance/Dismissal/Appeals Policy

When a student fails to achieve satisfactory academic progress, accused of academic dishonesty, or is accused of other program violations the Academic Review Process will be initiated. (See sexual harassment policy the handling of grievances.)

  • The accuser will, within three working days, inform the program director in writing of the accusation, providing as much detail as possible.

  • Within two working days of notification, the program director will convene a Student Review Process.

  • The committee will meet to discuss the incident, interview witness and use any method allowed to gather information related to the incident. Multiple meetings may be required.

  • Within two working days of the final meeting the PA faculty attending the review will prepare the committee's recommendations and forward them to the program director.

  • The program director will accept or reject the recommendations including, if applicable, reasons for rejection of any recommendations. The program director will inform the student and members of the review process in writing on the course of action within two working days.

  • A form accompanying the written course of action must be signed and returned by the student to the program director within seven days of receipt.

  • A copy of all final recommendations will be placed in the student's academic file.

  • Working Days are defined as those days within an academic semester or session. Holidays recognized by Northwestern University and days that separate academic semesters and sessions are not counted in these timetables.

  • There will be times when extenuating circumstances call for an exception to these time frames. Requests for modifying these time frames must be presented to and approved by the program director.

Appeal Process

Students who disagree with the plan of action set forth by the program director may have the decision reviewed by the Dean of the Feinberg School of Medicine. See the Feinberg School of Medicine Appeals Process for more details.

 Student Records

The following matriculated student records will be maintained by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine Physician Assistant Program for the length of time specified. These records and others maybe maintained by other departments within the institution. For example, transcripts are maintained by the registrar and health records are maintained by student health.


Length of Time

Educational transcripts


Admission records


Didactic/clinical performance


Clinical rotation schedule


Advising records

Ten years after graduation

Remediation records

Ten years after graduation

Disciplinary/dismissal records


Health/immunization screening assurance

One year after graduation

Official Transcripts: Northwestern University has authorized Parchment Exchange to provide online transcript ordering services to PA Program Alumni. Visit this page for more information or to request a transcript. Current students may obtain official transcripts through their CAESAR account.

For questions or assistance, contact the Northwestern University Registrar at or 847-467-0760.

 Technical Standards

Medical education requires not only the accumulation of medical knowledge, but also the acquisition of skills and professional attitudes and behaviors. In all phases of medical education, the students’ ability to utilize their intellectual ability and maintain emotion stability, particularly when under stress or within the time limits common in medical setting, is vital to the successful completion of the program.

Northwestern University and the Physician Assistant Program are committed to the principle of equal opportunity. The program does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status or disability. When requested, the program will provide reasonable accommodations to otherwise qualified students with disabilities.

Applicants may not be accepted for admission into the program that has the following:

  1. Health problems of a recurring and unpredictable nature or other diseases that is poorly controlled, transmittable or incurable by present standards.
  2. Diseases that may be treatable but where the treatment itself is known to produce a serious impairment of cognitive, psychological or physical functions.
  3. Diseases affecting neuromuscular coordination, tactile sensitivity and general or specific paralysis of the upper extremity.

All students should have the following:

  1. Sufficient posture control, neuromuscular control and eye-hand coordination to effectively use an ophthalmoscope, stethoscope, otoscope and similar instruments required to perform a physical examination and evaluation and to accomplish such tasks such as interpreting x-rays and electrocardiograms.
  2. Sufficient visual and auditory perception and the mental capacity to assimilate large volumes of detailed and complex information presented in formal lectures, small group discussion, and individual teaching settings.
  3. Sufficient communication skills to:
    • Elicit all components of the medical history from patients with a wide range of literacy.
    • Perform the history-taking task at a pace that would not pose a potential danger to the patient.
    • Transmit these findings quickly and effectively as may be necessary.
    • Initiate emergency measures on a verbal basis.
    • Effectively interact in two-way communication with patients to provide and clarify information, reduce apprehension, and provide counseling.

To work effectively in a clinical situation, the student is expected to perform adequately a number of technical functions required of the practicing physician assistant. Such functions include, but are not limited to, those of the special senses that allow for examination of the patient. Those persons deprived of their special senses to the point they cannot recognize normal versus abnormal, could not acquire sufficient factual material to assess accurately a patient’s health status. This capability to differentiate is crucial for the practicing physician assistant. Students must also have sufficient motor skills to respond promptly in an emergency.

Physician assistant students are expected to meet all the standards outlined here. Prior to admission, the admission committee will carefully review the applicant abilities. The Admissions Committee will recommend students for admission to the program that meet the guidelines specified by the technical standards. Students who develop conditions while in the program, which may impair their ability to meet the technical standards, will be reevaluated. If the student’s abilities appear to be compromised, the program director may request a physical assessment of the student’s cognitive, psychological or physical ability. After review of available information, the program director may terminate a student’s enrollment if the student does not meet the technical standards.

In summary, every precaution is taken to ensure that students with substantially impaired intellectual, physical or emotional functions place neither the educational process nor the patient in jeopardy.  All students awarded a degree from Northwestern University must meet the basic standards for practice.

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