Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Physician Assistant Program

Technical Standards

Medical education requires not only the accumulation of medical knowledge, but 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.