Accreditation is a process of external peer review. In the United States, the accreditation system is administered primarily by non-governmental, voluntary organizations that grant recognition to institutions or specialized programs of study that meet established qualifications and educational standards. Compliance with such standards is determined through initial and subsequent periodic evaluations. The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) began operation as a free standing professional accrediting agency on January 1, 2001.

The accreditation process:

  • encourages educational institutions and programs to continuously evaluate and improve their processes and outcomes
  • helps prospective students identify programs that meet nationally accepted standards
  • protects programs from internal and external pressures to make changes that are not educationally sound
  • involves faculty and staff in comprehensive program evaluation and planning and stimulates self-improvement by setting national standards against which programs can be measured.

Accreditation also benefits society by providing reasonable assurance of quality educational preparation for professional licensure and practice.

Accreditation of PA programs is a process initiated by the sponsoring institution.  It includes a comprehensive review of the program relative to the Standards and it is the responsibility of the PA program to demonstrate its compliance with the Standards.  Accreditation decisions are based on the ARC-PA’s evaluation of information contained in the accreditation application, the report of site visit evaluation teams, any additional requested reports or documents submitted to the ARC-PA by the program and the program accreditation history.

Accreditation Review Cycle

A PA Program, once accredited, remains accredited until the program formally terminates its accreditation status or the ARC-PA terminates the program’s accreditation through a formal action. Accreditation does not end merely because a certain length of time has elapsed, but continues unless subject to formal termination by either the program or the ARC-PA. When the ARC-PA withdraws accreditation, the letter transmitting that decision specifies the date at which the accreditation ceases.

PA programs typically are subject to comprehensive evaluation on a ten-year cycle. A site visit or any periodic reporting by the program does not affect the accreditation status of a program unless it is accompanied by a formal ARC-PA accreditation action.

The maximum length of time between comprehensive evaluations for

  • established PA programs is 10 years.
  • established clinical postgraduate PA programs is 10 years.
  • a PA program completing a period of probation is 8 years.

For additional information see Types of Accreditation Site Visits and Accreditation Types and Review Cycles.