About the Physician Assistant Program

The UNM Physician Assistant Program, in partnership with the UNM School of Medicine and the Department of Family and Community Medicine, seeks to graduate students who are competent and caring members of the PA/Physician Primary Care team.

What is a Physician Assistant? 

Physician assistants (PAs) are health professionals licensed to practice medicine with MD or DO supervision. PAs are qualified through graduation from an accredited physician assistant educational program and certification by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants.

Within the physician/PA relationship, PAs exercise autonomy in medical decision-making and provide a broad range of diagnostic and therapeutic services. The clinical role of PAs includes primary and specialty care in rural or urban medical and surgical practice settings.

A commitment to quality patient care is the foundation of the PA profession. By assuming some of the duties traditionally performed by a physician, the PA enables the supervising physician to spend more time with patients who have serious or more complicated problems. While the PA practice is centered on patient care, it may include educational, research and administrative activities.

For over 40 years, PAs have been integral members of the health care team. In New Mexico, PAs have been providing patient care since the early 1970s and have had prescriptive authority since 1989. Responding to the rural health care needs of the state, the legislature in 1994 funded the development of a Physician Assistant Program at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine.

Our Mission  

The mission of the University of New Mexico Physician Assistant (PA) Program is to educate PA students to become exemplary providers of primary care medicine. At UNM, we aim a special focus on caring for medically underserved and rural populations of New Mexico.

We have a need for primary care providers in these areas. New Mexico is the fifth largest state, yet only nine New Mexico cities have populations in excess of 30,000. Of New Mexico's 33 counties:

  • 32 are classified as fully or partially medically underserved
  • 16 are classified as rural
  • 15 are classified as frontier (fewer than 6 people/square mile) 

New Mexico communities are primarily small, rural and diverse. There are language, cultural and access barriers that reflect the need for competent, equitable, accessible and evenly distributed health care in the state.

The UNM PA Program provides students with the resources and support necessary to attain the knowledge, skills and ability to become competent physician assistants as evidenced by our success rates.

The curriculum is designed to comply with the national standards for PA education as described in the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc.

In keeping with the program’s mission, much of the curriculum is devoted to preparing the student for eventual service in the underserved and rural areas of New Mexico. Many of the clinical clerkships are in rural communities and require students to be away from metropolitan areas for as much as half of their clinical time.

The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) has granted accreditation-continued status to the University of New Mexico Physician Assistant Program sponsored by the University of New Mexico. Accreditation-continued is an accreditation status granted when a currently accredited program follows the ARC-PA standards.

The approximate date for the next validation review of the program by the ARC-PA will be September 2024. The review date is contingent upon continued compliance with the Accreditation Standards and ARC-PA policy.

Goal Actual Percent Key Indicator
271 Total graduates (first class graduated August 1999)
75% 216 80% Practicing in New Mexico (all fields)
>50% 118 44% Practicing primary care in NM
>50% 89 33% Practicing other specialties in NM
>30% 70 26% Practicing in NM in HPSA, MUA or gov't MUP areas
<25% 44 16% Practicing out of state
<10% 11 4% Working in non-PA field (MD, Health Education, etc.) not certified and/or unemployed

How we meet our mission

To help achieve our program mission, we are committed to selecting a student body that represents the rich diversity of New Mexico’s population. Our students are culturally aware and recognize the need to care for the underserved patients in our state.

Each year, we receive an average of 380 applications. This provides a strong pool of candidates that are selected for an interview. We typically interview 53 applicants for the 17 available seats.

PA students integrate with UNM School of Medicine students for the first year and a half of their didactic training. The coursework is challenging, and our students’ success is based on recruiting and attracting highly qualified applicants, both academically and clinically, who will be able to handle the rigor of the program.

The UNM PA Program is committed to providing a training that will prepare our students to become competent providers. This is reflected in our students’ exceptional PANCE pass rates:

All UNM PA Program students are exposed to primary care and rural and underserved areas of New Mexico during their clinical rotations.  Approximately half of every graduating class is moved by our mission and choose to provide healthcare in primary care, rural or underserved areas.

Our high graduation rates can be attributed to our 17:5 student-faculty ratio per cohort.  We invest in our students’ futures and help in any way we can. View graduation, employment and deceleration rate data here.

Program Disclaimer
The UNM Physician Assistant (PA) program does not endorse or recommend any products, processes or services. The views and opinions of authors expressed on the PA website or linked websites do not necessarily state or reflect those of the PA program or UNM.
Some PA program webpages may provide links to other internet sites for the convenience of users. The PA program is not responsible for the availability or content of these external sites, nor does the PA program endorse, warrant or guarantee the products, services or information described or offered at other internet sites.