Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Course Instructor

Abby Massey

Capstone Semester

Spring 2022

Date of Graduation



Physician Assistant (PA) programs are rigorous graduate-level medical programs that achieve a Master’s degree but complete an equal number of credits as a Doctorate degree. They are notorious for triggering high levels of stress pre-matriculation as well as upon matriculation. While this is a well-known topic discussed between students and incoming students, it is an under-researched topic. As a result of the lack of research in physician assistant education regarding implementing a wellness curriculum and the desire to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms in first semester PA student, the faculty and students at James Madison University (JMU) implemented a wellness curriculum. The curriculum consists of matching each first-year physician assistant student with a second-year “buddy”, organizing wellness activities, four transition seminars, small group discussion, and increased faculty-advisor involvement. The curriculum is analyzed using anonymous pre-test and post-test online surveys. The pre-test and post-test surveys include the Generalized Anxiety Disorder-2 (GAD-2) and Patient Health Questionnaire-2 (PHQ-2). These are screening questionnaires used to evaluate the presence of anxiety and depression symptoms. The answers from the screening questionnaires are used to evaluate if there is a decrease in the number of students who screen positive for anxiety and depression symptoms at the end of the semester, and to see if there is an increase in average score of the two screening tools at the end of the semester. In addition, the answers to the GAD-2 and PHQ-2 screening questions are then compared to student’s feelings of importance about the topics of “Burnout”, “Mindfulness”, and “Stress reduction” needing to be addressed in PA programs. After comparison, the data shows that the wellness curriculum is not successful in reducing anxiety and depression symptoms based off the screening questionnaires in first semester PA students and showed that a majority of students would like “Burnout”, “Mindfulness”, and “Stress Reduction” to be addressed in the wellness curriculum. Although the results did not show an improvement in quantitative results, qualitative comments from first semester PA students display effectiveness of certain aspects of the wellness curriculum. It is suspected that with future research and analysis of the wellness curriculum with both quantitative and qualitative measures, physician assistant student benefit will be confirmed over time.

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