Members of the Class of 2023 SIU physician assistant program take their oath during graduation ceremonies in late July.

Members of the Class of 2023 SIU physician assistant program take their oath during graduation ceremonies in late July. (University Communications and Marketing photo)

October 17, 2023

SIU physician assistant program grads achieve 100% pass rate on national boards

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — The most recent graduates of the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine physician assistant program achieved a remarkable 100% pass rate on the national certification test administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants – and all 40 graduates from the class of 2023 did so their very first attempt.

“Since our physician assistant master’s program’s first class graduated in 2009, 100% of our students have passed the national boards in every year except one,” said Don Diemer, the program director.

Extensive track record of success

This is the second consecutive year that all the students in the program have passed the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) on the first attempt. SIU’s five-year first-time taker average pass rate is 99% compared to the national average of 94%, officials said. The 2023 national pass rate won’t be available until 2024, but in 2022, SIU had a 100% pass rate, while the national average was 92% on the first try.     

PACeremonySummer2023-52-sm.jpg “Out of more than 700 students who have completed our program since its inception, all but seven passed the boards on their first attempt,” Diemer said “The first-time pass rate and overall board pass rate for SIU’s PA program have been well above the national averages for PA programs every year.”

In addition, program officials said the PA program has a very high graduation rate, with 95-100% of the participants typically completing the program each year.

Many reasons for excellence

Program officials say there are a number of reasons SIU’s PA students have such a long-standing record of near perfection.

“I think we can attribute a lot of the success of the PA program to the hard work and abilities of the students and the dedication of our faculty, staff and clinical preceptors as well as the support of our leadership,” Diemer said.

He and Marcia Kate Scott, associate director of the PA program, say the instructional methods they use on the Carbondale campus also make a difference.

“Our PA students learn using the problem-based learning method, a student-centered educational approach in which the students assume responsibility for their own learning,” Scott said. Officials said SIU was the first medical school in the country to adopt the learning format and the PA program followed suit.

“This approach improves the retention and application of knowledge and ensures that our students become lifelong learners,” Scott said. “It also plays a significant role in the success of our students on their board examinations.”

Scott and Diemer said that SIU students are career-ready when they graduate as they have obtained extensive hands-on experience through clinical rotations and they’ve learned from innovative, attentive faculty who truly care about the students and their learning outcomes.

Program details

SIU’s PA program matriculated its first class in 1997 on the SIU Carbondale campus as a bachelor’s program and transitioned to a master’s program with the class that began during the summer of 2007. The program became part of the SIU School of Medicine while still retaining identity as a part of the SIU Carbondale Graduate School, giving students access to the resources of both.

Classes begin in June and the program takes 26 months to complete over the course of seven semesters. Students must have a bachelor’s degree, and a maximum of 40 students are admitted each year through a selective process.

For more information about the SIU physician assistant program, visit the website, call 618-453-5527 or email