news-category: Graduate programs

Gardner-Webb’s Physician Assistant Class of 2023 Achieves 94% Pass Rate on National Certifying Exam

PA students show off their PPE

Updates to Curriculum Improve Students’ Knowledge and Critical Thinking Skills

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—Faculty and staff of the Gardner-Webb Department of Physician Assistant (PA) Studies are celebrating graduates’ recent scores on the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE). The PA Class of 2023 achieved a 94% pass rate on the multiple-choice exam that assesses professionalism, and basic medical and surgical knowledge.

Dean of the College of Health Sciences, Dr. Nicole Waters, recognized the efforts of Interim Director of the Department of PA studies, Ashley Kernicky, and everyone involved in the program. “Congratulations to the Department of PA Studies for their dedicated efforts in analyzing and enhancing the curriculum to enhance students’ grasp of concepts and critical thinking,” Waters praised. “I am immensely proud of our dedicated faculty, staff, and exceptional students for their outstanding achievements in the field of medical education.”

Kernicky explained that the new curriculum begins with courses on cardiovascular and pulmonary medicine. “We wanted to be more intentional in our course structure,” she stated. “Cardiovascular and pulmonary medicine are primary and necessary systems to keep you alive—you have to breathe and you have to pump blood. These systems are going to be mentioned in the other classes in some form.”

Jane West

The faculty knew their adjustments were helping, because performance on final exams improved. “We are currently in our third course of the fall,” Kernicky offered. “We’ve been through quite a few organ systems, and we had the best final exam scores for our hematology/oncology course that we have ever had.”

In addition to changing the curriculum, the PA program also gives students access to Rosh Review, a company that specializes in test preparation. During their clinical rotations, the PA students are required to complete thousands of example test questions on the Rosh Review website. Students are also given a list of other resources to help with review, and they have a PANCE prep course before they graduate.

Jane West, of Boiling Springs, N.C., is a member of the 2023 class. She noted these sites were helpful, and she also studied the PA Education Association blueprint, which provides additional guidance on the topics covered and the percentage of questions on each topic. During the PANCE, she didn’t second-guess her answers. “I focused on each question and once it was answered, it was on to the next question,” she described. “Most of the answers came relatively easily. Sometimes I would remember a specific thing we learned in didactic or that I saw in clinicals.”

Another member of the Class of 2023, Brooke Ellison Crocker, of Greenville, S.C., works as an Emergency Medicine PA at Spartanburg (S.C.) Regional Hospital. She said when she took the PANCE, her thoughts went back to all the exams she took at Gardner-Webb. “I felt confident going into the test that the past 27 months had prepared me for that moment,” she affirmed.

Brooke Ellison Crocker

Crocker added that the most important advice she received came on her first day of class. “I will never forget Dr. (Nancy) Winker’s motivational speech,” she shared. “She reminded us that our perspective should shift to preparing for our future patients. We are no longer studying to make As, but to save lives! That resonated with me and it was an approach I tried to take throughout my studying. I didn’t want to just memorize the information because that wouldn’t help me in practice. Therefore, I focused on the pathophysiology in order to better understand the disease processes and how they differed from the norm. I think this approach helped me to see the big picture.”

Crocker became a PA because she wanted to help people. She chose emergency medicine, because in this area, she has an opportunity to work with a diverse population and continue learning. “I want to learn and grow every day I show up to work,” she asserted. “And, the patients I get to impact while doing this job has made it well worth it.”

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at

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