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The diversity of Duke and the Durham community is very refreshing.

Student Life


DPAP Building

Starting the PA educational journey is an exciting time, but the “unknown” about what lies in store can be overwhelming. Naturally, dedication to studies and academic success are universal priorities for Duke PA students. However, the program does a great deal to facilitate effective studying, provide a diverse and engaging learning environment, and foster essential collaborative relationships with peers. This helps each class tackle the PA curriculum as effectively as possible with the hope that each student can participate in activities that provide life balance. It takes hard work to strike that balance, but PA school does not mean forgoing relationships with family and loved ones or neglecting self-care and outside interests.

Casting Day Casting day at the Duke Vivarium is one of many unique hands-on learning experiences offered during the first year.

Currently, each incoming class is made up of 90 students with distinct backgrounds, experiences, and personalities. This diversity makes the learning experience extraordinary, but it also means each new class will have a personality as distinctive as the individual members who comprise it. We encourage you to read on to learn about how the program works to help each class bond and ease the transition to life in Durham, as well as some of the activities previous classes have participated in.

Settling In

Orientation week moves quickly, but does an extraordinary job addressing unknowns and kindling new relationships with classmates. On the first day the program furnishes each student with a technology package, locker, badges, and other necessities for the coming year. The financial aid office provides a Q&A session to make sure everybody is set and students participate in a scavenger hunt around Duke that helps familiarize them with the location of labs, classrooms, safety equipment, and other important resources. Vendors even come to the PA program and let you try out stethoscopes and other physical exam equipment you will need for your education before making a purchase.

SOM Simulator
These students found one of the many simulators on the School of Medicine campus.

The highlight of orientation is the White Coat Ceremony. This is a closed event where the first year class, faculty, and staff reflect on what it means to be a PA and the awesome responsibility that comes with that role. Each student is then called by name and assisted into a short white coat by his or her faculty advisor signifying the student’s transition and a mutual commitment to success during the PA educational journey. After the ceremony the program hosts a picnic where the first year students are able to mingle with one another, the faculty and staff, as well as the second year students. Each first year student has a mentor in the previous class to help answer questions and assist with the transition period.

White Coat Celebration
First year students celebrating a successful orientation week following the White Coat Ceremony.

GPSC Basketball Campout

Shortly after orientation week, the Graduate and Professional Student Council (GPSC) hosts a Basketball Ticket Campout. This is an exciting experience for students to bond, as the campout lasts from Friday evening until Sunday morning and there are random “check-ins” called to maintain eligibility in a lottery drawing for Duke Men’s Basketball season tickets. Campout is also a great time to meet with students in other Duke graduate programs. Aspiring Cameron Crazies who aren’t comfortable taking a whole weekend away from their studies are able to utilize the walk-up line on game day to try and get tickets if they don’t want to miss out on the one-of-a-kind ACC experience available at Duke.

Showing Blue Devil Pride and developing bonds with Classmates at GPSC Campout.

Stead Society Elections and PA Day

The Duke PA student government is named the Stead Society in honor of Dr. Eugene A. Stead, Jr, founder of the PA profession. Each September students are nominated for positions on the Stead Society and elections are held before national PA Day which is celebrated during the first week of October.  PA day is a wonderful time to reflect back on the incredible history of the profession while appreciating the obligation each physician assistant has to ensuring its ongoing success.

Intramural Sports and Extracurricular Activities

After the first few weeks of school students start becoming more comfortable with their new routine and effective at managing their studies. Once this happens, each class often looks to service and extracurricular activities for stress relief and life balance. What each class participates in varies depending on its unique interests. Service projects are covered in-depth on a separate page, but some historically popular extracurricular activities include intramural flag football, basketball, softball, and soccer. Other students have found the lunch break is a popular time for coordinating running groups, salsa lessons, or just tossing a football or frisbee on the front lawn at DPAP. Duke offers a wide range of activities for friendly competition and camaraderie with other graduate students, but it is not uncommon for interest groups to start right here at the PA program to serve the specific needs of a class.

Frisbee Team
The DPAP ultimate frisbee team enjoying a few hours away from studying for some friendly intramural competition.

AAPA Conference

The American Academy of Physician Assistants hosts a national conference in a different city each year and the Duke PA Program feels this is a valuable learning and networking experience for first year students. Consequently, there are no lectures during the week of the conference so students are able to attend! The conference features unique learning experiences, vendor booths, career fairs, and many other exciting events. Typically, Duke hosts an alumni gathering where first year students are able to meet and mingle with graduates who are currently practicing.

One of the most exciting events at the AAPA conference is the National Medical Challenge Bowl, a trivia-style competition between PA students from around the country. Each year Duke fields a team to participate in the Challenge Bowl and classmates attending the conference deck themselves out in Duke apparel to cheer them on. This is a wonderful experience and an excellent time to meet students from other programs around the country.

Challenge Bowl team support
Members from the Class of 2016 turned out to support their Challenge Bowl team.

Around Durham

Durham is a unique city that is sure to have something to bring balance to each student’s life. Each year, current first year students work on a publication called The Examiner that is passed along to the incoming class. It offers housing reviews, PEARLS of wisdom, information about local services, and much more. It talks about the many things Durham offers including walking trails, parks, the Durham Bulls minor league baseball team, food truck rodeos, excellent shopping options, the local arts scene, nightlife, and so much more. Durham is also within driving distance for a weekend trip to popular mountain destinations such as Boone and Asheville, as well as the incredible North Carolina coast. Foodies will be pleased to know that Southern Living magazine recognized Durham as “The South’s Tastiest Town.” To learn more, you can visit the “Life in Durham” tab. Whatever your interests, know that there is more to PA school than just studying and Durham has something that will make you happy to call it home—even if it is just for a couple of years!

Duke Gardens