Dr. Kirk Armstrong takes you through the details of JMU Health Professions.

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Health Professions Frequently Asked Questions


Dietetics (undergraduate)

Health Services Administration (undergraduate)

Athletic Training (graduate)

Occupational Therapy (graduate)

Physician Assistant Studies (graduate)



Dietetics (undergraduate)

What are the steps to becoming a registered dietitian nutritionist?

To be eligible to become a registered dietitian nutritionist, all individuals must possess a master’s degree by 2024 to sit for the certification examination.

The basic steps include:

  1. Complete a bachelor’s degree at an accredited institution
  2. Complete master’s degree and an accredited dietetics internship or supervised practice (many will have these combined)
  3. Complete the Commission on Dietetics Registration examination

More information on the steps is available at: https://www.eatrightpro.org/acend/students-and-advancing-education/information-for-students

I have declared Dietetics as my major. Do I still need to apply to the program?

Yes, you will need to apply to the program to be permitted to complete the upper-level professional courses. As a declared major, students are permitted to complete NUTR 280 - Nutrition for Wellness and NUTR 295 – Foundations of Nutrition Practice. All others courses in the major require formal admission to the program.

When do I apply to the program?

Students wishing to be admitted to the dietetics major at JMU must apply in the spring semester during which prerequisite course requirements will be met, usually in spring of the sophomore year.

Students transferring to JMU from other schools with junior status or higher and most prerequisite courses completed are encouraged to apply to the major by Feb. 15 prior to enrollment or at transfer orientation. Other students that transfer to JMU (not yet a junior status) will complete the application process as outlined.

When is the application deadline?

Applications are due Feb. 15 annually. There are minimum requirements for admission.

What are the minimum requirements for admission to the Dietetics Professional Program?

Applicants must have at least a 3.0 cumulative GPA for the 12 prerequisite courses. A grade of C or higher must be earned for each prerequisite course.

If I have not completed all of my prerequisite courses, can I still apply to the program?

Yes! Students can be enrolled in pre-requisite courses at the time of application. All prerequisite courses must be completed by the fall semester in which you begin the program.

What types of hands-on experiences will be I get in the program to prepare me for practice as a dietitian?

Students get a variety of experiences to adequately prepare them for the rigors and variety of dietetics practice settings. Students get practical hands-on experience in:

  • Field experiences with patients/clients under the supervision of a registered dietitian
  • Food preparation and food science through classroom and laboratory activities
  • Nutrition program design and implementation through service learning in the community
  • Quantity food production and food service management through a weekly meal service offered to campus faculty and staff
  • Recipe modification and food product development
  • Student research with a faculty mentor

Health Services Administration (undergraduate)

Can I apply to the program if I have not completed all of my prerequisite courses?

Students may apply to the program in the semester in which you are enrolled in your remaining pre-requisite course(s). Admission for s student currently enrolled in prerequisite course(s) at the time of application will be contingent upon successfully completing the courses with a C- or higher.

Can you advise me on the draft of my application?

To be fair to all applicants, HSA faculty cannot review your application in advance. However, there are two upcoming information sessions (see upcoming dates on the home page) for potential applicants. This will be a Q&A format.

If I have not been fully admitted to the major, can I apply in spring semester and finish the prerequisite courses in the summer?

No. You would need to have completed or be enrolled in all of the pre-requisite courses in the semester in which you apply to be considered for admission.

If I am not fully admitted to the major, can I take Health Sciences classes?

Yes. It would be recommended that you consider HTH 210 – Medical Terminology, HTH 231 – Population Health Determinants, or HTH 245 – Foundations of Infectious Diseases.

If I meet the criteria, will I be accepted?

Meeting minimum requirements for application does not guarantee admission. Admission to the HSA program is a competitive process in which a limited number of students are admitted each cycle. We have more applicants per admission cycle than we are able to accept.

If I don't get accepted, can I re-apply?

Students who are not admitted to the major may re-apply in upcoming cycles. You are encouraged to counsel with the Program Director regarding mechanisms for strengthening your application and whether re-applying is advisable.

When should I start thinking about getting an internship?

Most internships completed for course credit (HSA 454) are completed in the summer, after May commencement. You should begin your search for a summer internship in January or February. This process can take several months; therefore, you should not be too concerned until after Spring break if you don't have an internship confirmed. In general, three to four months in advance is appropriate timing to be locating and securing your internship.

Where can I complete the internship?

The internship may take place within a variety of organizations, including hospitals and health systems, physician practices, managed care organizations, retirement communities, ambulatory care organizations and consulting firms, among others. Student should give careful consideration to the type of organization desired for the internship. Organizations are very different, and therefore, internship experiences will differ greatly. The internship represents an opportunity to explore a setting based on initial career interest.

Athletic Training (graduate)

What undergraduate major should I choose?

There is no specific major that is required. All students must complete a bachelor’s degree prior to beginning in the program. However, Kinesiology, Exercise Science and Health Sciences are good choices because these majors include most, if not all of the prerequisite coursework.

How many observation hours are required for the application?

Applicants must complete at least 50 hours of observation with a certified athletic trainer at the time of application. These hours can be completed in any athletic training practice setting.

I have complete courses either as dual-enrollment or through AP in high school. Is there an option for me to complete an undergraduate degree in less than four years?

Yes. Health Sciences has completed a degree plan for the B.S. in Health Sciences that will allow students to complete all of the requirements in three years. This is a great option for students that come into JMU with college credits through dual-enrollment or AP. Kinesiology is developing a degree plan for a B.S. in Exercise Science to complete the degree requirements in three years as well.

I am someone who learns better hands-on and through application. When do students begin working with patients and providing care?

The entire program is designed to be hands-on, even when you are in class. Our teaching lab allows students to practice their skills prior to beginning clinical education. Students may begin clinical experiences after the first summer session of courses. Students will have the opportunity to complete a pre-season clinical experience, providing medical care to patients from JMU Athletics, local high schools, or local colleges/universities. Students also complete clinical experiences each semester where they are directly involved in providing patient care during the first year. The second year, students will be completing immersive clinical experiences.

When completing an immersive clinical experience, do I have to stay at a local site or can I complete this clinical experience remotely?

Students will have the opportunity to complete an immersive (eight weeks of approximately 40 hours per week in full-time patient care) at a clinical site that is beyond the borders of Harrisonburg and JMU. This will require appropriate documentation in place prior to beginning, so plan on two to three months before beginning to set this up.

Occupational Therapy (graduate)

How many observation hours are required with the application?

The requirement of 40 hours of observation is needed at the time of application.

How many different settings should I complete observations in before submitting my application?

Applicants should complete observations in at least two different practice settings. Be sure to spend enough time at each setting so that an occupational therapist can properly evaluate you and complete a recommendation.

When writing my personal statement, what should it contain?

Guidelines for writing a personal statement:

  • Describe your response to periods of change or transition.
  • Describe how formative life experiences influenced your desire to pursue a career in occupational therapy.
  • Grammar, mechanics and formatting are important. This is your opportunity to present yourself to the admissions committee. You want to make a strong first impression.
  • Please paginate your document, double-space your statement and use an adequate size font (e.g. Times New Roman 12pt.)
  • Keep this statement to 1,500 words or less.
  • Follow instructions for submitting according within the application process.

If I am accepted into the program, when do classes begin?

Students will begin classes for the program in June. Students complete three courses during their first summer in the program.

When do I begin direct patient care experiences within the program?

Level I fieldwork placements begin in January of the first year and run one day a week for the semester. The program faculty determine the sites and the sequence of fieldwork experiences for each student. Students are allowed to provide the academic fieldwork coordinator with input where they may perform full-time fieldwork, but these requests may or may not be granted due to availability. The fieldwork coordinator gathers input on site availability and on students’ educational and personal interests to assist him/her in preparation and planning. The program is under no obligation to meet the individual, personal needs of students or student requests regarding fieldwork assignments. The program’s priority is to provide all students with excellent learning opportunities. All students will have to travel to fieldwork sites during the year and will incur the costs of travel and of additional housing. The program provides a list of housing options at sites. Students may make housing arrangements with options on the list or find housing not on the list.

Physician Assistant Studies (graduate)

With my goal to become a physician assistant, what undergraduate major should I choose?

There is no specific major that is required. You must simply have at least a bachelor's degree as a prerequisite to admission. Most applicants major in biology. A basic science background of biology or chemistry is very helpful as it shows the candidate that he/she can or cannot succeed in these types of difficult topics. Other common majors include kinesiology, psychology and exercise science. Majoring in health science as an undergraduate has also become more popular in recent years.

How long is the program? How is the curriculum arranged?

The PA Program is 28 months long. The didactic phase of the program is 16 months long and consists mostly of on-campus, classroom courses with a few direct-patient experiences.

The clinical phase of the program is 12 months long and is comprised of 40 weeks of supervised clinical experiences, interspersed with some days of on-campus classroom work every eight weeks. For the clinical phase, students are assigned to work with physicians and other clinicians in a variety of medical specialties. These supervised clinical rotations take place mostly in Virginia with a few being in immediately adjacent states. Students must be able to travel and relocate frequently during the clinical year.

Do all 1,000 hours of directed patient care have to be completed prior to the submission of my application?

No. The minimum of 1,000 hours of direct patient care experience must be completed by the time an applicant would begin the program in the fall semester (late August), not when the application is due. If an applicant has not completed the minimum of 1,000 hours of direct patient care by the time of application, s/he simply completes the portion of the application that states how and when s/he plans to complete the needed hours (this portion is called the "supplemental application"). The applicant's complete application will be reviewed and a spot in the cohort may be offered on the condition that the candidate successfully completes the minimum of 1,000 hours of direct patient care prior to beginning the PA Program.

Can you elaborate on the direct patient care hours? What can I do to gain direct patient care or healthcare experience?

The healthcare experience requirement can be met in several ways. The hours may come from one experience or a combination of experiences and may be voluntary or paid work. Examples of health care professions that typically require direct patient contact include nurse, EMT or paramedic, corpsman, patient care technician, nurse's aide, surgical assistant, clinic/medical assistant respiratory technologist, radiology technologist, and mental health worker. Other professions and experiences, such as scribe, clinical research assistant, and medical technologist may also qualify if hands-on patient care is performed routinely.

Healthcare-related professions that generally do not count toward this requirement because they do not involve hands-on patient contact include transporter, CPR or ACLS instructor, lifeguard, non-clinical research assistant, candy striper, unit clerk, and others. Although desirable for other reasons, PA shadowing and student/intern experience does not count toward the required 1,000 hours of direct patient care experience. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding your healthcare experience.

Some candidates are applying to PA as a career change. Typically they have been working in some type of direct-contact health care job and have many hours of experience. Other candidates are seeking PA as a first career in health care. They often seek health care experience specifically to meet the requirement and they do not have education in a prior health care profession. So, they are more likely to seek activities that require brief education such as Certified Nurse Assistant, Emergency Medical Technician or a position with on-the-job training. These candidates typically have fewer hours. It is important to note the wide range of hours. It indicates that candidates from both groups are selected. Health care experience is not evaluated merely on the number of accumulated hours, but also the level of responsibility required.

Below is a partial, but representative, list of the types of activities that students have engaged in prior to entry into the PA program. These are only examples, as many other types of positions may also qualify. If you have any questions regarding the acceptability of your healthcare experience, contact the PA program.

Volunteer activities include these settings:

  • Rescue Squad
  • Physician Office
  • Emergency Room
  • Nursing Home
  • Free Clinic
  • Mental Health Crisis Counselor

The program does not count time spent shadowing PAs as meeting the direct patient-contact health care experience requirement because the activity is generally, purely observational. The program does encourage candidates to shadow PAs, if it will help the candidate determine whether or not PA is the appropriate career choice for the candidate.

Can any of the prerequisite courses be waived?

Unfortunately, no. The prerequisite courses provide a foundation from which knowledge and skills will be built during the program to prepare you for clinical practice.

Who should write my letters of recommendation for my application to the program?

You must submit three required letters of recommendation as part of the CASPA application. You do not need to submit the letters of recommendation with the Graduate School application. Letters are best from prior supervisors/employers, university professors, and/or medical professionals (clinicians) who have observed you working or volunteering in a patient care environment (not simply someone you shadowed briefly). Letters of recommendation from friends or family members are highly discouraged.


For more information:

Athletic Training Program athletictraining@jmu.edu

Dietetics Program dietetics@jmu.edu

Health Services Administration Program hsa@jmu.edu

Occupational Therapy Program otprogram@jmu.edu

Physician Assistant Studies Program paprogram@jmu.edu

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