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Pre-health preparation for Physician Assistant programs

Physician Assistants (PAs) are health care professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. Common services provided by a PA include taking medical histories and performing physical examinations; ordering and interpreting lab tests; diagnosing and treating illnesses; assisting in surgery; prescribing and/or dispensing medication; and counseling patients. Physician Assistant programs were originally developed to provide career advancement and training for military personnel who worked as medics during their service. As such, there is an emphasis on applicants having significant exposure to medical professions prior to their application. There are a number of specialties that a PA can be certified in including surgery, anesthesiology, and more.

Pre-Requisite Course Work

Physician Assistant programs vary with respect to entrance requirements, so you should go to the website of schools you are interested in to find out the exact requirements for that school. Some schools offer "certificate" programs that generally require 90 hours of college-level course work that includes the prerequisites. Other programs require that you have a Bachelor's degree prior to admission. In general, the profession is moving more toward requiring a Bachelor's degree for entry with prerequisite requirements being similar to the pre-med course of study.

Typical Physician Assistant program prerequisites

Prerequisite courses for PAs must have been completed within the last 7 years and include the following:

  • One year of Biology for majors (Bio 106 and lab, Bio 113 and lab)
  • One year of General Chemistry (Chem 150 and lab; Chem 151 and lab)
  • One semester of Organic Chemistry (Chem 250 and lab)
  • One semester of Biochemistry (Chem 311)
  • Human Anatomy with lab (Bio 233 and lab)
  • Human Physiology (Bio 234 and lab and/or Bio 326 and lab)
  • Microbiology (Bio 208 and lab or PH 208)
  • Genetics (Bio 260)
  • Immunology (Bio 427 with lab)
  • Nutrition (ES 353)
  • Psychology (Psyc 157)
  • Bachelor's degree (not required for some certificate programs)
  • Some schools also require scores from the Graduate Records Exam (GRE)
  • Some schools have requirements for hours spent in medical practice as an assistant, volunteer, or intern (hours range from 500-3000, depending on the school.
  • Additional courses that are required by some schools might include Calculus (Math 221), Statistics (Math 132), and Physics (Phys 201 and 202).

Application Procedures & Timeline

Each Physician Assistant program has its own application deadline. These vary from October 1 through March 1, with the majority in November and December. Accredited Physician Assistant programs have an on-line application portal - Central Application Service for Physician's Assistants (CASPA). It is recommended that you finish your CASPA application at least four weeks prior to the deadline for your targeted program. This will require contacting individuals for letters of recommendation (they can submit them on-line via the CASPA website), and getting official transcripts from all of your college course work sent to the appropriate programs prior to the deadline date. The GRE test is given electronically or on paper at specific test sites generally in October, February, and June. If the Physician Assistant program you are applying to requires the GRE, be sure you will take the exam and have your scores available prior to the program's application deadline.

More about being a Physician Assistant

Physician Assistant Education Association