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. There are a number of specialties that a PA can be certified in including surgery, anesthesiology, and more.
Pre-Requisite Course Work
PA schools 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. Prerequisite courses for PAs must have been completed within the last 7 years and include the following:
- One year of basic biology (Bio 106 and lab, Bio 113 and lab)
- One year of inorganic 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)
- Physiology (Bio 326 and lab)
- Microbiology (Bio 208 and lab)
- Statistics (Math 201)
- 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)
Some of the courses listed above have their own prerequisite requirements. Please see the college catalog for these prerequisites.
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 paper-based test is given at specific test sites generally in October, February, and June, with scores being reported approximately 6 weeks following the exam. You can also register for a computer-based version of the GRE, that is given more frequently at specific test sites. 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.