Pre-Physician Assistant Preparation
Physician assistants (PAs) are able to examine, diagnose, and treat patients under a doctor’s supervision. They practice medicine as part of a team that includes physicians, surgeons, and other health-care professionals.
Physician assistants work in all areas of medicine. You can choose a primary care setting or specialize in another area, such as emergency medicine. In some cases, PAs serve as primary care providers. They must still collaborate with a physician on patient treatment. Most PAs work full time—about 40 hours per week. They might work at night, on weekends, and during holidays.
How to Apply
Physician assistant schools are highly competitive. Most applicants have a bachelor’s degree. Most PA schools require applicants to have experience with direct patient care. Many applicants already have experience as registered nurses or emergency medical technicians. In PA school, students earn a master’s degree; this usually takes at least two years to complete. After earning a master's, PAs must be licensed in order to practice, passing a national exam and meeting state requirements.
Here's a guide for recommended courses that students can take in preparation for Physician Assistant school. This is not an exhaustive list. You are responsible to check with the schools you wish to apply for specific requirements. Students must check with the individual schools if they intend to use AP or community college credits to ensure those credits are accepted.
It is important to look up specific PA course requirements on the specific university admissions pages. You can also use the PAEA Program Directory to look up PA requirements. Many students do. But looking at your chosen university site is the only way to be sure you are taking all the required classes. The program directory does not provide all of the detailed information you may need to determine prerequisites.
Most Physician Assistant Schools require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) as the entrance exam for their programs. Competitive GRE scores average around 300-310 or above. Students should aim to be above the 50th percentile.
The GRE is offered as a computer-based test year-round. On average, students should spend anywhere from 50 to 200 hours preparing for the GRE. This largely depends on how efficiently you study. The more time you spend the more confident you will be!
Many PA programs have a minimum cumulative GPA requirement as well as a minimum GPA requirement for each pre-requisite course that they require. Most programs require at least a 3.0 GPA or above to apply to their program. However, on average, students who get into PA school have a GPA of 3.5 or higher.
In addition to your GPA and GRE score, most PA schools require a minimum of three letters of recommendation, a written personal statement or essay, and if you are selected, an in-person interview.
More PA schools require or recommend direct patient care experience. The amount and criteria for hours vary, based on the school. Some accept volunteer or clinical observation hours, but most require or prefer paid hours of experience. Some examples include working as an EMT, Registered Nurse, Emergency Room Technician, Certified Nurse Assistant, Medical Assistant, or Hospice Aide. Students should check with the schools they wish to apply to ensure they meet the patient care experience requirement.
The professional association for physician assistants is the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA).
Most Physician Assistant Schools go through the centralized application called the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA). This application opens in in April, with deadlines ranging from June through March.