PA School Requirements
The list of things to do or complete prior to starting physician assistant school can be daunting. There are countless hours of patient care, a myriad of college courses, and hours and dollars spent on the applications.
Today we will be discussing PA school requirements.
Remember, no matter what we say in today’s article, or whatever a friend or anyone else may tell you, always defer to the specific programs requirements as the final answer, because every program is different and updates can occur regularly.
PA School Class Requirements
First, we will start off by talking about the requirements for PA school that takes the longest to complete. This is the undergraduate coursework. The overwhelming majority of physician assistant programs will require courses completed successfully in chemistry, physiology, biology, anatomy, and microbiology at minimum.
A common question that some students may have a preconceived notion about is that courses must be taken at a prestigious university.
This is far from the truth!
It doesn't matter if you take the course at a community college or Harvard, as long as the school and coursework are accredited and accepted, then it will not be looked down upon.
These required courses often times will be required that you make a letter grade of an A or B to be accepted by PA programs.
In fact, I started my education at a community college for my first two years and I would not change that decision to this day.
A very common question for those students who aspire to go to physician assistant school will be, “what major do I choose?”. That is a difficult question. The adage, “there is more than one way to skin a cat” pertains to this. In my physician assistant class, students had degrees in education, biology, chemistry, zoology, athletic training, physiology, and exercise physiology majors to name a few.
You can pick any route in all reality, some may be easier than others; however, you just have to make sure that you are taking all of the required course work to gain acceptance to a PA program.
Here is a list of a single PA program class requirements for acceptance into their program for your reference. This specific program requires:
The big takeaway from coursework requirements is that every PA school class requirements at the core are going to be very similar; however, there will be some small difference between each program. An example may be one program might require an additional semester course in psychology and another might require a lab with their biology course.
The most important thing to remember is that before applying make sure that you are looking at the course requirements of programs that you are interested in, and completing the courses that are needed. If you do not have the required classes completed at the time of application, do not waste your money adding them to your application, because in the majority of cases, the odds will not be in your favor.
The next topic that we will discuss is PA school GPA requirements. This can be one of the more common PA school requirements that can trip up applicants on their path to physician assistant school.
As we mentioned above, the required courses for PA schools often will have to be passed successfully with an A or B letter grade.
Statistics have shown that the average cumulative undergraduate grade point average for those students accepted to physician assistant programs is around 3.49. The average CASPA science GPA for accepted students was found to be 3.36, and the average nonscience grade point average was found to be 3.56.
Now let’s look at the opposite.
For those students not accepted to physician assistant school, it was found that their average cumulative grade point average was 3.16.
For a real-life comparison, the PA program whose course requirements were listed above have a GPA requirement of 3.2 on a 4.0 scale.
Keep in mind, just because an applicant has a lower grade point average, it does not mean they will be denied admission into physician assistant school; other factors including the applicant’s experiences and standardized test score play into this as well.
The big thing to remember is that programs will look at the applicant as a whole, not just based upon one single number.
Experience is another Key to Success
Physician assistant programs will often require that applicants have prior healthcare experience. This PA school requirement will often be even more narrowed to requiring applicants to have hands-on patient care for these hours.
There is a myriad of ways that an applicant can accumulate these hours of patient contact. Some of these can include working as: a medical assistant, EMT, medic or corpsman, paramedic, lab assistant, phlebotomist, RN, scribe, surgical tech, CNA, EKG tech, respiratory tech, dietician, LPN, PTA, OTA, ATC, radiology assistant, and many more.
In fact, I spent time working as a histology technician in a pathology laboratory gaining patient contact hours.
Regarding the number of hours needed is largely program dependent.
The program’s requirement for patient care hours can range from 25 hours up to 2,000 total hours!
Additionally, these programs will want to see that you have specifically worked with physician assistants as well during this time, so that you can fully appreciate and understand the role of physician assistants in the medical field.
Just like with most healthcare professional schools, there is the dreaded entrance examination. Often this will be the GRE; however, some programs will accept other tests such as the MCAT as well.
Competitive GRE scores typically average a composite score of 300. Scores above 310 have traditionally been considered to be very competitive.
However, I know that I had classmates that did much worse on the GRE and were accepted to PA school. I also know those who had even better scores, that did not get accepted to PA school.
As mentioned above, programs will look at the applicant as a whole, not just the GRE score.
Letters of Recommendation
The last, but not least of the PA school requirements that we will discuss, are letters of recommendation. This is your opportunity to ask those people who know you best to show off for you!
For this portion, you want to select people who know you best, both on a personal basis, professional basis, and those who know and understand your passion for succeeding in the profession of medicine and giving back to others as a healthcare provider.
The CASPA will ask for 3-5 people to contact for a letter on behalf of your candidacy to physician assistant school, and they will be able to type their response into the database for your application. Speaking of CASPA, see our article on the CASPA application for a full rundown on the initial application to PA school!
One thing that cannot be overstated is that it would be in your best interest to have one of your writers be a physician assistant. These authors will know precisely what it takes to survive and succeed the rigors of PA school and will be able to attest that you as an applicant have what it takes to not only succeed in PA school but be a successful clinician in the future.
PA School Requirements Wrap Up
Today we have hit on the requirements for PA school: from the coursework to the patient care experience hours, to the GRE and letters of recommendation.
It can seem scary, but you can and will get through it!
If you have any questions, always feel free to touch base with us: firstname.lastname@example.org
We are always happy to help you however we can! Until next time!