Office of Pre-Health Advising

Physician Assistant

General Information

A physician assistant (PA) is a medical professional. Under a doctor's supervision, and within the scope of the regulations of each state where the PA is licensed, a licensed PA may perform physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, assist in surgery, order and interpret lab tests, provide patient education, and prescribe drugs. Most PAs are found in primary care settings, especially family medicine, internal medicine, Ob/Gyn, and surgery. There are also options to specialize in a variety of medical specialties such as orthopedics, cardiology, dermatology, radiology, pediatrics, and emergency medicine.

Becoming a physician assistant is not a shortcut to a career in the health professions! PA programs were originally invented to provide options for military medics reentering civilian life. While it is no longer true that most PAs are veterans, programs remain focussed on accepting applicants who already have extensive practical experience. In fact, the average accepted applicant to PA school has eight thousand hours of health-care experience--that's the equivalent of four years full-time! It's true that, unlike medical school, PAs do not have to complete residencies after getting their professional degree in order to practice. But in a sense, the typical PA has completed the equivalent of a four-year residency before applying!

Many people do not understand that aspect of PA admissions, with the result that, nationwide, a smaller percentage of applicants get in to PA school than med school.

There are currently 20 fully accredited PA programs in New York:


  • Complete a bachelor's degree : PA programs are graduate programs, therefore the student must first finish a bachelor's degree. There is no special preference for B.A. vs. B.S. degrees, or for any particular undergraduate major.
  • Complete the prerequisite coursework : although there is a common core of classes that most PA programs require (see below), each PA program has the freedom to add classes to the common core and/or control the level of the coursework (ie, majors-level vs non-majors level courses). There will usually be a minimum GPA necessary to apply to the PA program (see school websites for the minimum G.P.A. requirements).  For the schools that you are interested in, make sure to know their individual prerequisites.
  • Take the admissions test: the standard admissions test for most PA programs is the GRE General exam. There will usually be a minimum score necessary to apply to the PA program (see school websites for the minimum score requirements). Visit for more information and also to register for the exam.
  • Complete a minimum number of hours of “direct hands-on patient clinical care experience”: the majority of PA programs require a minimum amount of hands-on patient care experience. Typically, the minimum number of hours ranges from 500-1000 hours, though some PA programs require up to 2000 hours. Successful applicants usually exceed the minimum number of hours. Most PA programs are very specific about the type of work that can be used to fulfill their patient care requirement. Most programs prefer some type of certification training followed by working/volunteering in healthcare or field settings. Commonly accepted options are working as a certified nurse assistant (CNA), emergency medical technician (EMT), or phlebotomist. There is tremendous variation between schools with regard to what is “acceptable” experience, and it is not safe to assume that if one school accepts a particular type of work, then all other schools will as well. Always consult the PA programs directly to be sure that they will accept your choice of field work.
  • Letter of Reference from a licensed, practicing PA: 1-2 letters of reference from licensed PAs that have directly supervised you (as an employee or volunteer observer) may be requested. The PA programs expect you to be familiar with the PA profession, including issues facing the profession, the ethics of practice, and the daily challenges of practice. Shadowing/observing licensed PAs in a variety of clinical settings is strongly encouraged to gain this professional knowledge.
  • Community Service: some community service is recommended. Community service does not have to be health-related.

The following list summarizes typical requirements for entry into an accredited PA program, although it varies widely from school to school:


General Biology-one year BIO 166 & 167 (with labs)
General Chemistry-one year   CHE 166/167 & 168/169 (with labs)
General Physics-one year  PHY 166 & 167 (with labs)
Organic Chemistry-one year   CHE 232/233 & 234/235 (with labs)
Anatomy & Physiology  BIO 181 & 182
Microbiology  BIO 331
Statistics – at least one semester MAT 132 or BIO 240


Additional courses which are required by many PA programs include:

  • Biochemistry
  • Psychology
  • Medical Terminology
  • Genetics

Admissions Process

There are 3 steps for admission: the primary application, the secondary (supplemental) application, and the interview.

1) Primary Application

The primary application process often involves 2 primary applications; the student must apply to the graduate school of the parent institution, and also apply directly to the Physician Assistant program itself. The student must be accepted by both the graduate school and the PA program in order to begin official enrollment into the PA curriculum.

Recently, an online electronic application service for PA schools was established: the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA). Many, but not all, PA schools participate in CASPA. If a school uses CASPA, you must apply to the school through CASPA. CASPA streamlines the primary application process; the applicant fills out one online application form, pays one fee, and submits a list of PA schools that should receive the application. The applicant also submits official transcripts, letters of reference, and GRE scores directly to CASPA for processing. CASPA then sends the completed application to each of the applicant's PA schools. Information on CASPA can be found at

If a school does not use CASPA, you must contact the school directly for the necessary applications. Wingate does not use CASPA.

Graduate school applications, if required, are usually obtained directly from the parent institution's graduate school admissions office.

2) Secondary Application

CASPA is not part of the secondary process; the student deals directly with the PA program for the secondary application. Each PA program will handle this stage differently; some schools omit this step of the application process. Typically, the 'secondary' will request more information, including short essays, and an additional fee.

3) Interview

After processing primary and secondary applications, only the top applicants will be invited for an interview. This is the final step of the admissions process. Following the interview, an applicant may be accepted, rejected, or placed on a waiting list.

Resources & Links

Last modified: Oct 17, 2016

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