Under the supervision of a physician, a physician assistant (PA):
- Conducts physical exams
- Diagnoses and treats illnesses
- Orders and interprets tests
- Provides counsel on preventive health care
- Assists in surgery
- Prescribes medications
PA programs generally award a master's degree. Programs are between two and three years long and include classroom instruction and clinical rotations. Only graduates of accredited programs are eligible to sit for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE).
PA programs expect a number of prerequisites to be fulfilled before admission. Program requirements vary from institution to institution, so it is best to get specific information from the programs that are of interest. You can explore specific requirements through the Physician Assistant Education Association's (PAEA) Program Directory. Frequently required courses include:
- General Chemistry
- General Biology
- Anatomy and Physiology 1 (EXNS 1110)
- Anatomy and Physiology 2 (EXNS 1111)
- Organic Chemistry
In addition to satisfying pre-PA course and clinical hour requirements, applicants must submit test scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).
GW partners with SherpaPrep, a locally owned test prep company in the DC area that specializes in GRE preparation. GW students receive a $50 discount on GRE prep courses.
The PA-CAT is a new entrance exam that is currently being tested for PA schools. This test has been developed to provide applicants with a better way to demonstrate their academic preparedness for PA school by testing for general academic ability as well as key science prerequisites. The PA-CAT is currently only being accepted at a limited number of PA schools. Please make sure to research the entrance exam requirements for your programs of interest to determine if you should take the GRE or the PA-CAT.
GPA and Extracurricular Experience
According to the PAEA's Program Report 31, in 2015, the average undergraduate GPA of matriculants to PA programs participating in the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) was 3.5.
Clinical/healthcare experience is of critical importance for admission to PA programs. The minimum requirements can vary from none at all (this is uncommon) to 2,000 hours or more. Restrictions are often placed on what types of activities qualify but matriculating students on average have far more than the minimum requirement. Program Report 31 shows that in 2015, the average matriculant had 4,837 hours of previous healthcare experience in categories that ranged from patient contact to research to shadowing.
CASPA provides a simplified process of applying to PA programs. Applicants complete one application and submit it with corresponding materials to the centralized service. CASPA verifies the application components for accuracy, calculates the applicant’s GPA and sends the materials to the PA programs that the applicant designates. Not all programs participate in CASPA, so it is important to consult their specific websites.
Application deadlines vary considerably from school to school, and the processes depend on whether the program subscribes to the CASPA. In either case, it is advisable to complete the application process early.
- Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA)
- GW Physician Assistant Program
- Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA)
- Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE)