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 1 & 2 (CHEM 1111, CHEM 1112)
- Organic Chemistry 1 & 2 (CHEM 2151/2153, CHEM 2152/2154)
- Biochemistry (BISC 3165 or CHEM 3165)
- Biology 1 & 2 (BISC 1111, BISC 1112)
- Microbiology (BISC 2336/2337)
- Genetics (BISC 2207/2208)
- Anatomy and Physiology 1 (EXNS 1110)
- Anatomy and Physiology 2 (EXNS 1111)
- Statistics (STAT 1051, 1053, 1111, or 1127)
- Calculus (MATH 1231)
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 Clinical Experience
The PAEA provides historical reports on matriculant data. According to the PAEA's Program Report 35 (published in 2020) the average undergraduate GPA of matriculants to PA programs participating in the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) in 2019 was 3.60.
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. Matriculating students on average have far more than the minimum requirement. Program Report 35 shows that in 2019, the average matriculant had on average 2,634 hours of previous healthcare experience in categories that ranged from patient contact. However, the 90th percentile had 5,834 hours of patient contact hours.
Restrictions are often placed on what types of activities qualify, as some programs may prefer one type of clinical experience over another. For example, GW's Physician Assistant program accepts these types of direct patient care experiences. It is important that you build a school list via the PAEA Program Directory and determine what type of clinical experience the programs you want to apply to require.
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)