As you plan your college curriculum, consult the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) database of PA programs (most are masters-level) and check individual school websites to confirm prerequisites needed for application to programs of interest. Also pay close attention to courses that schools recommend, even if not required. Admissions Committees are looking for candidates with evidence of strong science backgrounds, regardless of major.
The application cycle opens every April, through CASPA. You will find that there is significant variation in what schools require/recommend in terms of direct patient care hours (and definition of direct patient care), recommendation letters, application deadlines, program length, and program start date. As you search for schools of interest, review their accreditation history on the ARC-PA website and pay attention to each school’s statistics regarding first-time PANCE passing rate and attrition rate.
For more information about the profession, read the American Association of Physician Assistants (AAPA) overview and information about the profession’s scope of practice.
Course recommendations/requirements vary significantly between schools. Check schools of interest for confirmation, and note that several schools require a minimum grade (often B or better) in their required courses. Those requirements almost always include general biology, one year of A&P, and microbiology with lab. Genetics is usually recommended and increasingly being added to schools’ required list. Cell biology is a common recommendation. Taking all of this into account, the following combination of courses for pre-PA students is recommended, as it will provide a strong foundation and ensure that you meet eligibility requirements for application:
- One year of general biology with lab, fulfilled via ONE of the following options, based on your College/major:
- Principles of Biology 1&2: BIOL 1400 & 1450
- OR: Exploring Biology 1&2: BCOR 1400 & 1450 (or a single semester, Accelerated Biology: BCOR 1425 for those so placed)
- OR: Human Cell Biology: BHSC 1340 & Principles of Biology 2: BIOL1450
- Anatomy & Physiology 1 & 2: ANPS 1190 & ANPS 1200
- Microbiol & Infectious Disease: MMG 2010
- Genetics: BCOR 2300
- Strongly consider: Molecular & Cell Biology (with OR without lab): BCOR 2500 OR BCOR 2505
- Additional content areas to consider (not required) include: immunology; pathophysiology, advanced anatomy
Chemistry & Biochemistry
Nearly all PA schools require one year of general chemistry with lab. A few require one semester of organic chemistry. Almost all recommend biochemistry (and some will accept biochemistry without organic chemistry.) Based on the course offerings at UVM and the need to take biochemistry prior to organic chemistry here, the minimum coursework to fulfill PA school recommendations in chemistry/biochemistry is listed below. NOTE, however , that some students, either because of requirements for their major, or because of scheduling issues, may need to enroll in alternative courses. Taking higher level courses, or two-semester sequences, is always acceptable.
General (inorganic) Chemistry:
- General Chemistry 1 & 2: Chem 1400 & CHEM 1450
- Intro Organic Chemistry w/lab: CHEM 1580
- Fundamentals of Biochemistry: BIOC 3001
One semester is required by most schools, which can be fulfilled by ANY ONE of the following courses.
- Elements of Statistics: STAT 1110 OR
- Basic Statistical Methods: STAT 1410 OR
- A major-specific statistics course required for your degree (e.g., Statistics for Psych Sci: PSYS 2010; Statistics for Engineering: STAT 2430)
Most PA schools require one psychology course, generally fulfilled by:
- Intro to Psychological Science: PSYS 1400
For those with AP credit in psychology and/or those looking for more exposure to psychology, the following topic areas are most often mentioned as recommended for applicants:
- Psychopathology: PSYS 2500
- Developmental Psych: PSYS 2400
Other Subject Areas
Consult websites of schools of particular interest to confirm other course requirements. The most likely additional recommendations or requirements are:
- Medical Terminology
A career as a PA requires not only a strong science background, but well-developed pre-professional competencies: communication, teamwork, ethics, and interpersonal/cross-cultural relationships. Pre-PA students are encouraged to maximize the breadth of their undergraduate experience by exploring coursework in a wide variety of disciplines.