A physician assistant (PA) is a medical professional who practices the team-based approach to patient care. A PA is a graduate of an accredited PA educational program and is nationally certified and state-licensed to practice medicine with a supervising or collaborating physician. PAs perform physical examinations, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret lab tests, perform procedures, assist in surgery, provide patient education and counseling, and make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes. All 50 states and the District of Columbia allow PAs to practice and prescribe medications. There are currently 181 accredited PA programs in the United States. The vast majority award master’s degrees. PA education programs are represented by the Physician Assistant Education Association and accredited through the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA).
The PA educational program is modeled on the medical school curriculum, which includes a combination of classroom and clinical instruction. The PA course of study is rigorous and intense with an average length of 27 months resulting in a master’s degree.
PA education includes instruction in core sciences: anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, physical diagnosis, pathophysiology, microbiology, clinical laboratory science, behavioral science and medical ethics.
PAs also complete more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations, with an emphasis on primary care in ambulatory clinics, physician offices and acute or long-term care facilities. Rotations include family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, general surgery, emergency medicine and psychiatry.
Practicing PAs participate in lifelong learning. In order to maintain national certification, a PA must complete 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years.
Read more about LC’s Physician Assistant Medicine program.
Admission to PA school is highly competitive, and most PA programs require applicants to have significant previous health care experience. The typical applicant already has a bachelor’s degree, a 3.4 GPA, and more than four years of health care experience. Applicants must complete at least two years of college courses in basic science and behavioral science as preqrequisites to PA school. This is analogous to premedical studies required of medical students. The majority of PA programs have the following prerequisites: chemistry, physiology, anatomy, microbiology, and biology. However, course prerequisites differ among PA schools, so you should check several different programs.
Application requirements for most programs can be found on the school’s individual website or at the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) website.
Following are the requirements for admission into most physician assistant programs:
- Complete the following courses: CHEM 111-112; BIOL 113-114; PSYC 241 or 308; MATH 102; CHEM 320 or BIOL 360; BIOL 222-223; BIOL 424
- Complete six months of full-time clinical experience or 1000 hours of clinical experience.
See the requirements specific to LC’s Physician Assistant Medicine program.