How Long Does it Take to Become a Physician Assistant?

Fortunately, the path to becoming a physician assistant isn’t quite as confusing as that of a nurse practitioner, but if you want to become a PA you still need to do some planning ahead.  Where you are on your educational path will determine how long it takes you to become a physician assistant.

Regardless of where you fall currently in your education, there are a few things you need to know that will help you become a physician assistant most efficiently.

First, most schools require multiple prerequisite courses before applying.  Make sure you know which courses are commonly required by PA programs and complete them before submitting your application.  Ideally, these prerequisite courses are completed as part of your bachelor’s degree to maximize efficiency.  If you have not completed these prerequisite courses, this will increase the amount of time it takes for you to become physician assistant.  These courses must be completed before applying to a PA program.

Second, many PA programs require that students have hands-on patient experience before applying.  Amount of experience varies from 500 to 2,000 hours.  Factor the time it will take you to complete this extensive experience into how long it will take you to become a physician assistant.  In order to get this much hands-on patient care experience, you may also need to factor in obtaining a medical certificate such as becoming a medical assistant into your educational plan.

The following outline will give you an idea of how long you can expect it to take to become a PA depending on your current level of education.

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I am currently a high school student…

If you are currently a high school student, you have two paths you can take to the physician assistant career.  First, you can attend an accelerated physician assistant program designed specifically for students graduating from high school.  These programs usually take about five years to complete and award students both a bachelor’s and master’s degree.

If you don’t choose to attend an accelerated program specifically for recent high school grads, your next step is to get a bachelor’s degree.  Make sure you complete courses required for application to PA programs during your undergraduate education.  Getting your bachelor’s degree will take four years.  Then, you will have to attend a physician assistant program.  This will require an additional two years.  So, if you are currently in high school and choose not to attend an accelerated program you can expect it will take you at least six years to become a physician assistant.

I am currently a college student or I already have a bachelor’s degree…

If you currently have, or are working on your bachelor’s degree, your next step is to apply to a physician assistant program.  PA programs typically take between 24 and 27 months to complete.  So, it will take you about two years to become a physician assistant.  If you want to work during your PA program, some schools offer a three year part-time option.

Planning ahead for your PA education is imperative.  In addition to completing basic educational requirements like getting your bachelor’s degree, you should become familiar with the course and experience requirements of your programs of interest.  PA programs are very competitive so having these essentials in order is a must.


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88 thoughts on “How Long Does it Take to Become a Physician Assistant?”

  1. I have my aos associates of occupational science in medical assistant I want to go for my bachelors but, I want to do physician assistant. How long will it take me to complete my studies of becoming a pa? What school would you recommend in nyc or any other state?

  2. Hi Jenny,

    Once you complete your bachelor’s degree, it will take you about 24 to 27 months to complete a PA program. 

    Let me look into some NY schools and get back to you with recommendations!

  3. I am currently in high schoolschool.What should I or plan ahead in order to become a physician assistant and how long will that take me

  4. I’m currently doing pre-pharmacy and transferring to Temple University. Now, My mind is changed for PA because I guess it will take shorter than getting Pharm.D
    If I start program from this 2015 fall, how long will it take me to become PA?

  5. Hi Shruti,

    It will take you 2 years or a little longer to become a PA provided that you already have a bachelor’s degree. 

  6. I am currently in class for my GED. I am very much looking forward to broading my education. I have been a CNA for 30 years & I am interested in becoming a PA. What steps do you think is best for me to pursuit in my goals to become a PA?

  7. I’m thinking about becoming a navy corpsman? Would those years of experience count if I wanted to become a pa afterwards?

  8. You would need hands-on patient experience for most schools. So, if you were a medic in the Navy, for example, that would count!

  9. Hi Sabrina,

    The first step for you in becoming a physician assistant is to get your bachelor’s degree. Then, you can apply to PA programs. Your CNA experience should help!

  10. I am 25 and have been working as a Medical Assistant for over 4 years now. I have been highly recommended by the providers I have worked for and am currently working for to go back to school and do more. I initially was thinking of just going back and becoming an RN , but I think I want to go further and become a PA. I have no pre-reqs done. How long does it typically take for someone to get their bachelor’s done? I also heard that getting into PA school is really hard ?

    Thanks for your help!

  11. Hi Jenn,

    PA programs are very competitive. Your direct patient care experience will help and I suggest you keep it up in some form as you complete the prerequisites for your degree. 

    Typically, if courses are taken as a traditional course load, a bachelor’s degree takes about 4 years to complete. Make sure you complete the pre-reqs for PA programs as part of your degree. Then, you should expect your PA program to take about 2 years to complete. 

  12. I am have been a receptionist for 6 year and have the chance to start school in a year and i am interested in PA, I have my GED, but i don’t know where should i start , what do i get a bachelors in ? Biology? or something else how and where do i start from where i am right now.
    I am pretty much at the very beginning, trying to figure out the first step?

    Please some help .

    Thank you,

  13. Hi Shavanie,

    Your first step will be to get a bachelor’s degree. A science-focused bachelor’s will be the most directly related to a career as a physician assistant. 

  14. I have not gone to college only a tchnical school I have my bmo license and I am certified xray tech what do I need to do to get started and how long will it take

  15. Hi Vero,

    To get started you will need to get a bachelor’s degree which may take 2-4 years depending on your technical school credits and if they transfer. Then, you will need to complete a physician assistant program which requires about 2 years.

  16. Hi, I am in the Cambridge program. I have done 3 years of O levels and 2 years of A levels. I have chosen Science subjects as in physics, chemistry, and biology. Do I still need a bachelor’s degree to start. Or how long will it take for me to become a PA. Please help me and give suggestions please!!!
    Thank You

  17. I am on track to get my Associate’s degree in Radiology right now. I plan to get a Bachelor’s with a year long Bridge program afterwards. If I want to be a PA with a specialty (like neonatal or radiology) what should I major in for my bachelors? Radiology or general health sciences? Is there such thing as a specialized PA radiologist for neonatal?

  18. Hi Mia,

    I have not heard of a neonatal radiology physician assistant. There are a few opportunities for physician assistants working in interventional radiology but it is not common. I would recommend getting your bachelors degree in health sciences, biology or chemistry. This will give you a broader base on which to start your career should your interests evolve. 

  19. Hi Nayab,

    Most PA programs do require a bachelors degree. Once you have this, your physician assistant program will last about 2 years. 

  20. If I have a Bachelor’s degree in MRI or CT or Mammography, could that qualify for me to go for a PA? or would it HAVE to be nursing or biology bachelor’s degree?

  21. What should i major in B.A to become a PA ? also when one becomes a PA for a while how many school years would it take to become a Primary care physician ?

  22. Hi Louis,

    You can become a physician assistant with any type of bachelor’s degree. A B.S. in a science like chemistry or biology will cater best to your future career path as well as include many of the prerequisite courses required to apply to PA programs. 

    There is not a direct path from PA to MD. So, if you eventually decided to become a physician you would need to enroll in a 4-year medical school then complete a residency. 

  23. Hi Jessica,

    You can apply to a PA program with any bachelor’s degree as long as you have also completed any other prerequisite courses required by the program. 

  24. I have less than a year left in the Marine Corps and my job is Infantry but we do hands on all the time called CLS (Combat Life Saver) and I’ve done many courses that involve hands on. Would this count towards my experience?

  25. Hi Hunter,

    While I can’t officially speak for PA schools, this type of experience seems like it should count! Many military members become PAs as a result of the training they receive during their service. Thank you for what you do to help protect our country!

  26. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts and graduated 3 years ago. I’m interested in going back to school and fulfilling my prerequisites for PA school, but I have no experience in the health field. What do I need to do to move forward in this career path and ensure that I’m accepted to a PA school after my prerequisites are completed without an additional 3 years of EMT, paramedic or nursing experience?

  27. Hi Angela,

    Nearly all PA programs require direct patient care experience. So, you will have to put in some time and effort into gaining this experience before applying. Here is a list of the most common prerequisite classes you will need to take. Another option would be to pursue a nurse practitioner track which may take less time given that you don’t have direct patient care experience. An MEPN, or accelerated nurse practitioner  program, would take you about 2 years once you finish your prerequisite coursework.