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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93 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?

    1. Emmanuel N.F Kpomoe

      I am a junior student of Cuttington university nursing department and I want to become physician Assistance.

  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. 

  28. I am currently student in college it is my senior year. My major right now is Medical Social Work. But I don’t know where to get started because I don’t know if I have taken the required class in order to become a physician Assistant. Where should I start.

  29. I am interested in becoming a PA… I now reside in North Carolina and I am interested in moving to the Atlanta area.. or the surrounding suburbs.. I am however open to any schools especially located in Savanna or Augusta.. as I have family there.. I will be obtaining a two year associates degree in liberal arts and need a good school to attend… what is a good major to major in for PA?.. also.. I am interested in attending medical school for three years instead of the two part time because I will need to work.. I heard that there are some schools that offer three years instead of two.. thanks so much

  30. Hi Tisha, 

    If you are planning to become a PA, majoring in a science such as biology or chemistry will help you fulfill your PA program prerequisites and will relate well to your future career. Make sure you also have a plan for getting some hands-on patient care experience as this is required by most PA programs. Here is a link showing some courses you may also need to take outside of your major for admission to a physician assistant program. 

  31. Hi my name is; Janet. I’m currently working in the hospital been in the field now for 12 years between both hospital one hospital I was there for 3 years. now only working at this one been here for 9 year. I’m very interested in taking the PA class, I’m a transporter I take patients to and from their rooms to have their test done. I graduated from medical billing and coding in 2016 September, so can I be helped?

  32. i have completed my 2 years high school graduation & 3 years bachelors degree from Bangladesh, now I am interested to become a physician assistant, so what I have to do for becoming a physician

  33. Hi Im in high school but haven’t graduated however I will graduate in May it it still possible to start the accelerated pa program

  34. I’m currently a junior in highschool, I plan on getting my bachelors degree and attending pa school. I have the opportunity to get my cna my senior year of highschool , would that be beneficial to entering into pa school? Would that qualify as hands on experience?

  35. Hi Leah, 

    Yes – experience as a CNA would be very beneficial for your PA school application. CNA experience should count towards direct patient care experience for most PA programs. If you have narrowed down your options, you may want to reach out to schools directly to verify. 

  36. hi! I am currently a salon spa owner and I want to know how can I star the class and how long will take it. I want my certification to start doing Botox cosmetics services. The only license I have is cosmetology. Thank for your help…Alejandra

  37. I am a high school student and my plan is to get a bachelors degree in Registered nursing. Is that a coarse that have the prerequisite courses?

  38. I am a high school student and my plan is to get a bachelors degree in Registered nursing. Is that a coarse that have the prerequisite courses?

  39. Hi Sadae, 

    In nursing school you will likely take many of the prerequisite courses for a PA program. You must also look at the specific prerequisite courses listed for the PA programs you might be interested in attending. This is the only way to make sure you complete the necessary coursework. 

  40. Hi I’m a high school student and will be graduated before june 2016, my next plan is to get into a community college and then transfer to a university and attend pa school. After all these how long will it take me to become a PA?

  41. Hi
    I am an international transfer d student doing my associates from a county college. I am wondering what do the international student have to do to get into the PA program. I am so confused with all the processes for the international students. So after my associates do I directly jump to the PA program.

  42. Hi Harry, 

    Most PA programs require a bachelor’s degree. So, your next step would be to get a bachelor’s degree, then apply to physician assistant programs. 

  43. I am currently a highschool student and I’m planning on going to get my bachelors degree in radiation therapy, will that be an acceptable bachelors degree to have when I decide to enter a P.A program?

  44. Hi CJ,

    Yes, any bachelor’s degree will work. The most important thing will be to make sure you complete required prerequisite courses for the PA program you want to attend. Some of these courses may not be included as part of the curriculum for your degree. 

  45. I am a first year Radiologic tech student. I have one year left. After graduation, I plan to transfer to a 4 year school to get my bachelors to later become a PA. Is starting in radiology a realistic path? I figure it is alright because it’s in the health care field and takes care of all of my patient contact hours. Plus, I’m getting some classes completed along the way.

  46. Hi Lexie, 

    As long as radiology experience counts toward the patient contact hours required by PA programs, this sounds like a good path!

  47. When applying to medical school, you need to have shadowed doctors and have volunteer experience. How much of this is required to apply to be a PA?

  48. Hi Cheyenne, 

    The first step is to go to college for your bachelor’s degree. Make sure you look at the classes required for entry to PA school so you can take them while you are working on your degree. You will also want to consider working in the healthcare field while you are in school. Many PA programs require experience working with patients. 

    The next step is to apply to physician assistant programs. 

    Good luck with your endeavor!

  49. I am currently a Certified Medical Assistant. I’m also a part time LPN student will graduate in November. I was going to do the bridge to RN but have recently taken the interest to purse P.A. How long would it take for me to do a program like this? I’m super excited and would like to find out how to start the process for applying. I live in the state of Florida (central).

  50. Hi Lexie, 

    This sounds like a realistic plan. You may want to verify with your PA schools of interest that working in radiology counts toward the patient contact hours requirement for admission. 

  51. I am currently a high school student. I would like to become a PA, and maybe later on specialize in cardiology. I have been looking at websites and reading multiple articles that say if I want to become a PA and get accepted into PA school, I must have four years or more of hands-on clinical experience. Does this mean that I need to get two bachelors (For example, a bachelors in nursing and one in science), or am I supposed to simply volunteer and obtain my experience in that way?

  52. I will be attending college to get my associate degree in nursing and I was wondering how long it would take for me to become a PA

  53. Hello, I will be getting my associates degree in Life Sciences in the Fall. I was going for Dentistry but I changed my career path to become a Physician Assistant. I have a university nearby where I live that has a PA program but they don’t require experience. Would getting experience help me get accepted into the program? Also, where should I look for jobs that would offer the experience I need? I’ve been looking for a job to start this summer but a lot of the jobs I find require some sort of experience before applying, whether it be medical experience or job experience. This will be my first job. Thank you, Lilly.

  54. I am a retired Mortuary Affairs Specialist with the United States Army. Would my mortuary experience and morgue / autopsy experience fall under patient care?

  55. Hi i would like to know if I have my Associates in Pre Physician Assistant what do i do from this point and how longer would i have to go to school?

  56. Hi Kiesha, 

    From here you will need to get your bachelor’s degree. Then, you will apply to a physician assistant program. 

  57. Hi Gail, 

    Unfortunately, I think only living patients count toward the direct patient care experience requirement. 

  58. Hi Tre’Nay, 

    You can choose any major and apply to PA school. You will need to make sure you take any prerequisite courses required by the PA schools where you plan to apply. Science majors, like biology, usually encompass many of these courses within the curriculum for the major. 

  59. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Business/ Marketing. I’m also 40 and pondering a career change to become a Physician’s Assistant. Is it too late? What are the course prerequisites?

  60. Hi CN, 

    It’s certainly not too late to go back. You can expect your PA program to take 2 years or a little more. As far as prerequisites, these depend on the specific program. You will likely need to take several science courses along with microbiology and anatomy and physiology. 

    Some PA schools require hands-on patient care experience for admission. If you want to fast-track your education, the most efficient thing to do would be to apply to schools without this requirement. 

    Good luck!


  61. I have been in the medical field for almost 20 years, I have a cert medical assistant and also a Dignostic medical sonography. I would love to become a PA, unfortunately I would have to go backwards to get my LPN, then RN the I could get my PA, is there another route I can take?

  62. Hi Lexie, 

    Radiology is a good path to take. I would say that schools don’t consider radiology as strongly when it comes to hands-on patient care experience as working as an EMT, for example, but as long as your schools of interest will accept this, it’s a good plan!

  63. rickee eu'lise jones

    HI I am a 10th grader in high school and would want to know what do I have to get a bachelor’s degree in

  64. Hi Rickeee, 

    Thanks for reaching out! 

    You can get a bachelor’s degree in any subject you like. Make sure, however to complete the prerequisite courses necessary to attend PA school. Identify schools you might want to apply to once you complete your bachelor’s degree and see what kinds of credits they require for admission to the program. This will help guide your course selection. 

    A degree in healthcare professions or the sciences, such as biology, often provides the best preparation for PA/NP school. Also, a science degree can make it easier to fit prerequisite courses into your schedule. 

    Good luck!

  65. Hi,
    I completed my undergrad in Economics as major in 2010. I am looking to do change my field to healthcare. PA looks interesting to me. How long can it take me to get certified as PA? I have no past experience in healthcare.
    Thanks in advance.

  66. Hi Sameen, 

    First you will need to complete the prerequisite courses to apply to PA school. The time this requires will vary depending on your previous education. Once you apply and are accepted to a physician assistant program, you can expect your PA program to last about 2 years or a bit longer. 

    Good luck! 

  67. Debbie tragethon

    I am 62 years of age, & have been taking care of my folks over 20 years of intense critical care, and mother in law for nine. I have tremendous experience.I’m treated like a experience nurse by our medical team, etc.with no text experience. Would any of my years count with a few Doctors letter ? May I apply any of these hours as credit to a specific subject or test out ?
    I am starting from scratch, with both parents gone and Mavis 90′ I would like to continue
    to care for seniors ,in the capacity where i can make a difference in their quality of life with my years of proven results & knowledge.
    I welcome any ideas~
    Warmest Thanks,

  68. Hello.
    I currently have an Associate’s Degree. I have been in healthcare for quit some time. I have been CNA for 4 years and MA for 9.5 years. Would I be able to sign up for an accelerated dual course?

  69. I have a Bachelors in Education but I would like to join the medical field and I wanted to try PA .How long would it take me and what subjects do I need to major in?
    Thank You

  70. Hello!

    I currently have a bachelor’s degree in History Secondary Education. If I work as a CMA, will I be able to apply to a PA school? Or do I have to get a bachelor’s degree in science?

  71. Good Morning ,
    I just graduated with my Associates in Science I will be going into the MA program. I was thinking about becoming PA after I’m financially stable and completing the MA program. How should I go about that? Approximately how long does it take to become a PA after having the MA completed. I also currently work as an office assistant and have about a year working with an Internal Medicine Doctor.

  72. william edwards

    i am interested in becoming a pa and i need information on becoming one. i currently have a masters degree in public administration. so what is my next step.

  73. I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a masters in population studies. I did all of these in Africa where I’m from. I want to do PA in USA will the prerequisites consider some of the courses I did in my 1st and 2nd degree. Are there different requirements for US citizens
    Are there different requirements for non US citizens?

  74. I have a Bachelors in Education but I would like to join the medical field and I wanted to try PA .How long would it take me and what subjects do I need to major in?

  75. Zeeshma Shahroze

    Hi I am international medical graduate. I recently landed in canada. Now I want to continue my profession as a PA. What should I do? How long it will take?

  76. I ‘am a college student , I just graduate high in 2018 , now is my first years in college I’m now taking yeah the course of my major . but I want to became a physician assistant I don’t know long it will take me . I just hear form people the said . it gone take me 6 years or more then than

  77. Have you ever thought about creating an e-book or guest authoring on other blogs? I have a blog centered on the same topics you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know my subscribers would enjoy your work. If you are even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an e mail.

  78. I’m a cosmetologist i have license in Florida , i degree in Publicity and Marketing in Brazil in 2009 , i want to be a PA , what’s the best way to go?
    I’m American citizen now.

  79. There is much this article isn’t mentioning:

    -GRE, since you need to ace it you need to have time to prepare for it
    -Medical Certificate, depending on where you live this can be years or months.
    -Medical Experience, plan on 1 year working in a field PA schools accept. research.
    -Volunteering, since you need to stand out you need to have time to volunteer.
    -References, you need to have at least 3 reliable references that are physicians
    -Prerequisites, plan on 1-2 years taking prerequisites if you werent a biology major
    -Grades, if you had terrible grades in your undergrad you probably wont get in

  80. For many reasons I couldn’t finish high school so I got a GED after that a medical interpreter certificate, I work in hospital in the emergency department, I’ve been interpreting for doctors, physician assistants, nurses and everyone needing my services, and I would like to know if with my very poor education can I still become a physician assistant? I’m 36 yrs. old and that makes me feel like maybe is too late . Thank you in advance for your advice.

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