Sun, Fun and…Direct Patient Care Hours

By ThriveAP Intern and Aspiring Physician Assistant Meghan Kayan

As we near mid-April, with each passing day the end of the semester is approaching more quickly than any student would like to realize. The relief that classes will be ending and the stress of homework and exams may be paused temporarily, but another obstacle must be tackled-what do I do with my free time over the summer?

For most aspiring physician assistant students, completing prerequisite hours of direct patient care experience is a daunting task. Most physician assistant programs require anywhere from 200 upwards of 2,000 hours of such experience. With a heavy course load during the semester, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with your studies and neglect these crucial hours. So, what better way to spend your summer than using these precious months to keep you on track for applying to PA schools?

Here are a few ways you can get ahead of the game when it comes to completing required direct patient care hours.

Get a license or certification

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Many healthcare jobs require some type of licensing or certification prior to being hired. Don’t let this discourage you because obtaining this accreditation is not is not as painful or difficult as it sounds. The two most common forms of patient care experience I have found prior to applying to physician assistant schools are:

  • Emergency Medical Technician-The role of an EMT is to provide pre-hospital care for patients with an assortment of conditions. EMTs can work in hospitals as well as on ambulances. Depending on what level of EMT you want to be, the required amount of class time ranges between 160 and 1,000 hours. As a current EMT-B student, I can tell you from experience that the class is very rewarding. It teaches a lot of basic healthcare skills that will benefit you later on in your medical career. Plus, the class gave me a newfound interest in emergency medicine. Contact your local hospital for classes; many universities also offer EMT courses for credit.
  • Certified Nursing Aide-The role of a certified nursing assistant (CNA) is to provide care for patients in terms of comfort as well as basic healthcare skills. Most CNAs work in hospitals or nursing homes. This course is a 100 hour program. Check out the American Red Cross website for specifics on where and when the course takes place.

Although EMTs and CNAs are, in my experience, the most common ways aspiring physician assistants fulfill direct patient care hour requirements, they are not your only options. Many PA schools list other opportunities they consider as direct patient care. Browse through the prerequisites of the schools where you may apply for other ideas.

Job Shadow

Each physician assistant school is different and some do not consider job shadowing as direct patient care experience. Regardless, shadowing a PA is a huge help in seeking out other opportunities. Not only do you get to see what a physician assistant does on a daily basis, you can also form relationships with the medical professionals around you which could open doors to other patient care opportunities.


Whether you go abroad with programs like Work the World or FIRMC or remain local and volunteer at a hospital, any opportunity to gain healthcare experience will be beneficial. Volunteering is as easy as reaching out to your local hospital and asking about volunteer options. Many hospitals encourage students to apply to volunteer making this one of the easiest ways to get healthcare experience.

With the array of direct patient care opportunities at your disposal, your summer can be filled with fun and educational experiences


You Might Also Like: 5 Reasons You Were Rejected from Your PA Program (and how to Fix Them)


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