Planning ahead is the name of the game when applying to a physician assistant program. Some programs ask that students complete a laundry list of courses before submitting an application. Not to mention, most physician assistant programs require prospective students to have clinical experience. If you plan ahead, you can complete these prerequisite requirements in an efficient manner helping you to become a physician assistant more quickly. Which courses will you need to take?
A Bachelor’s Degree Is a Must Have
Nearly all physician assistant programs require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree. Even if you do find a PA program without this requirement, completing a bachelor’s degree will be to your best interest. Physician assistant programs are notoriously competitive and holding a bachelor’s degree is essentially mandatory for admission. Not only do most PA programs require applicants to have completed an undergraduate education, many require students to graduate at or above a certain GPA, usually 3.0. Some schools set the bar for their GPA requirement a bit lower or higher. If you don’t meet the GPA requirement for your school of interest, retaking courses or taking additional courses to outweigh the damage of poor performance in other classes may give your GPA the boost it needs.
Which Prerequisite Courses Should You Take?
If you are currently working on your undergraduate degree, weaving in the prerequisite courses for your PA program now, rather than completing them once you graduate is your most time and cost efficient option. If you have already completed your undergraduate degree and need to complete additional coursework before applying to a physician assistant program, consider taking classes at a local community college. Community colleges often offer courses online to accommodate your busy schedule. These schools also offer credit hours at a lower price than larger universities. If you know to which programs you plan to apply, check with admissions offices to make sure they accept credits form the college or university where you plan on completing your prerequisite coursework. While you are working on your prerequisite classes, keep in mind that many PA programs require at least a “C” grade in these courses.
If you know which physician assistant program or programs you wish to attend, check out their prerequisite requirements online to make sure you aren’t missing any classes. If you aren’t sure where you will complete your PA degree, there are a few classes you can count on needing in order to apply to most schools. Here is a list of courses you will most likely need to take:
Commonly Required Prerequisite Courses:
- Anatomy and Physiology- Nearly every PA program requires applicants to complete courses in anatomy and physiology. Most often 8 credit hours are required.
- Chemistry- Most PA programs ask that students complete at least one, and often two semesters, or 8 credit hours, of general chemistry with a lab component.
- Biology- Similar to the chemistry requirement, most schools ask that students complete one to two courses in biology with a lab component before applying. Some schools require PA program applicants to complete up to 5 courses in biology so majoring in biology is a good option for students planning to become physician assistants.
- Microbiology- Completing a course in microbiology with a lab is required by many PA programs.
- Psychology- While not as commonly required as hard science courses, many PA programs have a psychology prerequisite requirement. Be careful, some programs specify the type of psychology class students must complete, for example developmental psychology.
- Statistics- Not required by all PA programs, a course in statistics is still recommended.
Less Commonly Required Prerequisite Courses
- Organic Chemistry- Most students can get by taking a course in general chemistry alone. However, some schools go a bit deeper requiring organic chemistry coursework.
- English/ Writing
- Math (college algebra or above)
Some, but not all physician assistant programs require applicants to take the GRE. If you don’t know which PA program you want to attend, taking the GRE is to your advantage so you don’t limit your educational options when it comes time to submit applications. Studying for the GRE is recommended because physician assistant programs are extremely competitive. So, get out those vocab flash cards and get to work!
That’s Not All Folks…Clinical Experience
While not all physician assistant programs require students to have hands-on clinical experience before applying, spending a year or two in direct patient care is highly encouraged and significantly increases your chances of admission. PA programs require anywhere from zero to 4,000 hours of clinical experience prior to application. Most programs define clinical experience as a paid position. Examples of clinical experience include working as an EMT or paramedic, medical assistant or LPN. A few schools allow volunteer experience to count toward required clinical hours. PA programs do not traditionally count administrative jobs like medical billing or record keeping towards the clinical experience requirement.
Are you working towards applying to physician assistant program? What prerequisite hurdles have you encountered in the application process?
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