So you decided you want to become a PA… how do you get in?

Congratulations on choosing a rewarding career!  We know the road will not be easy, but as long as you put your heart into it, you will absolutely be rewarded with an amazing career.  The U.S. News & World Report ranked the physician assistant career the fourth best health care job and the profession was also ranked the number one most promising job for millennials in 2016.

Let’s talk about how to get into PA school

As you probably know, it is becoming more and more competitive to get into graduate school programs in the medical field.  It is important to be educated about the requirements to stay ahead of the competition.

There are currently 234 PA programs in the USA.  Each program has its own set of requirements, however in general there are basic similarities.  For a full list of program’s and their requirements, see link:

Our advice is to plan ahead and get organized.  Whenever you decide to apply to PA school, give yourself a couple years to get everything in order.  Generally, there are prerequisite classes, healthcare experience, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and the GRE to get under your belt.  Katie’s tip: Keep track of every program you’re interested in and their individual requirements in an excel spreadsheet.

Our favorite book is The Ultimate Guide to Getting into Physician Assistant School by Andrew J. Rodican

Let’s talk about coursework:

The cool thing about becoming a physician assistant is that you can major and or minor in anything you want as long as you complete the pre-requisites.  Again, each program has a preferred list of pre-requisites so our suggestions is to make a list of your top 5-10 schools and outline your coursework accordingly.  Of note, you can typically apply to PA school with up to two outstanding courses (that are currently in progress or scheduled to be completed), however some programs are now requiring all outstanding courses be complete prior to applying on CASPA.  Start requesting and sending your transcripts when the CASPA application cycle opens in April.

Required courses:

Chemistry I and II (with or without labs)
Biology I and II (with or without labs)
Anatomy I and II (can be combined with physiology with or without labs)
Physiology I and II (can be combined with anatomy with or without labs)
Microbiology (with or without lab)
Math (Statistics generally preferred)

**denotes potential recommended courses
CAPS are our recommendations
**Organic Chemistry
**other social science classes

Let’s talk about healthcare experience or HCE:

Not all schools require this, but we can without a doubt tell you this will boost you above the competition regardless of whether its required or not.  Again, each program has a preference so be sure you know what your desired schools require.  Our opinion on the best way to get healthcare experience is to work in the healthcare field with HANDS ON PATIENT INTERACTION vs. simply shadowing (often shadowing is not counted anyway). This shows dedication to the medical field but also lets PA programs know you understand what you are getting yourself into.  Shadowing is limited and you don’t have the actual responsibility of a job.  Emily was an athletic trainer and Katie was a radiology tech.  Together we had thousands of hours of patient care experience prior to PA school.  We both knew FOR CERTAIN we wanted to become PAs because we had directly interacted with patients and worked alongside PA-Cs.  We were exposed to a wide variety of medical careers and honed in on becoming a PA-C above anything else. Below are ways to get healthcare experience (and get paid at the same time to save up for PA school ;)).

For reference:
2,000 hours= 1 standard working year
The average matriculating class hours of direct patient care = 8,000 hours -> AKA even if it is not required, you will make yourself a stronger candidate by doing it.

Medical Assistant
Any sort of tech (ER, Radiology, Ortho, Patient Care, Surgical, EKG, PT, Respiratory)
Certified nursing assistant
Athletic Trainer
Military Corpsmen/Combat Medic

Let’s talk about shadowing experience:

Again, not all schools require this, but you will stand out among your peers if you have spent time observing the responsibilities of physicians, nurse practitioners, RNs, and physician assistants.  This will show us that you’ve done your due diligence in researching each respective career choice and know for certain you are making the right choice.  Of course, the more hours you have spent with a physician assistant the more qualified you’ll appear and the stronger your application will become.

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