A Physician Assistant is a health care professional who provides patient services ranging from taking medical histories and doing physical examinations to performing minor surgical procedures. Physician assistants work under the supervision of a physician, who can be on or off site. PAs receive 24-30 months of post- undergraduate training and pass a national certifying exam. They are licensed by the states. Many health care analysts believe that physician's assistants, who typically deliver quality routine health care less expensively than doctors, could be an important part of the American health care system, as they are in Canada and some European countries.
As a college student preparing for a career as a physician assistant, you should be aware of several steps necessary for admission into an accredited PA program:
- Contact PA education programs to learn what prerequisites are required (see below for a common list)
- Volunteer in a hospital or private clinic to gain experience
- Find a physician or physician assistant who can serve as a mentor
Learn about the profession and discover why you would be a strong candidate for the profession so that you may properly promote yourself in your application essays.
PA education includes instruction in core sciences: anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, physical diagnosis, pathophysiology, microbiology, clinical laboratory science, behavioral science and medical ethics.
PAs also complete more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations, with an emphasis on primary care in ambulatory clinics, physician offices and acute or long-term care facilities. Rotations include family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, general surgery, emergency medicine and psychiatry.
Practicing PAs participate in lifelong learning. In order to maintain national certification, a PA must complete 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years.
There are currently 159 accredited PA programs in the United States. The vast majority award master’s degrees. PA education programs are represented by the Physician Assistant Education Association and accredited through the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA).
In 2010, the median PA salary was $90,000 annually. Approximately 64 percent of PAs report being “most
satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their jobs.
Application deadline: Schools have different application deadlines that vary from January 15 to March 1st for the class beginning in January to June of the following year. The application materials include:
- CASPA application must be completed with all transcripts and three letters of reference.
- Usually, a minimum GPA of 3.0 / 4.0 is required for admission.
Prerequisite Courses for Physician Assistant graduate school
Since the exact prerequisite courses vary slightly for some graduate schools it is important for the student to examine the graduate schools they are interested in attending during their sophomore or junior year to allow time to complete these courses. The list below contains the most common prerequisite courses:
8 credits - Biological Sciences
- 4 credits of Human Anatomy and 4 credits of Human Physiology
Or, 8 credits of A&P I and A&P II
- Exercise physiology is not an acceptable course for these 8 credits.
8 credits – Chemistry
- 4 credits of General or Intro Chemistry with lab
- 4 credits of Organic Chemistry with lab, may substitute Biochemistry.
4 credits – Microbiology
- May substitute with Cell Biology
8 credits – Psychology
- Introductory Psychology
- Developmental or Abnormal Psychology
3 credits – Statistics
Other possible Prerequisite Courses:
- Medical Terminology
- Medical Sociology
William and Mary courses that fulfill these requirements include:
KINE 303, Human Anatomy
KINE 314 or 315, Human Anatomy Laboratory
KINE 304, Human Physiology
KINE 305, Human Physiology Laboratory
CHEM 103, General Chemistry with lab
CHEM 206, Organic Chemistry with lab
CHEM 414, Biochemistry
BIOL 306, Microbiology
BIOL 310, Molecular Cell Biology
PSYC 202, Introduction to Psychology as a social science
PSYC 310, Developmental Psychology
PSYC 318, Abnormal Psychology
KINE 394, Statistics and Evaluation, or
PSYC 301 and 302, Elementary Statistics and Experimental Methods, or
MATH 106, Elementary Probability and Statistics
Graduate schools have accepted substitute courses for many of the prerequisite courses so it may a good idea to talk directly with the admissions personnel about satisfying the prerequisite courses.
Physician Assisant Schools in Virginia
James Madison University,
Jefferson College of Health Sciences,
Eastern Virginia Medical School,
If you have questions please contact the College of William and Mary Pre-PA advisor, Dr. Ray McCoy, at [[rwmcco]] or (757) 221-2783.