Physician Assistants (PAs) are educated as generalists in medicine and work under the supervision of a physician. Many PAs work in specialty fields, such as: cardiovascular surgery, orthopedics, and emergency medicine. Most PAs work in the primary care specialty areas of family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology.
Physician Assistants typically do the following:
- Work under the supervision of a physician
- Take and review patients’ medical histories
- Examine and treat patients
- Order and interpret laboratory tests and X-rays
- Make diagnoses and prescribe medications
- Give treatment, such as setting broken bones and immunizing patients
- Educate and counsel patients and their families—for example, answering questions about how to care for a child with asthma
- Order or carry out therapy
- Prescribe medicine, when needed
- Research the latest treatments to ensure the quality of patient care
- Conduct or participate in outreach programs; talking to groups about managing diseases and promoting wellness
- Communication skills: Physician assistants must explain complex medical issues in a way that patients can understand. They must also effectively communicate with doctors and other healthcare workers to ensure that they provide the best possible patient care.
- Compassion: Physician assistants deal with patients who are sick or injured and may be in extreme pain or distress. They must be able to treat patients and their families with compassion and understanding.
- Detail oriented: Physician assistants should be observant and have a strong ability to focus when evaluating and treating patients.
- Emotional stability: Physician assistants, particularly those working in surgery or emergency medicine, should be able to work well under pressure. They must remain calm in stressful situations in order to provide quality care.
- Problem-solving skills: Physician assistants need to evaluate patients’ symptoms and administer the appropriate treatments. They must be diligent when investigating complicated medical issues so that they can determine the best course of treatment for each patient.
Learn more about Physician Assistants:
This is a list of common Physician Assistant program prerequisites and the Kalamazoo College course equivalents. The course prerequisites vary across programs. This list does not include all courses that may be required by PA programs. Additionally, schools have differing policies for accepting AP/IB credits to fulfill prerequisites. Students are responsible for verifying the prerequisite coursework and policies of the schools to which they plan to apply.
Helpful resources include the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) Program Directory and individual school websites.
* BIOL 123 while this course is not a physician assistant school requirement, we strongly recommend BIOL 123 to first-year students, as it includes physiology and is required for the Biology major.
** BIOL 222 and *** BIOL 376 may not meet the admissions criteria of your intended program. If the program you are preparing for has prerequisites that K College doesn’t offer, most commonly human anatomy and physiology, you may take them at Western Michigan University under our inter-institutional enrollment arrangement. Please contact the Registrar’s office a K College for the policy, procedure, and forms. This is done on a space-available basis so plan ahead and make your arrangements early. The cost is included in your K tuition and the grades will appear on your K transcript and be calculated into your K GPA.
GPA and Extracurricular Experience
According to the PAEA’s Program Report 35, in 2019, the average undergraduate GPA of matriculants to PA programs participating in the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) was 3.58.
Clinical/healthcare experience is of critical importance for admission to PA programs. The minimum requirements can vary from none at all (this is uncommon) to 2,000 hours or more. Restrictions are often placed on what types of activities qualify but matriculating students on average have far more than the minimum requirement.
Physician Assistant Admission Test (PA-CAT)/ Graduate Record Exam (GRE)
The PA-CAT is a new entrance exam that is currently being tested for PA schools. This test has been developed to provide applicants with a better way to demonstrate their academic preparedness for PA school by testing for general academic ability as well as key science prerequisites. The PA-CAT is currently only being accepted at a limited number of PA schools. Please make sure to research the entrance exam requirements for your programs of interest to determine if you should take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the PA-CAT.
Length: 4 hours and 30 minutes
Sections: The PA-CAT was developed to assess common basic science subjects and statistics consistent with what is typically required for admission by a majority of PA programs. 240-item assessment covering 9 science subject areas.
Scores: Scores range from 200-800.
Cost: The registration fee is $228 for the 2020 application cycle (includes the test center fee for standard administration).
PA programs generally award a master’s degree. Programs are between two and three years long and include classroom instruction and clinical rotations. Only graduates of accredited programs are eligible to sit for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE).
Number of schools: Students typically apply to between 5-10 PA programs.
Factors to consider:
- Admission requirements: The prerequisite coursework and clinical experience requirements vary widely between each PA program. Determine where you’re eligible to apply based on the coursework you’ve completed or will complete before matriculation and the number of clinical hours required.
- Location: Urban vs. rural setting, proximity to family, recreational opportunities, cost of living, etc. Additionally, think about where you will be doing your clinical work – types of hospitals/clinics, patient population, etc.
- Mission Statements: You should look for schools with mission statements that fit with your own goals.
- Curriculum: Seek out information about the curriculum and consider how it fits with your learning style.
- Cost: Consider tuition and type of financial aid available
Students will apply in the spring/early summer of the year preceding their planned matriculation. The CASPA cycle opens mid-April.
Applications for CASPA are reviewed on a rolling basis. The Careers in Health and Medicine office recommends applying as early in the cycle as possible.
- Centralized Application Service: CASPA – Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants
- Number of Participating Schools: Over 200
- *Some programs do not participate in CASPA. Check the individual websites of the non-particiapting schools for their application procedures.
- Cost: $179 which includes one PA program designation. Each additional school is $55. Some programs may have an additional supplemental fee; contact your programs to learn if they require this and how to pay it.
- Fee Assistance? Yes, through the CASPA Fee Assistance Program, which includes a waiver for all CASPA fees for the first PA program designation on your application. Applicants will pay the $55 fee for all additional program designations. Applications for fee waivers open in April and students should apply ASAP.
- Application Requirements:
- Biographical information
- Colleges/coursework information
- PA-CAT or GRE scores
- Personal statements
- Personal Statement Prompt: “In the space provided write a brief statement expressing your motivation or desire to become a physician assistant.” 5,000 character limit
- Recommendation letters
- Physician Assistant programs typically require between 3-4 recommendation letters. CASPA requires a minimum of 3 letters and accepts up to 5. The Careers in Health and Medicine office recommends at least one of your letters be from a science faculty member. It is also recommended to have one letter from an evaluator who can speak to your ability working with patients. The other letter(s) should be made up of professional references who can write compellingly about your personal qualities that will contribute to a successful career as a physician assistant. Check with each individual school to determine their requirements.
- CASPA Instructions – Students should read all instructions before beginning the application
- PAEA CASPA Info
- Individual school websites
Secondary Applications/Supplemental Materials
The majority of participating CASPA schools require a secondary application or supplemental materials. Information on each school’s requirement is listed on the primary application. Required information may include a high school transcript, photo, fee, additional essays, and possibly other information (it varies widely by school). Some schools may allow their secondary application materials to be submitted directly through the CASPA application, while others may request this material at a later time. If programs request this material be sent at a later time, the recommendation is a 2-week turnaround on submitting this additional information. Applicants should check the primary application to determine what supplemental material is required. For more information, see the CASPA Supplemental Information page.
After submitting the primary application, and secondary applications where required, students may receive interview offers any time in the year preceding matriculation. Not all PA programs require an interview as part of the application process, but for the ones that do, the interview is a very important element in the application process. When a school invites you to an interview, they are indicating an interest in selecting you. The interview gives both of you the opportunity to exchange information to determine if you are a good “fit” for each other.
Schools use personal interviews with applicants to assess qualities such as self-confidence, interpersonal skills, and ability to overcome challenges. Be prepared to discuss why you wish to pursue a career in PA and the experiences that have motivated you.