Physician Assistants (PAs) are medical providers, most with graduate-level educations. They are licensed to diagnose and treat illness and disease, and to prescribe medication for patients.
PAs work in physician offices, hospitals, and clinics in collaboration with a licensed physician. Because of their advanced education in general medicine, modeled after physician education, PAs can treat patients with significant autonomy within the physician/PA relationship.
In the primary care setting, PAs can provide almost all the clinical services that physicians provide, including performing physical exams, diagnosing and treating illnesses and prescribing medications.
PAs are qualified to practice by graduation from an accredited PA educational program and certification by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).
--From PA Focus
PA programs are typically two-year programs that result in a Master's degree, but accelerated programs and dual-degree programs are also common.
Students should begin researching schools early in their academic careers as programs have different admission requirements. Students can apply to 100 PA programs by completing their initial application through the web-based Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA). Programs not requiring CASPA will accept applications directly to their schools. Schools using CASPA may or may not require a supplemental application; check with each program.
Applications should be submitted in the year prior to the year for which you are seeking admission. Many medical schools have rolling admissions, so applicants would do well to apply as early as possible. Applicants to allopathic medical schools may wish to review the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) resource; students can purchase their own copy or online access, or work with the co-chairs to find more information.
Course and Experience Requirements
In addition to the usual courses in the natural sciences and mathematics required for programs in the health programs, PA programs will usually require Anatomy and Physiology and Psychology; consult with the schools to which you are applying for specific requirements.
PA programs will also often require a certain number of hours of clinical experience or direct patient care, often at least 200 hours, but sometimes upwards of 1000 hours. Again, consult with the schools to which you are applying for specific requirements.
Entrance Exam Requirements
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) or the GRE is required for admission to most PA programs. The MCAT will undergo a significant change in 2015, including additional subject areas in psychology and sociology; students in the Class of 2016 should consult MCAT2015 for more information.
Letters of Evaluation/Recommendation
CASPA accepts online three letters of reference; one of these can be a composite letter composed by your adviser from the Health Professions Advising Committee. This letter will be composed from the letters of recommendation you solicit from professors, supervisors, research mentors, and others who know you in professional or service contexts; that letter will also contain a rating of you on behalf of the committee based on your academic record, service, experience, and other factors. Students should consult early and closely with their adviser to determine whom to solicit for letters of recommendation, especially since some PA programs require letters of reference from PAs.
PA programs usually require personal, on-campus interviews, though how many applicants are interviewed and at what point in the application timeline those interviews take place varies widely. Members of the Health Professions Advising Committee conduct at least one mock interview with applicants the spring before they apply; subsequent mock interviews are readily available and heartily encouraged.