Physician assistants (PAs) practice medicine under the supervision of physicians and surgeons. They should not be confused with Medical assistants, who perform routine clinical and clerical tasks. PAs are formally trained to provide diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive health care services, as delegated by a physician. Working as members of the health care team, they take medical histories, examine and treat patients, order and interpret laboratory tests and x rays, and make diagnoses. They also treat minor injuries, by suturing, splinting, and casting. PAs record progress notes, instruct and counsel patients, and order or carry out therapy. In 48 States and the District of Columbia, physician assistants may prescribe some medications. In some establishments, a PA is responsible for managerial duties, such as ordering medical supplies or equipment and supervising technicians and assistants. (bls.gov 2008-05-08)
For a more comprehensive description of the duties of a physician assistant including popular specializations please visit the Physician Assistant Programs website.
Tips for students interested in pursuing a degree in physician assisting:
- Most schools require or strongly recommend health care experience as a pre-requisite to admission. Experience can be paid or volunteer, but should be hands-on. Recommended experience includes work as an EMT or paramedic, registered nurse, nurse's aide, patient care technician, emergency room technician, medical assistant, physical or occupational therapist, or clinical research assistant. Time spent working directly with a certified physician assistant or medical doctor may also be considered.
- The PA program is typically a master's level program, and students are often required to complete a bachelor's degree prior to the start of the program. Some schools offer degree completion programs that allow students to finish a bachelor's degree while working toward the Master's of Physician Assisting. Regardless of program, becoming a certified PA will take at least 5-6 years from the start of college.
- Become familiar with the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) site. Many PA schools require students to apply through this service to be considered for admission. Requirements for admission vary by school, so be sure to research several schools and work to meet the prerequisites for all of them. This will give you the most flexibility when it comes time to apply. Most schools list requirements for admission on their website.
- Take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) prior to starting the last year of undergraduate work. This test is required for admission by most schools, though some will accept MCAT scores.
- Review the SLED Testing and Education Reference Center for GRE test preps. You will want to choose Graduate Schools after clicking on Testing and Education Reference Center.
- Consider who you will ask for letters of reference for your applications. You should have representation from professional physician assistants and professors who can speak to your academic ambition and ability, as well as your hands-on, healthcare experience.
- Admission to a PA school is competitive, so take advantage of any coursework or experience that may give you an advantage. A minimum GPA or GRE score may be required, but attaining the minimum does not guarantee admission.
- PA school can be expensive so investigate possible scholarships that are available to you. One of the best places to start is through Physician Assistans Programs.
- See the chart below for recommended pre-requisite courses to take prior to admission:
Courses required for admission by most PA schools**:
|General chemistry with lab||
|Chem 105X, 106X|
|General biology with lab||
|Biol 115X, 116X|
|Anatomy and physiology||8||Biol 111X, 112X|
|Psychology||3-6||Psy 101, 240, 345|
|Engl 111X, Engl 211X or 213X|
Courses RECOMMENDED by many schools (vary by school):
|Comm 131X or 141X|
|Mathematics: at least one course, calculus is recommended||
|Math 107X, 108, 200X|
|Organic chemistry||6-9||Chem 321, 322 (also Chem 324 if lab required)|
|Statistics||3||Stat 200X, 300|
|Public speaking||3||Comm 131X or 141X|
|Medical terminology||3||Hlth 204|
|Humanities/social sciences (including anthropology, sociology, literature, art, and history)||
|UAF core courses|
Other suggested electives (varies by school):
|Computer literacy||3||CS 101, AIS 101, or CIOS 150|
|Philosophy||3-6||Phil 102, 204|
**Admission requirements vary by school. This chart was compiled by researching a majority of PA schools. It is important to check for the admission requirements of the specific school that you are interested in to be sure that you meet the pre-requisites required by that school. A course listed as recommended here may be required by your school of choice.
Many UAF students choose to major in either Biological Sciences or Chemistry (see the degree worksheets) while pursuing a pre-PA curriculum, because these degrees require many of the same courses as the PA program. Students can choose any major, as long as they meet the admission requirements for the PA program.
Students who are considering physician assisting as a career choice should contact their major department advisor or the Academic Advising Center.