|“Once I heard that UAMS was starting a PA Program, I knew that is where I wanted to be.”
-Annaleigh Harper, El Dorado, AR
Students who are interested in physician assistant school and apply must complete numerous pre-requisite courses and other requirements to be accepted and enroll in a PA educational program. Each program’s entrance requirements are different but may include a bachelor’s degree, required or recommended grade point average (GPA) for cumulative and science courses, narratives, letters of recommendation, patient care experience, shadowing experience, Graduate Record Examination (GRE), community service experience, leadership experience, an interview or other requirements.
Check with each school in which you are interested in applying to understand the process and the requirements. Planning for completion of entrance requirements takes time and cannot be done at the last minute.
CASPA is a national online application system for potential applicants interested in physician assistant education. This system will allow the applicant to apply to any number of participating PA educational programs by completing a single application.
The application system is required by the majority of PA Program. Please check with the school you are interested in submitting an application to make sure that they participate in CASPA. Some PA Programs are not utilizing CASPA.
When a potential student applies through CASPA, several pieces of information are required from the applicant. This process includes information on demographics, pre-requisites coursework, institutions attended, certifications completed, patient care experience, shadowing experience, health-related experience, volunteer experience, community service, leadership experience, awards and narratives. Letters of recommendation are also submitted through CASPA.
For more information regarding CASPA and how to apply, please visit their site at: https://portal.caspaonline.org
Many PA Programs also require a supplement program, college or university application separate from CASPA. These supplemental applications vary greatly in requirements. The role of the supplemental application is for the specific PA Program to gain additional information from the applicant that is not required by CASPA. Supplemental applications generally do not duplicate information requested through CASPA. Supplemental applications generally have additional narratives to be completed by applicants. Please contact the individual PA Programs or their websites to determine if a supplemental application is required.
Standard required courses include anatomy, physiology, biology, microbiology, chemistry, and psychology. Some programs may also require courses like organic chemistry, biochemistry, cell biology, physics, medical terminology, statistics, genetics, abnormal psychology, or developmental psychology.
All applicants should check the individual program websites to know which pre-requisite courses are required for that specific program. Pre-requisite courses can vary greatly from program to program, so check with the programs early in the application process. Some pre-requisite courses are only offered at certain times of the year so early planning is highly recommended. Also, do not assume that one course will substitute for another pre-requisite course without checking with a PA Program first. Many courses may not be substituted because of program requirements. Experience generally does not substitute for courses but some programs may have certain stipulations depending on the circumstance.
PA Programs may or may not allow students to take online courses for the pre-requisite requirements. This also depends greatly on the goal of each program. Many programs but not all will allow students to complete general courses like English, Psychology or Sociology online. Other schools may allow any course to be taken online, while others may require science laboratories to be completed in a classroom laboratory setting. Check with the schools in which you are applying for the exact requirements regarding online courses.
Some programs have time requirements on certain pre-requisite course. This means that a course has to be completed within a specific timeframe from the date of matriculation or enrollment. Examples of the most common time requirements maybe 3 years, 5 years, 7 years or 10 years. Courses in which this is a requirement are generally science related courses like anatomy. Again, contact the specific PA Program to determine if there are any time constraints to completing pre-requisite courses. This can sometimes be an obstacle if some courses were taken years ago and fall into this category. Again, planning ahead and knowing all the requirements will assist in the planning.
Many programs also do not accept transfer credits into the program of courses that may be similar to courses taken in PA education. PA education generally teaches the course from the aspect of a medical provider and the emphasis is entirely different from courses taught outside of the medical discipline. The best option is to inquire with the specific PA school and do not assume a course will be accepted for transfer. In addition, most PA Programs do not grant advanced standing to students who have completed courses in other programs or medical disciplines. Communicate with the PA school early in the application process to understand the requirements.
Identify the types of letters of recommendation that programs are requiring early. The Central Application System for Physician Assistants requires only two letters of reference be submitted. Many PA Programs will require more than two letters and may require a certain type of reference from individuals with specific backgrounds.
When asking an individual for a reference letter, be sure that you know that an individual will give you a good letter of recommendation before asking him or her to do so. Also it is recommended that the individual knows you for longer than a couple of hours, days or weeks. You should ask an individual who knows you well and will provide solid information regarding you and your ability. In addition, asking family friends or a pediatrician who has known you for 20 years but has not worked with you does not assist an admissions committee with the decision on how the recommender can attest to you being a good candidate for PA school. Choose an individual with whom you have worked with, shadowed with extensively, volunteered with extensively, or that you have taken a course or two from depending on the type of reference required.
Some programs require patient care experience for entrance into the PA Program. Patient care experience is much like pre-requisite courses, it may vary greatly from program to program depending on the program’s mission and goals. Again, do not make assumptions about patient care requirements without speaking to the individual PA Programs about their requirements. Some programs have very specific definitions of what they will accept as patient care experience.
Direct patient care is generally defined as actively working with patients and having a direct influence of care on a specific patient. Example activities include eliciting histories, taking vital signs, drawing blood, performing procedures, actively working with patients, etc. Usually front office work in a medical office would not fall within the definition. Some programs may or may not include shadowing a physician or physician assistant as patient care experience. Be sure to check with the PA Program early in the process. It is better to understand this requirement instead of discovering that you do not have the right type of experience after the fact.
Some PA Programs may have a specific requirement to shadow a physician or physician assistant for a set amount of hours. Even if a program does not have this requirement, shadowing a PA or physician is highly recommended to gain a better understanding of the medical profession and the role of the PA in health care. While shadowing a PA in one area of medicine is good to gain an understanding of that medical discipline and the PA’s role, it may not be the best use of your time to complete extensive hours in just one discipline. An applicant may gain a better understanding of the PA profession by shadowing PAs from different disciplines of medicine.
Most PA Programs require applicants to complete one or more narrative statements. CASPA has a standard narrative included in the national application system. Many but not all programs may require additional narratives to complete the application process for each school. Narrative questions can also vary greatly between programs. Narratives may ask the applicant to provide further information on specific topics that are information to that institution in the application process. Narratives may ask the applicant to provide further information on leadership or community service, for instance. A school may request that the applicant address his/ her philosophy about a topic or respond to a specific ethical scenario.
An applicant should really take the time and put effort into completing a narrative. If a narrative is a part of the application process, then it is important to the PA school. PA Programs are looking for well thought out narratives that answer the question or situation being asked. Answering a narrative question in a few sentences is not advisable. This is an opportunity for the applicant to allow the admissions committees to get to know you better. It is also recommended that you complete the narrative yourself and not have another do the work for you. Admissions committee can generally detect when someone else completes a narrative other than the applicant.
Some PA Programs require an admissions test and others do not have this requirement. If the programs require an admissions test, it is generally the GRE. There may also be other admissions tests required by schools that are specific to their admissions process. The GRE is a three part examination that evaluates the applicant’s verbal, quantitative and writing ability. Some PA Programs may have a time requirement on completion of the exam and others may not. A common time requirement is within the last 5 years from the application deadline or time of matriculation. Generally a combination of scores from separate exam dates may not be utilized. Again, check with the individual PA Programs to determine if there is a requirement for an admissions test and any time requirements that may be involved.
Some programs, colleges or universities may have requirements for any student in which English is not his/ her first or primary language. This requirement can vary greatly between universities and even within a university between college, departments and programs.
The Test of English as a Foreign Language(TOEFL) exam is the most common English Proficiency Test used by universities. Each college or university will have a minimum score that must be achieved on a test taken and may have a time requirement also.
To obtain or information or to register to take the TOEFL, please visit:
In addition, some PA Programs may require that an applicant graduates from a regionally accredited institution in the United States. Students graduating from international undergraduate programs may also have an official transcript evaluated by either Educational Credential Evaluators, Inc. or World Education Services for the university in which they are applying for PA school.