Physician Assistant

A Physician Assistant (PA) is a healthcare professional who works under the supervision of a licensed physician. PAs are trained to provide a wide range of medical services, including diagnostic, therapeutic, preventive, and administrative tasks. They work in various healthcare settings, such as hospitals, clinics, physician offices, and surgical settings, and play a vital role in the delivery of patient care. 

9 Reasons to Become a PA

Academic Preparation

Requirements can vary by program, so it is important to keep a spreadsheet of the different coursework you will need to complete. For a list of PA programs and information on their corresponding prerequisite coursework, visit the PA Education Association (PAEA). In addition, here is a list of California PA Programs.

Some common requirements: 

Sample coursework can include:

Human Anatomy Lecture/Lab BIOL 113/114 3/1
Human Physiology Lecture/Lab BIOL 115/116 3/1
General Microbiology with Lab BIOL 134/135 3/1
General Statistics Any Department 3-4
General Biology I with Lab BIOL 105 & 105L 4
General Biology II with Lab BIO 106 & 106L 4
General Chemistry I with Lab CHEM 111/112 3/1
General Chemistry II with Lab CHEM 113/114 3/1
Medical Terminology Not offered at USF  
General Psychology PSYCH 101 4

Biochemistry, genetics, and other courses may be required. It is important to look at the schools you are interested in for their specific requirements. Here are links to requirements for PA programs highly desired by USF applicants: 


Most PA programs also require prior healthcare experience with hands-on patient care. The average age for an entering PA student is 26 years old since many schools often require thousands of hours to be competitive. When looking at programs, be sure to note the average amount of hours for successful applicants vs. the minimum required. 

Most students have about three years of healthcare experience before entering a program. 

Though it’s not an exhaustive list, you can get healthcare experience by being a:

  • Medical assistant (MA)
  • Medical Scribe
  • Emergency medical technician (EMT)
  • Paramedic
  • Lab assistant/phlebotomist
  • Emergency room technician
  • Surgical tech
  • Certified nursing assistant (CNA)

Application Components

To apply to Physician Assistant (PA) school, you can follow these general steps:

  • Research PA programs: Start by researching different PA programs to find the ones that align with your career goals, preferences, and eligibility criteria. Consider factors such as location, curriculum, accreditation, admission requirements, and program reputation. PA programs are the most competitive out of all the health professions so it is important to apply widely. 

  • The PA Education Association (PAEA) provides a PA School Application Checklist and Timeline for application to PA programs.

  • Begin the CASPA application: Most PA programs use this centralized application service, in addition to supplemental essays they may require. The CASPA application opens every April. Most programs use rolling admissions, so it is imperative to apply early (submitting by the end of May is highly recommended). 

  • Take the GRE (Graduate Record Examination): Many PA programs require applicants to take the GRE, a standardized test that assesses verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing skills. Familiarize yourself with the exam format, study accordingly, and schedule your test date to allow ample time for score reporting before application deadlines. There is also the PA-CAT that was recently introduced but it is still unclear if programs will adopt this exam.

  • Request letters of recommendation: Most PA programs require letters of recommendation from individuals who can attest to your academic abilities, character, and suitability for the PA profession. Some programs will require a letter of recommendation from a PA.

    Approach professors, healthcare professionals, supervisors, or mentors who know you well and can provide strong recommendations. 

  • Prepare your personal statement: PA programs typically require a personal statement or essay. This is an opportunity to showcase your motivations for becoming a PA, experiences in healthcare, personal qualities, and career goals. Write a well-crafted personal statement that reflects your passion for the profession and highlights your unique qualities and experiences.

    Do's and Don'ts for Writing a Strong CASPA Personal Statement

  • Prepare for interviews: If your application is selected, you may be invited for an interview. Research common interview questions, practice your responses, and prepare examples that showcase your skills, experiences, and knowledge. Be prepared to discuss your motivations for pursuing the PA profession, your understanding of the role of a PA, and your ability to work in a healthcare team.