Preparation for Physician Assistant Programs

Pre-Physician's Assistant

Academic Preparation

Academic preparation for physician assistant (PA) programs requires a Bachelor’s degree and completion of a set of prerequisite classes, usually science, which vary from program to program. The most common classes are outlined below. For your degree, any major is appropriate. There is no preference in this regard, so study something you love!

Extracurricular Preparation

Preparation for PA programs involves engaging in experiences that develop and demonstrate skills in communication, leadership, community service, research, and familiarity with the physician assistant profession. What you do outside of class is as important as what you do in class so don’t neglect these activities. Keep in mind that activities complement your coursework, but will not compensate for low grades. Both are important!

Extracurricular Activities

  • Make sure you have contact information for supervisors and health professionals you work with or shadow in case you need a recommendation letter. Try to keep an open relationship with them after you discontinue activities.
  • Keep a record of all hours of service and experiences. The Prehealth Planner Spread Sheet can help with this.
  • Writing reflections on each activity in a journal will be helpful when you write your personal statement.

Interacting well with sick people is one of the key indicators of a successful healthcare provider. Your experience can take a variety of form—MA, CNA, EMT, or another role that provides direct “hands-on” care to patients. Most students obtain a job at a hospital, in nursing homes and in hospice care after volunteering several months at these facilities. Requirements vary widely between schools. Minimums of 250-1000 are common. The average hours for accepted applicants nationwide is around 3500 and the median is around 1400.

The UPAP School requires minimum of 2000 hours of “direct” patient care experience.

This should be one of your first experiences as a PrePA student. Observing physician assistants in action across different environments will help you understand the profession and decide if it is the right fit for you. Shadowing also allows you get to know PAs, as many programs require at least one recommendation letter from a PA that you have worked with or shadowed. The UU Physician Assistant Program (UPAP) does not require, but highly recommends, students shadow Physician Assistants. Many students find shadow opportunities through jobs or volunteer experiences at medical facilities.

As a physician assistant, you will be a leader and team member in many ways – with your patients, your staff, your colleagues, and in your community. Examples include offices held in organizations, committee work; leadership in church activities; coordinating a project; managing, training, supervising at work or in other activities; teaching experience of any kind; coaching; peer counseling or mentoring, etc.

Because you are preparing for a humanitarian profession, it is important to have volunteer experiences that demonstrate a commitment to serving others in your community. Having interaction with people coming from different backgrounds than your own will strengthen your interpersonal skills and communication skills. It is suggested that this be ongoing throughout your college years prior to application for admission.

PrePhysician's Assistant Coursework

This guide is designed for applying to a range of PA programs. It is not a comprehensive list. Requirements may vary by program so applicants should look closely at what is required at the programs at which they are applying. The following list indicates the most commonly classes required or recommended by programs in the west and the top programs that University of Utah graduates attend.  See a Preprofessional advisor for more information.

AP & IB CREDIT

Students with AP or IB credits in science or math should meet with a Preprofessional advisor in order to discuss this credit in relation to prerequisite classes.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE CREDITS

PA schools vary on their view of prerequisite classes taken at Community Colleges. Some accept them but look on them with some disfavor, other schools readily accept them.  Students should be aware of this when planning their education.

There are a number of very good reasons for students to begin their college education at a Community College, so we have some recommendations for those who wish to do so. In general it is okay to take the following classes at the Salt Lake Community College.  However, to satisfy schools who do not accept Community College work, higher level courses may have to be taken to make up for it.

MATH 1050 College Algebra and anything below

BIOL 1610 & 1615 General Biology 1 with lab in place of BIOL 1210 at the U of U

CHEM 1210 & 1215 General Chemistry 1 with lab

ENGL 1010 and 2010

  • CLEP Credit & Correspondence Study— May not be acceptable as part of the prerequisite courses
  • AP or IB Credits-- Depends on program. Check each school’s requirements section online.
  • Online Courses--Online sections of semester based university classes, or online/in person hybrid sections of semester based classes will usually be accepted. Online courses which are not university semester based (independent study) will generally not be accepted.
  • Withdrawals--W’s should be used only for emergencies, although W’s will not affect your GPA.
  • GPA Minimum requirements for Total GPA range from 2.5 - 3.0.
    • However, competitive applicants admitted to PA programs usually have a Total GPA of 3.5 or higher. Some schools may also look separately at Prerequisite GPA and Total GPA.
    • UPAP minimum Total GPA is 3.0, and they will not review applications with a Total GPA lower than 2.7 (based on CASPA with all repeats included). Average GPA for accepted applicants is 3.47
  • Repeated Courses—All grades from ALL attempts at a class are counted in your GPA on your CASPA application for PA schools. (This is different from the U of U’s policy to only count the most recent attempt.)

Science Courses

REQUIRED BY MOST PROGRAMS

BIOL 1210, Principles of Biology (3 credits) Even if not required, this is the prerequisite for most other Biology classes

BIOL 2325, Human Anatomy (4 credits) Prerequisite BIOL 1210

Required by UPAP

BIOL 2420 Human Physiology (4 credits), Prerequisites BIOL 1210 and CHEM 1210

Required by UPAP

Microbiology:  Either of the following

BIOL 3210 (3) Microbiology (3 credits) Lab 3215 (1 credit), Prerequisites: BIOL 2020 & CHEM 1210

OR

PATH 3100 Medical Microbiology (3 credits)

One of these is recommended by UPAP and many other programs, but the lab may not be required.

REQUIRED OR RECOMMENDED BY SOME PROGRAMS

BIOL 2030, Genetics (3 credits) Prerequisite: BIOL 2020

OR

BIOL 2210, Human Genetics (3 credits) Prerequisite: BIOL 1210

BIOL or CHEM 3510, Biochemistry I (3 credits) Prerequisite CHEM 2310

In order to take the proper math class, you must have ACT, SAT or math placement test scores, or successfully pass a prerequisite math course. Some students will need MATH 0980 and/or MATH 1010 before starting the Premed Math sequence.

REQUIRED BY MOST PROGRAMS

MATH 1050 CollegeAlgebra (4 credits) Prerequisite MATH 1010 or placement

MATH 1070 Statistics (3 credits) Prerequisite MATH 1010

Other statistics courses such as PSY 3000 or FCS 3210 can be substituted. Check with your major advisor.

University of Utah PA Program (UPAP) requires any 8 semester hours of Chemistry.  However, many schools have more specific requirements so the General Chemistry series will allow you the most options when applying to programs.

REQUIRED BY MOST PROGRAMS

CHEM 1210 General Chemistry I (4 credits) Prerequisite MATH 1050, or higher math placement

Lab CHEM 1215 (1 credit)

CHEM 1220 General Chemistry II (4 credits) Prerequisite CHEM 1210

Lab CHEM 1225 (1 credit)

CHEM 2310 Organic Chemistry I (4 credits) Prerequisite CHEM 1220

REQUIRED BY SOME PROGRAMS

BIOL 3510 or CHEM 3510,Biochemistry I (3 credits) Prerequisite, CHEM 2310

REQUIRED BY MOST PROGRAMS

Physics is not required by most programs

 

REQUIRED BY SOME PROGRAMS

1 year of Physics (possibly with labs) Students have 2 series to choose from:

Algebra and Trig based Physics

PHYS 2010 General Physics I (4 credits) Lab PHYS 2015 (1 credit) Prerequisite MATH 1060

PHYS 2020 General Physics II (4 credits) Lab PHYS 2025 (1 credit) Prerequisite PHYS 2010

OR

Calculus based Physics

PHYS 2010 Physics for Scientists and Engineers I (4 credits) Lab PHYS 2015 or 2215 (1 credit) Prerequisite MATH 1210

PHYS 2020 Physics for Scientists and Engineers I (4 credits) Lab PHYS 2025 or 2225 (1 credit) Prerequisite MATH 1220 and PHYS 2210

Non-Science Courses

REQUIRED BY MOST PROGRAMS

WRITING

2 semesters of English Composition courses

WRTG 1010 (3 credits)

WRTG 2010 (3 credits) Prerequisite WRTG 1010

CW course (3-4 credits) offered through the Writing or English department

REQUIRED BY MOST PROGRAMS

One Psychology course

REQUIRED OR RECOMMENDED BY SOME PROGRAMS

Any Sociology or Anthropology course

OPTIONAL PREPARATORY COURSES FOR MATH, CHEMISTRY AND PHYSICS

  • MATH 10 (non credit) Math Boot Camp for Intermediate Algebra, 1 week workshop offered the week before fall and spring semesters begin
  • MATH 15 (non credit) Math Boot Camp for Precalculus, 1 week review workshop offered the week before fall and spring semesters begin
  • CHEM 10 (non credit) Chemistry Boot Camp for General Chemistry, 5 hours per day 5 days per week for 2 weeks
  • CHEM 1200 (3 credits) Preparation for College Chemistry, Usually offered online. Check class schedule for more information
  • CHEM 1208 (1 credit) Introduction to the Periodic Table, Offered online between semesters for 2 weeks
  • CHEM 2308 (1 credit) Introduction to Organic Chemistry Offered online between semesters for 2 weeks.
  • PHYS 1500 (3 credits) Preparation for College Physics, Offered once a year. Check class schedule for more information

 

OPTIONAL COURSES FOR EXPLORING HEALTH PROFESSIONS

  • LEAP 1100 & 1101 (3 credits each) Health Professions LEAP
  • HEDU 2010 (3 credits) Introduction to Health Professions

Prepare for Letters of Recommendation

The number and types of letters varies, depending on each PA program so research schools early and know what you need. UPAP requires 3 letters, preferably from clinicians who have supervised you in clinical settings. Plan ahead! Get to know people from these categories so they can write excellent letters for you. Generally, you will need one letter from each of the following people.

  1. Patient Experience Supervisor
  2. Professor (usually Science)
  3. Physician Assistant you shadowed
  • Tell professors at the beginning of the semester that you would like them to keep an eye on your performance in class. It will give them a longer observational window.
  • Visit their offices regularly
  • At the end of the semester, if you do well, ask them if they would be willing to write you an excellent letter of recommendation when you are ready to apply.
  • A key to a good letter is the establishment of a relationship between student and professor based on shared academic interests.
    • Ask thoughtful questions
    • Delve deeper into concepts presented in lectures
    • Share your academic and career goals
    • Ask for recommendations for additional reading
    • Inquire about their areas of interest and research
  • After you have gotten to know professors, ask about further opportunities, e.g. teaching assistantships, individual research projects, etc.

Resources

Prehealth Planner Keep Track of your activities, and your research on medical schools.
downloadable summary  

personal statement guide

 
Last Updated: 8/30/18