Choosing Physician Assistant as a Career | General Statistics | Preparing for a Career as a Physician Assistant | The Admissions Process | Sample Undergraduate Program | Relevant Websites and Resources | Frequently Asked Questions |
Physician Assistants (PA) are licensed health professionals academically and clinically prepared to provide health care services with the direction and responsible supervision of a doctor of medicine (M.D.) or osteopathy (D.O.). PAs are capable of delivering a variety of health care services, including physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, prescribe medicine, assist in surgery, and counsel on preventive health care. However, it is important to note that the level of responsibility is based on experience and education by the individual, as well as state law.
PA Facts (1) PDF
PA Facts (2) PDF
PA Facts (3) PDF
Choosing Physician Assistant as a Career
The PA profession has only been in existence since the mid-1960s and is still considered a "new" profession. Because of the overwhelming shortage of health care providers (specifically, family practitioners) projected in the near future, PAs are being trained to provide health care services to diverse populations in rural, suburban and urban settings. In fact, it is consistently being projected that the PA profession will be one of the fastest-growing occupations in the next decade, growing by 39%(Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS).
There are many reasons students choose physician assistant as a career:
- Excellent income: according to the BLS, the median annual income for full-time clinically practicing Physician Assistants in 2010 was $90,000.
- Satisfying professional career: increased flexibility; most PAs work in physicians' offices, clinics, and hospitals
- Career outlook is good: one of the fastest-growing occupations of the decade.
- Fewer years of education: PA programs are currently transitioning to the master's level and are on average 27 months of post-baccalaureate training in an accredited PA program
- Predominantly female: the proportion of enrollees who are female continues to rise, a continuous trend over the past decade
- Essential partners in America's health care workforce: with a shortage in health care providers, health care services are being provided by physicians, PAs and other providers in a teamwork effort
- Anticipated additional responsibilities: medical professionals are anticipating future opportunities for PAs, such as clinical trial researchers, educators of PAs, business partners or practice co-owners, epidemiologists, health care advisors, PA executives or administrators, or public health directors
To date, there are currently 83,000 practicing physician assistants (PAs). Many PAs work in the primary care fields, such as family/general practice medicine, general internal medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, and general pediatrics. Others work in general surgery or a surgical subspecialty. Physician assistants work in a variety of career settings. The majority work for physician offices, hospitals or clinics. Others work in extended care facilities, correctional facilities, or with Health Maintenance Organizations.
There are 139 accredited U.S. physician assistant programs (Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, ARC-PA) that graduate 4,600 individuals annually. The average number of seats for each program is between 45-50, with an average length of 27 months. PA programs have transitioned from the associates' level, to the bachelor's level, and now are at the master's level. Currently, over 90 PA programs award master's degrees or provide a graduate degree option. Ohio currently has five PA programs awarding the master's degree: Kettering College of Medical Arts, University of Toledo, Marietta College, University of Findlay, and Cuyahoga College/Cleveland State University. Admission statistics for PA programs can be found at the following links:
For more information on physician assistant program admission statistics, please visit the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) at www.PAEAonline.org.
Preparing for a Career as a Physician Assistant
Does it matter what you major in if you want to pursue physician assistant programs? While the answer is "no", all students applying to graduate-level PA programs must earn a bachelor's degree and have previous health care experience before matriculation. Many applicants bring health care experience from previous careers, such as emergency medical technician, nursing or nurse's aid, x-ray technician, physical therapist, or respiratory therapist. Many pre-PA students at WSU major in biology, exercise science or nursing. Physician assistant admission committees do not look for a particular undergraduate major as long as the applicants have successfully completed the required courses and demonstrated a strong academic ability (a minimum overall GPA of 3.00 is often required; however, a competitive applicant will have an overall GPA greater than 3.4).
Acceptance to a PA program is competitive, with approximately 2.25 applicants for each PA program seat. Over 70% of all PA programs require an application be submitted through the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA). Admission requirements to PA programs vary by school. However, the majority of PA programs require courses in:
- General and organic chemistry with labs
- Human anatomy & physiology
- General biology with labs
- Human growth and development
- Courses in mathematics, English and social sciences
Following graduation from an accredited PA program, individuals must pass a national certifying examination developed by the independent National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (PANCE) in cooperation with the National Board of Medical Examiners. In addition, licensed PAs must complete 100 hours of continuing medical education every 2 years and pass a recertification exam every 6 years. PAs must be licensed by the state in which they practice.
The Admissions Process
Factors Evaluated by Admission Committees:
- Academic Record: the single most important factor in admissions decisions. Committees will evaluate cumulative GPA as well as science GPA, courses completed, academic rigor, and trends in performance. Employment and extracurricular activity participation are taken into consideration.
- Health Care Experience: applicants must demonstrate a solid understanding of the profession and patient care by completing significant hours of health-related experience.
- Graduate Record Exam (GRE): required by many, but not all, PA programs
- Letters of Recommendation: evaluations from teachers, employers, etc.
Sample Undergraduate Program
Relevant Websites and Resources
- Physician Assistant Education Association: www.PAEAonline.org
- American Academy of Physician Assistants: www.aapa.org
- Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA): www.caspaonline.org
- U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics: www.bls.gov/oco
- www.ExploreHealthCareers.org Sponsored by the American Dental Education Association, it provides about all health-related occupations.
- Health Professions Admissions Guide: Strategy for Success. National Association of Advisor for the Health Professions, Inc. (NAAHP)
Frequently Asked Questions
When should I apply to physician assistant programs?
Many PA programs (over 70%) require applicants to apply through the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA). Applications submitted through CASPA must be submitted no later than October 1 (some schools allow November 1st for their application deadline) of the preceding year. If you are applying to a school that does not use the CASPA application service, it is important that you become familiar with the application process and deadlines for that school. For more information or assistance, please see the Pre-Health Advisor.
How do I go about applying to physician assistant programs?
It is important to be familiar with each individual PA program's admission process. Most schools will require an application be completed through CASPA which can be found online at www.caspaonline.org
Do you have to take the GRE?
Some PA programs, but not all, require an applicant to submit a GRE score. For information on when and where you can take the GRE, visit the website www.ets.org or call 1-800-473-2255.
How many letters of evaluation are required for physician assistant programs?
Most schools require 2 letters of recommendation for each applicant; however, programs may differ and it is important for a student to be familiar with the program requirements they wish to apply to. Letters of recommendation can be from professors, health care supervisors/employers, pre-health advisors, or other individuals that can evaluate the overall character of an applicant (letters from friends and family members are not allowed). Letters can be directly attached to the CASPA application or sent directly to the school.
Is an applicant interviewed?
Many schools will invite competitive applicants for an interview and facility tour. It is during the interview that the admissions committee gains an understanding of an applicants overall character and interpersonal skills. For assistance in interviewing, contact Career Services or see the Pre-Health Advisor.
What types of extracurricular activities and work experience should I have in order to be a competitive applicant?
- Extracurricular activities that can demonstrate your ability to work in a team setting, such as athletics, charity organizations, student volunteer groups, etc.
- Significant exposure in health-related settings, such as an EMT, nurse's aid, nurse, x-ray technician, or respiratory therapist.
When will I find out if I am accepted into a physician assistant program?
Often, competitive applicants are invited for an interview and asked to complete a supplementary application. After the interview is complete, the admissions committee reviews the list of applicants and will either make an acceptance offer (by phone or through written communication), place the applicant on a waiting list, or deny the applicant admission. Some schools accept using a "rolling admission" procedure, while others wait until all applicants are reviewed before offering any acceptances.
Does Wright State have a student organization for students interested in a career as a physician assistant?
Students interested in pursuing a career as a physician assistant should join the WSU Premedical Society. This organization will provide mentoring, educational speakers, volunteer and community service, and social activities. Students should also participate in Pre-Health Seminars and activities throughout the year. If you are interested in getting involved, please contact the Premedical Society President or the Pre-Health Advisor.