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Is Physician Assistant School For Me?

What do Physician Assistants do?

Physician Assistants (PAs) are health professionals who are licensed to practice medicine with physician or surgeon supervision. Their responsibilities can also include administrative management services, education and research. Physician Assistants have been integral parts of medical teams since the mid 1960’s. Most physician assistant programs were created to help offset the shortage of doctors. PAs are trained to examine patients, diagnose injuries and illnesses, assist in surgeries, set fractures and provide treatment. They work in a variety of healthcare settings including hospitals, physician offices, education, public health agencies, research centers and government institutions. Their responsibilities depend on their practice setting, education, experience and state laws. PAs are required to be licensed to practice in every state. PAs can specialize in a field or work as generalists in primary care.

Most PAs have a bachelor’s degree. The vast majority of PA programs are Master’s level and require at least 2 years of prerequisite college coursework, similar to pre-med prerequisites, in addition to a minimum GPA and number of direct patient contact experience hours. Some PA programs require previous paid healthcare (i.e. direct patient contact) experience, while others recommend it strongly. PA programs that require healthcare experience are usually specific regarding the length of time and types of experiences they are looking for in applicants. In order to be considered competitive most applicants have a minimum of 1000 hours of relevant healthcare experience. Some PA programs accept international service hours while others prefer domestic healthcare experience. It is best to know the kinds of previous healthcare experience a program requires before you apply.

The general length of PA programs is roughly 2.5 years and includes supervised rounds of clinical rotations lasting between nine to fifteen months. PAs can also obtain post graduate residencies and further specialize in areas including, but not limited to, emergency medicine, neonatology and surgery by pursuing further education.

An online list of PA programs by state, including admissions deadlines, entrance requirements, credentials awarded, fees etc. can be found on the PAEA website and is available to students for a one-year subscription of $35. Otherwise students can also see a list of PA programs by state free of cost but this doesn’t include any admissions requirements or deadlines etc.

Here are some ways you can find out what Physician Assistants do:

  1. Research online resources through the Career Center’s Career Exploration Physician Assistant pages.
  2. Talk to physician assistant students, physician assistant faculty and physician assistant school representatives.
  3. Attend physician assistant school information days and campus tours.


Top 10 Tips for a Career as a Physician Assistant

  1. Major in the field which interests you the most, while showing strong academic ability in science.
  2. Explore the physician assistant field; be sure you know the positive and negative aspects of being a PA and the future of the PA profession. Field experience is a requirement for many PA programs.
  3. Pursue extra-curricular activities which interest you. Begin to develop a unique self that will make you attractive to the PA admissions committee. Leadership and communication skills are most important, particularly the ability to work with others of diverse interests and backgrounds. The ability to speak a foreign language is required or highly desired by most PA programs.
  4. Keep your grades as high as possible. An upward trend in grade performance will be noted, especially when you are trying to overcome a less than spectacular year.
  5. Be sure to start looking for people who can write your letters of recommendation. Be sure to choose those individuals who know you and your work well and who you have close relationships with, e.g. shared interest in academic and /or professional matters.
  6. Develop your sociocultural skills and ability to read, write and think professionally. Only part of being a PA is science. Highly developed interpersonal and communication skills are key to being a competitive applicant for a PA program.
  7. Pursue an academic interest in depth, e.g., research. Keep in mind that research need not be in a laboratory.
  8. Make the most of your experience at Berkeley. Make friends, get involved and keep alert of opportunities.
  9. There are many paths to becoming a physician assistant. People of different backgrounds, experiences and ages, etc. all get there.
  10. Lastly, be sure to talk to as many as people as possible about the PA profession (PAs, PA students, and PA school representatives) and keep current on PA issues from researching the PA profession.


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