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Considering a career as a Physician Assistant?


Please start here with some general information about PAs from the AAPA & Student Association of AAPA.

Applying to PA programs

**Pearls of wisdom from a current PA Admissions Committee faculty member:

  • Work with or at least shadow a PA and see what a PA does, not a FP or an NP (unless you are applying to a dual program like Stanford, Davis or North Dakota).
  • Know what issues (international, national, state and local) impact PAs.
  • Know something about the PA scope of practice.
  • Know some history about the profession you want to enter.
  • Know about the program for goodness sake!
  • Don't bring up something totally controversial, because you have no idea what the members of the ADCOM may think about the topic-right or wrong.
  • If you had a rough time academically, be prepared to show how you have turned things around to prove you are not an "academic risk."
  • After Get into the PA school of your choice came out, some ADCOMs tended to change their approach during the interview to let applicants give the practiced answers, then pick the answers apart to get to know what the real deal was...
  • Know how you plan to deal with not working, stress on the spouse, family or significant other.
  • Showing up with a budget has always impressed ADCOMs I have been on. Showing how you plan to deal with tuition, lessening the chances that you will work and showing that the applicant has thought this out.
  • Know what scholarships are available for PA students.
  • When talking to students about their program, talk to as many as possible to get the big picture.
  • It is bad form to slam other health professionals, especially when representatives of the profession slammed may be on the ADCOM.eek.gif
  • Join the various professional organizations if possible.

-LESH (PA Educator & forum member)


Frequently Asked Questions:



1. Shadowing:

  • Clothes - comfortable dress slacks, long sleeve shirt, tie, comfortable shoes.
  • Bring your own stethoscope, but don't wear it around your neck unless the situation calls for it.
  • Is this an MD in trauma or a on the floor at a trauma center? If it's in trauma during a code, find a corner to watch from where no one is near you. Non emergencies, you can get in a little closer
  • Don't speak around the patients unless you're spoken to. Write down questions for when you're alone with the MD.
  • Have you gone thru HIPPA yet? Here is a website where you can take an online course, exam, and you will be given a certificate that you can use to demonstrate that you have had HIPPA training: HIPPA training
  • When you're with a pt, position yourself in the room so you're facing the MD as he/she addresses the pt. Patients don't particularly like it when this "weird other guy" is just standing there staring at them like a monkey in a cage.
  • Show up with a list of questions or things you'd like to learn while you're there for the day/week
  • And don't act too serious, lighten up, have fun!

2. Recommendation letters:

  • Book: Getting Into The PA School of Your Choice- great section on recommendation letters.
  • Your Letters of Recommendation should come from people who know you well and know exactly what you have been doing to prepare for PA school & your future profession. They should be able to positively elaborate on your strengths, skills, and abilites and why you would be a succesful PA student and healthcare professional.
  • Give your references a copy of your personal statement and resume. This will help them gain important information about you and write the best recommendation possible.

3. Are my stats good enough?:

4. Certificate/Bachelors/Masters..which one is best?:


The truth is at this time there is not a "best" degree when it comes to obtaining your PA licensure. Instead focus on which PA programs would be a good fit for you & vice versa. You need to research PA programs and seriously consider your particular needs and circumstances. There are many factors for you to consider but remember that whether you obtain a certificate, bachelors, or masters degree in PA school..you still need to PASS the PANCE! What matters is that you graduate from an accredited program, pass the PANCE, and apply for and receive licensure from the state you want to practice in. There are many threads here discussing this topic with various opinions. Here are some threads on this topic:

5. What's the best healthcare experience?:


This is probably one of the most common questions asked here at The PA Forum. We can't really recommend the "best" experience since you will get a subjective answer depending on who you ask. There are some general considerations to think about though as you make this decision.

  • Do I need any special training before I gain healthcare experience? You will if you decide to become a EMT (Basic/Intermediate/Paramedic), RT, LVN, RN or MA for example.
  • As a PA you will have the opportunity to care for patients from every walk of life. Consider gaining experience that will allow you to work with a diverse patient population of all ages.
  • Ask the PA programs you are applying to what they consider to be valuable healthcare experience prior to PA training?
  • Check out a recent poll here: POLL: Your pre-PA patient care experience

6. EMT training..should I sign up?:


Please see this helpful thread sticky located in the 'Emergency Medicine' forum..basic emt training. a good intro to health care



7. Which PA program is best for me?:


This is a tough question, and the answer may be different for different people.


I would keep in mind a few things when deciding on a PA program:


A) Where is the program located? People who feel it would be important to be in a particular area (where their partner or spouse has a job or job offer, where they would have family or friends around, or in an area where they would like to live and work someday) should start off by listing all the PA programs in the area where they would like to live. Those who aren't tied to a particular location may find the competition to be less fierce in areas with a significant medically-underserved population. (Go west, young man.)


B) What kind of applicant is the program looking for? Your ability to be accepted may well hinge on the answer to this question. Some programs are looking for people who are wanting to live and work in their state or area, or who are looking at working in a particular specialty or a rural or urban area. Some programs are part of schools with a religious mission statement. Check to make sure you're the type of person they're looking for.


C) What kind of program are you looking for? Are you wanting an ivy league school or one with a particular reputation? Do you prefer a small classroom size or a program with lots of surgical emphasis, a humanitarian focus, or a long history? Some allow you to do the academic part of the curriculum part-time over two years, others require every moment of your time (and then some).


D) How do they treat their students? Some programs seem to weed out the students who can't make it along the way. Some programs will put in an amazing amount of money and energy into making sure that every student they accept will succeed and become a PA. Some programs are part of a larger medical school, and the PA students share resources with (and get low priority left-overs from) a medical school. Check into it before you apply.


E) How well do they prepare you for the national certifying exam? Ask them what their first-time PANCE pass rate has been the past couple of years. This is information they know, and should be willing to pass on to you. Most good schools have a first-time pass rate of 95% or more, and an overall pass rate of 100%.


F) What kind of degree does the program offer? This may be less important than you think. (All PA programs have to live up to the same quality education standards; the education you get at a Master's program is not dramatically better than the education you get at a certificate or Associate's or Bachelor's program.) However, a Master's program may require that you already have a Bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited university and a good GRE score. And to some people (like someone who already has two Bachelor's degrees, and doesn't want to go back for a third one -- or to someone who is interested in going into teaching) the actual degree may be important. And the degree given may reflect itself in the cost of the program.


G) What does the clinical year look like? Who sets up the rotations? Some schools have 9 months of 4-week rotations, some have 12 months of 6-week rotations, some have a mixture. At some schools, the students have to set up their own rotations (this can be a royal pain), and at some schools you're not allowed to set up any of your own rotations (this can also be disappointing). Do you have a special interest in a subspecialty? If so, do they allow you to spend some of your clinical time in that specialty? Check it out. The clinical year is one of the most variable between programs.


For all these things, I recommend you take the time to call the admissions counselor of the program(s) you are interested in. They can give you very good advice, and let you know what they are looking for and expecting. Also, visit the program(s) you are interested in, whenever possible. They might allow you to sit in on classes for a day, and let you spend time talking with their current students, who can help you answer a lot of these questions.


Good luck at picking out a PA school! Hang in there, and enjoy the journey of reaching for your dream of being a PA! -TimErick


8. Pre-requisites...Community college v. university courses:


The ONLY way to make sure that the courses you take will be acceptable to the PA programs you are applying to is to verify with the respective programs. Do not rely on the advice of anyone outside of the program's admission staff. Policy changes do occur at these programs so you need to make sure you have the most up to date information. Call them up and get the answer straight from the source!


This site from the AAPA webpage will guide you to the accredited PA programs in the US. You will also see information about CASPA (Central Application Service for Physician Assistants) and how to get access to the On-line Physician Assistant Programs Directory.



9. Does the name & reputation of the PA program matter?:


Most of the time, employers don't ask which school that you graduated from, most importantly, that you are Certified. The most important aspects of the program's reputation are: 1) is it accredited, and 2) what is the pass rate on the NCCPA certifying exam?



10. How many PA programs should I apply to?:


As many as you'd like. Remember though, that there are applications fees, and if you are granted interviews, then you will need to provide transportation, and other expenses for those days, which can become costly, depending on where you have applied and how far you have to travel.


11. How do I prepare for interviews?:

12. What should I wear to interviews?:

13. Reading suggestions before PA school?:

14. Can I work while in PA school?:


It can be done, but PA school is very intense. Here is a poll/thread which you might find helpful:

15. PA vs. NP vs. MD?:

16. List of part time (2 yrs of classwork in 3 yrs) programs:

According to the Physician Assistant Education Association website there are 7 schools which offer a part time option.


1. University of Maryland Eastern Shore (Maryland)

2. University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (New Jersey)

3. D’Youville College (New York)

4. Daemen College (New York)

5. Drexel University Hahnemann (Pennsylvania)

6. University of Washington (Washington)

7. University of Wisconsin-Madison (Wisconsin)


selected schools medical experience requirements:



The Pre-PA FAQ is a work in progress and the moderators will be adding more helpful information in the near future. Thank you.

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