Applying to Physician Assistant Programs
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Physician assistant (PA) programs in the United States are located at medical schools and centers, hospitals, two- and four-year colleges and universities, and in the uniformed forces. The programs consist of intensive classroom and laboratory study, as well as clinical practice.
Most programs require health care experience prior to admission. Programs offering bachelor's degrees typically require a minimum of two years' college credit. Master's-level programs typically require either a bachelor's degree or appropriate undergraduate credit, with a minimum GPA. While a college degree is not always required, required college-level courses include basic sciences; math; English/writing; some specialized science courses, such as anatomy/physiology, microbiology, physics; computer sciences; and medical terminology.
PA education is similar to that for medical students, although shorter in duration (medical school education averages 155 weeks; PA education averages 115 weeks). Most accredited programs are, on average, 26.9 months long. A few programs offer part-time education so that students who are changing careers can attend classes and continue to work. PA programs require students to complete 9 to 12 months of classroom studies, followed by 9 to 15 months of supervised clinical rotations.
Completing the Application Process
Prospective students are advised to apply to several programs since each program has a limited number of positions available, and selection criteria and patterns may vary from year to year according to the individual institution's philosophy. Applicants should plan carefully to ensure that their previous education and employment experiences enhance their chances for admission.
Application policies, procedures, and deadlines vary considerably from program to program. The application process depends upon whether the program subscribes to the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA). Students must apply through CASPA for those programs that subscribe; programs that do not subscribe to CASPA post applications on their own websites. In both cases, applicants should be guided by programs' published application deadlines and complete the application process early. Applicants should be prepared to furnish information on their academic backgrounds, employment experience, plans to finance their education, and reasons for choosing the PA profession. Additionally, some admissions committees may be interested in knowing why applicants have chosen their particular programs.
Programs with Pre-Professional Phase
Some physician assistant (PA) programs offer a pre-professional phase (also called an undergraduate or pre-PA program) prior to the professional (or graduate) phase of their PA programs. Programs with a pre-professional phase are intended for (1) recent high school graduates and/or (2) students who have some college credit, but not a degree. Click here for a list of the PA programs by state that offer both a pre-professional and a professional phase.
The Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA)
In 2001, the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) launched the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA). In 2011, 140 of the 159 accredited PA programs had elected to participate in this service. Applying to programs through CASPA allows applicants to complete one online application and designate multiple programs to receive it. CASPA first verifies the materials for authenticity. A web portal allows applicants to track the progress of their online applications and to update their contact information and program designations. For more information, or to apply through this web-based service, please go to the CASPA website at http://www.caspaonline.org/.
Most programs have an admissions committee, composed of faculty, staff, and often program graduates, who review the applications in depth following a preliminary screening or transmission from CASPA. Applicants' references, personal remarks, understanding of the PA role, patient care experience, and college entrance examination test scores receive major consideration from most admissions committees.
PA Programs Directory
The PA Programs Directory is the best available guide to PA programs for prospective PA students. It provides detailed information on tuition, curriculum, degrees awarded, entrance requirements, and much more for each of the accredited programs in the country.