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Physicians Assistant Program

Updated on January 25, 2011

Physicians Assistant Program Objective

Each physicians assistant program approaches training in their own unique method with the ultimate goal to produce a physicians assistant graduate that is highly qualified and capable to perform the complex duties of this career field. A physicians assistant program graduate must be equipped to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination and ready to carry out physician assistant duties in a dependable and professional manner.

The objective facing a physicians assistant program is to develop a physicians assistant that is a medical health care professional licensed to practice medicine under a physician's supervision. A physicians assistant conducts physical exams, diagnose and treats illnesses and injuries. The physicians assistant orders and analyzes lab tests and x-rays, counsels patients on preventative health care and in most states a physicians assistant is authorized to write prescriptions.

Physicians Assistant Program Types

As stated earlier each physicians assistant program is unique in its approach to developing a student into becoming a physicians assistant. Part of reason for the uniqueness lies in the fact that the physicians assistant career field is vast and a physicians assistant can choose to specialize in several different areas. In response to this specialization a physicians assistant program may offer training tracts geared towards a specialist in a particular medical specialty or even to work in a particular type of environment or culture.

Physicians assistant programs have evolved extensively since the first one opened at the University of Duke in 1965 and now many offer specializations in a medical health care area such as emergency medicine, pediatrics, rural area primary care, or occupational medicine to name a few.

The second type of physicians assistant is referred to as a physicians assistant – C. The “C” stands for “Certification” and is a much more specialized physicians assistant. This type of physicians assistant has to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam to be certified by the National Commission on Certification of Physical Assistants. Maintaining the physicians assistant certification status requires 100 hours of additional medical training every 24 months and passing a recertification exam every six years.

Physicians Assistant Program Training

Physician assistant programs usually take at least 2 years to complete for full-time students with some running up to 3 years. Most programs are at schools of allied health, academic health centers, medical schools, or 4-year colleges; a few are at community colleges, are part of the military, or at hospitals. Many accredited physicians assistant programs have clinical teaching affiliations with medical schools.

There are 142 physicians assistant program schools that are accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physicians Assistant. One hundred and thirteen of these programs offer the option of a master's degree, 21 offer bachelor's degrees, 3 granst associate degrees, and 5 awards a certificate. As you can see over 80 percent of physicians assistant programs are of the master’s degree type.

The vast majority of applicants to physicians assistant program possesses a college degree as well as health-related work experience; however, admissions requirements vary from program to program as there is no cookie cutter approach to developing a quality physicians assistant. It is expected that any serious physicians assistant program applicant will have extensive hands-on experience in a medical field.

Physicians assistant education includes classroom and laboratory instruction in areas such as biochemistry, pathology, human anatomy, physiology, clinical pharmacology, clinical medicine, physical diagnosis, and medical ethics. A physicians assistant program will also include supervised clinical training in various areas, including medical and behavioral sciences, such as anatomy, microbiology, pharmacology, pathophysiology, hematology, pathology, clinical medicine, and physical diagnosis, followed by clinical rotations in internal medicine, family medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, oncology, emergency medicine, and geriatric medicine.

Physicians Assistant Program Prerequisites

As stated earlier physicians assistant program schools generally require applicants to have experience in medical fields preferably as a Registered Nurse (RN), Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or paramedic. Some schools mandate a minimum number of hours of health field work as well as completion of an RN, EMT or paramedic programs.  However each physicians assistant program is different and the number of hours and type of experience does vary widely.

A Graduate Record Exam (GRE) General Test is required for entrance in a physicians assistant program and must have been taken within the previous five years. No minimum GRE score is required but obviously the higher the score the more competitive the physicians assistant program applicant.

The following data was pulled from the University of Tennessee’s physicians assistant program website pertaining to prerequisites. It is not meant to be portrayed as a representation of all physicians assistant program schools requirements but rather an illustration of what one school requires for entrance into its physicians assistant program.

Physicians Assistant Program Admission Requirements

  1. Completion of a baccalaureate degree (Science, Nursing, Health Science recommended) from a regionally accredited college or university in the United States,prior to matriculation.
  2. Applicants are encouraged to obtain patient care experience, sufficient to recognize the physical and psychological demands of dealing with patients and to appreciate the challenges and rewards of being a health care professional. Health care experiences should provide the applicant with a knowledge and/or orientation to the signs and symptoms of a variety of ill or injured patients. Health care experiences will be evaluated on an individual basis, with an emphasis on direct patient care.
  3. Completion of all the pre-requisite coursework with a cumulative grade point average of 2.75 or higher on a 4.0 scale.
  4. Completion of the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). Our school code is 1310. The average GRE has been around 1000 with a 4.0 on analytical writing. Applicants with prior advanced graduate degrees are exempt from taking the GRE exam.
  5. Submit three letters of recommendation, one must be from a health care professional such as a Physician (MD or DO), Physician Assistant, or Nurse Practitioner.

Physicians Assistant Program Prerequisite Courses

ALL SCIENCES PREREQUISITES must have been completed WITHIN THE LAST 10 YEARS, regardless of year of graduation. For example, if you graduated in 1999 and apply for entering class in 2009, your required science coursework has to be from 1999, not before. NO EXCEPTION.


  1. Anatomy and Physiology I and II with lab: Sequence, minimum of 8 semester
  2. General Chemistry I and II with lab: Sequence, minimum of 8 semester hours
  3. Biology I and II with lab (Mammalian, Cell or Human Biology): Sequence, minimum of 8 semester hours
  4. English: Minimum of 6 semester hours
  5. Statistics, Algebra, Calculus, Finite Math, or other equivalent Advanced Mathematics: Minimum of 6 semester hours
  6. Humanities and/or Social Science: Minimum of 6 semester hours

Strongly suggested courses for the physicians assistant program include: Genetics, microbiology, immunology, organic chemistry, biochemistry, and other advanced biology or chemistry courses.

Selection for the Physicians Assistant program is very competitive. It is anticipated that the successful applicant will generally exceed the minimum criteria for consideration for admission.

Applications are reviewed relative to undergraduate cumulative and pre-requisite course GPAs, health care experience, letters of reference, and GRE scores. Personal interviews with the core Physician Assistant faculty, practicing physicians, and physician assistants from the community will be required for final admission and will be offered only to the most qualified individuals.

The following data was obtained from the University of Colorado physicians assistant program.

The University of Colorado Physicians Assistant Program had 621 applicants for the class starting summer 2010. Of those, 102 applicants were interviewed and 42 admitted for the incoming class.

Cognitive Statistics for Class of 2013

Average cumulative GPA 3.76

Average science GPA 3.73

GRE Verbal Scores 530

GRE Quantitative Scores 680

The following data if from the physicians assistant program at the University of Florida.

Cognitive Statistics for Class of Entering 2008

Average cumulative GPA 3.6

Average science GPA 3.5

GRE Verbal Scores 509

GRE Quantitative Scores 640

The entering physicians assistant program class in June 2008, at time of matriculation, had acquired 33 months (2.8 years) of clinical experience in a diverse array of health-related fields. The field most heavily represented was nursing/medical assistant.

Again the above illustrations are not meant to represent all physicians assistant program schools.

Physicians Assistant Program Cost

Costs to attend a physicians assistant program varies widely depending on the school you choose. Completion of a 24 month certified physicians assistant program can be found for less than $20,000 (not including housing) as well as programs that run upwards of $100,000. Numerous factors go into the cost such as in-state or out of state tuition, private versus public institution and the length of the physicians assistant program (16 or up to 37 months).

The following are the approximate tuition cost at some physicians assistant program schools across the United States. Prices listed do not include housing costs which depending upon the school’s area and cost of living can be a significant expense. These costs are a snapshot in time and are subject to be change. Cost figures do not include personal insurance (required since you will be working with patients), books, or instrument expenses. In-state figures pertain to students that are legal residents of the state where the physicians assistant school is located. If in-state and out of state fees are not listed then there is only one tuition fee.

Duke University (NC): 24 months (Master’s Degree), $59,000

Midwestern University (IL): 27 months (Master’s Degree), $77,000

Pacific University (OR): 27 months (Master’s Degree), $67,000

Stanford University (CA): 16 months (Certificate Program), in-state $35,000, out of state $44,000

University of Central Michigan: 24 months (Master’s Degree), in-state $17,000, out of state 27,000

University of Florida: 26 months (Master’s Degree), in-state $37,000, out of state $52,000

Wichita State University (KS): 26 months (Master’s Degree), $20,000 in-state, $51,000 out of state

Yale University (CT): 28 months (Master’s Degree), $72,000

Physicians Assistant Program Summary

There are 142 accredited physicians assistant program schools in the United States and each one approaches the development of their students differently. Selection of a physicians assistant program should not be done strictly on location or cost as different specialties are offered at different schools. A thorough search of the physicians assistant program you intend to apply at should be completed to ensure the school(s) offer the specific training you desire.


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    • medinformation profile image


      9 years ago

      Hey there AF CHIEF, very nice page. I think it's great there are over 140 PA schools across the U.S. which just shows how valuable this type of industry is. The tough part is choosing which school but once accepted, a bright future isn't far away.


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