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What is Pre-PA?

A “pre-physician’s assistant” means you are working towards applying to participate in a Physician Assistant Program. Physician Assistant programs are 2-3-year programs that are done once you have completed a bachelor’s degree to become a Physician’s Assistant or Physician’s Associate (PA).

Entry into these programs is not easy, so you need to work and study as a pre-physician’s assistant to be considered for a PA program. It is essential that you differentiate yourself from other applicants by gaining appropriate skills, from basic first aid to phlebotomy, and taking courses that will enhance your academic credentials.

What Is a Physician’s Assistant?

A Physician Assistant (PA) practices medicine under the supervision of a physician or a surgeon. More often than not, they are the primary health care provider and are formally trained to provide general healthcare services.

PAs provide diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventative medical care. They record notes, carry out therapy, instruct and counsel patients, prescribe certain medications, and even perform minor surgeries.

Although PAs are trained as generalist healthcare providers, they often specialize in specific areas like dermatology, orthopedics, cardiology, and emergency medicine. Physician assistants sometimes have administrative duties as well as ordering supplies and equipment or supervising other staff.

How Do You Become a Physician’s Assistant?

You need to obtain a bachelor’s degree, and your choice of subjects should be appropriate to the medical field. A pre-physician’s assistant is not a major. Students should select a major in an area of specific interest to them, preferably in the natural sciences. Most medical schools choose applicants with a strong foundation in the natural sciences.

Coursework Generally Required by Many PA Schools*        

  • One Year General Biology- BIOL 150/L, BIOL 151/L
  • One Year General Chemistry- CHEM 121/L, CHEM 122/L
  • One Semester Organic Chemistry- CHEM 341/L
  • One Year English- ENGL 120 and Upper-Division Writing Course (ENGL 324)
  • One Semester Calculus- MATH 146
  • Social and Behavioral Sciences – PSYC 111, SOC 110

* Check for any additional requirements from the school to which you are applying.

Recommended courses:

  • Statistics- STAT 330
  • Biochemistry – BIOC 460
  • General Physics- PHYS 211/L, PHYS 212/L
  • Genetics – BIOL/ZOO/BOT/PLSC 315/L
  • Human Anatomy & Physiology- BIOL 220/L, BIOL 221/L
  • Cell Biology- ZOO 370
  • Microbiology- MICR 350
  • Animal Physiology- ZOO 460
  • Immunology- MICR 460
  • Developmental Psychology – PSYC 250
  • Medical Terminology – PHRM 125/ VETS 115

In addition to a bachelor’s degree, medical schools will have various criteria when considering applicants for their PA programs, but they will include the following:

The combined time for the pre-physician’s assistant and the physician assistant program can be anything between four and six years.

Central Application Service to Physician Assistants (CASPA) makes applying for physician assistant’s programs simple. There is a list of participating programs on their website.

Medical schools require applicants to have some direct patient care experience like taking vital signs, administering medication, charting, drawing blood, and tending to wounds, and the like. The best way of doing this is to volunteer at your local clinic or hospital. By doing so, you are increasing your chances of being selected for PA school.

An excellent stepping stone that will put you streaks ahead is the Postbaccalaureate Pre-PA Certificate (PPA) program at Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) in Claremont, CA. This program is specifically designed to give PA applicants a competitive advantage with a comprehensive academic program and extra-curricular activities and work experience.