PAs are medical professionals who dedicate thousands of hours in medical training and practices to diagnose illnesses and develop treatment plans for patients. This includes taking the patient's medical histories, ordering labs, prescribing medications, and performing physical examinations. PAs have to be collaborative as they practice in every medical setting to improve healthcare quality under the supervision of a licensed physician.
How do I become a PA?
First, you must acquire a bachelor's degree and completion of the pre-requisite courses in basic and behavioral sciences and completion of direct patient care experiences. Next, you will have to earn a master's degree from a PA graduate program that is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). Depending on the school, entrance exams are required for the program. During the program, students will participate in clinical training in one or more areas of medication which usually takes two years. To require a professional license, students must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) which is administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).
General Academic Prerequisites
When it comes to the academic prerequisites, keep in mind that there is a fair amount of differences from program to program. Pay attention to the program's website and what they require from you. Ask yourself these questions when researching PA graduate programs:
Do they require the prerequisites to be taken within a few years? For example, some programs require the courses to be completed no more than 5-10 years prior.
Do they require certain grades for the prerequisite courses?
Do they require labs with the prerequisite courses?
Do they require direct patient care experience? Example of this includes working as a nurse, EMT, medical assistant, CNA, etc.
Do they require an entrance exam?
Do they require an undergraduate degree in science or biological science? (Some programs may not require this as they prefer diverse and well-rounded students)
The majority of PA programs requires the following prerequisites:
One semester of Anatomy with a lab included
One semester of Physiology with lab included
If you have taken anatomy + physiology together, PA programs will most likely ask for two semesters of these sequences, along with the lab.
Biology (depending on the school, they might require both Biology 1 and 2) with lab
Chemistry (Again, depending on the school, they might require both general chemistry 1 & 2) with lab
Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry. (Lab requirement will vary with schools)
Microbiology with lab
Genetics (Check with the school to see if they require a lab)
Be mindful of uncommon requirements. For example, some programs may require other courses such as developmental psychology, abnormal psychology, medical terminology, ethics, etc.
Where can I take my prerequisites?
You can take your prerequisites at any accredited institution such as community colleges, four-year colleges, and even accredited online programs. Keep in mind though as for lab prerequisites, some PA programs will not accept this to be completed through an online course.
Also, remind yourself that if you end up taking these prerequisites courses in a community college, it does not make you any less competitive. Make sure you understand the registration policies and if the PA program accepts them.
GPA and CASPA
When applying, the majority of the PA graduate program requires students to apply through CASPA. CASPA recalculates every single class you have taken, including retakes. Applicants must report every class they have ever taken at any college/university to CASPA. CASPA calculates both a cumulative and science GPA. These are the main ones that you should worry about it when it comes to the application.
**CASPA does not take the average from a class and its retake. It only includes both the original and retake but it does not average it out.
Here's a helpful CASPA GPA Calculator!
Most PA programs will require a GPA of 3.0, with a few programs that accept 2.75 and higher. If your GPA is below 3.0, it will limit your options. If possible, try to focus on your GPA and improve it to become a better competitive candidate.
It's important to organize what classes you would like to re-take or take to improve your GPA. You must consider the time and how much it will cost you. Consider whether you would be better off spending that time and money on improving your GPA or if it would be better to focus on other aspects of your application.
Here is some few GPA repair calculator you can try to help you gauge the scenario!
GRE and other Exams
You have to look at the admission requirements to see if they require the GRE or not. Some programs may have a minimum score or no minimum score. Some programs may require the score to be higher than a certain percentile.
This is a general test that is required for many Master's programs, so it's not necessarily a knowledge test for a specific program. This program is a breakdown of quantitative and qualitative question that shows basic skills and test-taking strategy.
Consider checking the admission requirement as some programs may accept the MCAT score in place of the GRE. If you have taken the MCAT and would like to submit your scores consider programs that are aimed towards MD-to-PA switchers. Other than that, don't take the MCAT unless if you're not considering an MD program.
It is now a standardized test created for PA school applicants. As of now, the big questions, for now, is if correlate with an applicant's success during PA school. Since it's new, not every single school will add this as a requirement (Again, please check the program's admission requirement). Many programs still consider this test to be in the testing phase so don't stress too much about this exam.
This test is often required for non-native English speakers. Some programs may require while other programs can exempt you from this if you completed a bachelor's degree in the US.
Make sure you organize admission requirements for your desired program.
Give yourself plenty of time to prepare as taking a standardized test is different.
Once you know what exams are required from your chosen program, get an idea about the style of the test, and familiarize yourself with it to answer the questions easier.
Take practice exams to better prepare yourself! There are multiple study guides available online.
Get a study buddy! Studying with someone can help you remember the topics and it would help reinforce a study schedule.
PA vs MD vs NP
Let's talk about the key difference between pursuing these different degrees.
PA vs MD vs NP: Admission Requirement
Extensive Clinical Experience (Average 2,000 hours of direct-care experience)
3.47 Science GPA Average; 3.5 Overall Average GPA
Many PA programs believe that your healthcare experience is key to success as it helps prepare you for the program.
GRE Average 310
MCAT is optional
Less Extensive Clinical Experience
Rigorous academic standards
3.6 Science GPA Average; 3.78 Overall Average GPA
MCAT is Required with a minimum score of at least 508
Clinical experience must be through nursing
Must have an active RN licenses
Must have a B.S. in Nursing
Minimum GPA requirement is 3.0
PA vs MD vs NP: Education
2 - 3 year program and specialty clinical rotation
Residency: Optional 1-2 Years
Master's Degree PA-C Awarded
100 education hours every 2 years
Recertification exam every 10 years
4 year medical school
Residency: 3-8 years
Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine awarded
50 education hours every year
ABMS Certification recommended
2 year program enrollment
Residency: Option 1- 2 years
Master's Degree awarded and it can transition to Doctorate
1000 professional hours
12 CE credits per year
Exam every 5 years
PA vs MD vs NP: School Cost
Average cost ranges from $70,000 - $90,000
Average cost ranges from $200,000 to $300,000
It seems as if the average varies for school, especially if it's online.
In-State averages around $18,000 or more
Private averages around $45,000
Online averages around $22,500
PA vs MD vs NP: Responsibility
Collaborative work with a Physician
MD is liable for PA's decision
Generalized education so PAs have the ability to switch specialties if they wish
Can perform medical examinations, create treatment plans, issue prescription, order and interpret labs, assist in surgery, patient counseling, and imaging.
Functions under their own license
They can have their own individual practices
Can diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries, update patient's information to show current findings and treatments, order diagnostic tests for other healthcare staff to perform, review diagnostic tests, recommend and design treatment plan, address questions that patients have, discuss proper lifestyles with patients, take patient's medical history, and prescribe medical prescription without "collaborative agreements".
They can work independently without physician oversight (Varies in states)
Much more interested in specialized practices
Changing specialty requires additional training and certification requirements
Can order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests, diagnose and treat conditions, prescribe medication, counseling, education on prevention and healthy life styles, manage patients records and charts.
PA vs MD vs NP: Base Salary in the U.S and Job Outlook
Remember that when reviewing the salary, this can change depending on the work environment, experience, specialty and location. This information is from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Please feel free to click on the position title for more information.
Salary Average: $112, 260
Job Outlook 2019-2029: +31%
Salary Average: $208,000
Job Outlook 2019-2029: +4%
Salary Average $109, 820
Job Outlook 2019 - 2029: +52%
For More Information about PA vs MD vs NP and Reference
What counts as experience?
According to CASPA, they have several different ways to determine the type of experience somebody has earned.
Patient Care Experience (PCE)
This is direct patient care experience in which you are responsible for prescribing medication, performing medical procedures, directing a course of treatment, and working on patients. This is the most important type of experience that PA programs look for and it is the only type that is required by most programs.
How do I qualify for PCE?
Provide patient care
What are some good examples of PCE?
Most programs accept EMT, paramedic, combat Medic, RN, BSN, LPN, EEG tech, EFK tech, emergency room technician, physical therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapy aide, CNA, MA, respiratory therapist, phlebotomist, and much more!
Do schools accept medical scribe as PCE?
Depending on the program as it provides medical exposure but it is not always a hands-on experience so please look into the FAQs of your desired program and see if they accept scribing experience.
Healthcare Experience (HCE)
If you work in a health-related field but you're not directly responsible for patient care then CASPA might consider this experience as HCE. It's a valuable experience but it is not direct patient care.
What are some examples of HCE?
This includes both paid and unpaid work in a health-related field but you're not directly responsible for patient care. You may perform patient interaction such as taking vitals, record keeping, administering food or medication, and performing clerical work and it will count towards your HCE hours.
Here are some amazing resources on how to construct your personal statement!
CASPA or the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants is an application service for graduate-level PA programs.
You don't have to wait until the cycle you apply to open up your CASPA account, you can make an account to get familiar with it right now!
Research programs you wish to apply to. Pay special attention to:
Ask your schools to send you the official transcripts you'll need to enter your coursework.
Begin contacting potential evaluators to confirm their participation.
Begin drafting your personal essay.
Review the instructions in this Help Center and the PAEA CASPA Policy Regarding Investigations and Violations.
Complete the Colleges Attended section.
Complete the Evaluations section.
Ask your schools to send official transcripts directly to CASPA. If there are any holds on your account at a school, resolve them now to avoid delays in sending transcripts.
Begin entering coursework into your application.
Check in with your evaluators to confirm that they received the evaluation request via email.
13. Continue monitoring your application until your status is Verified.
14. Download a copy of your application for your records.
How to Prepare for Interviews
Getting a PA interview is one of the most hardest things during the PA school journey. You nerves and anxiety can accumulate during the waiting process prior to the interview date. Here are some helpful tips for you to prepare during the wait time before your interview date.
Make a list about your unique qualities and characteristics you want them to know.
Describing yourself at the moment of any interview can be difficult.
It's better to prepare ahead of time in order for you to practice and write down more qualities about yourself.
Practice practice and practice!
It is important to practice your interviewing skills especially if you are applying to get into PA school.
You can practice in front of the mirror, with your friends or families and doing a mock interview sessions with a PA mentor.
Practicing is the key in order to answer these interview questions as quick and precisely as possible.
Also, do not cuss during these interviews!
We've heard stories about applicants who got rejection letters due to the fact they cussed during the interview while becoming a very competitive applicant. Be very careful!
Do research on the schools you are applying to:
Knowing the PA program mission statement and mentioning it during your interview shows these schools you are interested on attending their program.
PA schools love to see applicants doing their research prior on attending the interview. It shows them you are well prepared and have knowledge of the programs history
Be aware at the fact if you are applying to PA schools that are not local schools, it can be expensive.
Flights, booking hotels, tolls and gas can be expensive depending how many schools you are applying to.
Save up a good amount of money to give yourself an opportunity to attend all of the interviews.