Explore: Physician Assistant

What is a Physician Assistant?

Physician Assistants are health professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision.  PAs work everywhere, from remote rural settings to major urban centers, in doctors’ offices, hospitals, clinics, HMOs, the armed forces, and other federal government agencies.  Some of the many functions performed by PAs include:

  • Taking medical histories
  • Performing physical exams
  • Ordering laboratory tests
  • Diagnosing illnesses
  • Counseling patients
  • Assisting in surgery
  • Prescribing and/or dispensing medication

Most PAs work in primary care (family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and ob/gyn), but PAs can work in all specialties, including surgery, psychiatry, emergency medicine, and orthopedics. 

How Do I Become a PA?

Graduation from an accredited PA program makes candidates eligible to take the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) certifying examination. Those who pass the exam can use the title “Physician Assistant - Certified (PA-C).”


The typical PA program takes 2 years to complete. The first year is composed of classroom studies; during the second year, students perform clinical rotations. 

All PA programs award some sort of credential upon completion.

Admissions Requirements

Admissions requirements vary widely from school to school, but generally master’s degree and certificate-level PA programs expect a BA or BS with the following undergraduate curriculum:

Number Course UNH Course
1 year Anatomy and Physiology BMS 507-508 (preferred)

1 year

Biology with lab BIOL 411-412

1 year

Chemistry with lab CHEM 403-404

1 year

1 year Psychology/Sociology PSYC 401 and SOC 400 recommended
1-2 semesters Math (Statistics and College Level Algebra)  

Many programs also require one semester of organic chemistry, microbiology, biochemistry, and/or genetics.


An applicant’s undergraduate major is not a factor in admission, so students may complete these prerequisites as major requirements, general education requirements, or as electives.  Many PA programs expect applicants to have had significant direct patient contact experience.  Expectations range from 500 to 2,000 hours of experience. Experiences might include becoming trained as an LNA/CNA, EMT, phlebotomist, and medical assistant.  The typical applicant already has a bachelor's degree and approximately 4 years of health care experience. Students should consult the Physician Assistants Education Association website to research the specific requirements of the programs they are interested in and utilize the Program Directory.

Many PA programs require the GRE exam. The MCAT is not required. The central application service for the majority of PA programs is CASPA (www.caspaonline.org). Processing of applications usually begins in April with deadlines between October and February. Applicants are advised to apply early.

Further Information

The most current information on PA programs is available from the Physician Assistants Education Association (PAEA), the unifying professional association for PAs.

Contact the PAEA at:

300 N. Washington Street
Suite 505
Alexandria, VA 22314-2544
Phone: 703/548-5538
Fax: 703/548-5539
web: paeaonline.org
Email: info@PAEAonline.org

Additional Information

Sources: Most of the information on this page was taken from AAPA literature.