Physician Assistant

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There are many pieces to the PA school application, including your GPA, GRE score, personal statement, list of experiences, letters of recommendation, and biographical information. Use the navigation below to explore each aspect of preparing for physician assistant programs.

The Basics

  • What is a PA?
  • Physician assistants (commonly known as PAs) provide health care under the supervision of a physician.

    The scope of practice for PAs varies state to state, but in general a PA can take medical histories, examine patients, order and interpret laboratory tests and x-rays, and make diagnoses. They also treat minor injuries by suturing, splinting, and casting. PAs may also prescribe medications under the supervision of a physician. PAs specializing in surgery can provide pre- and post-operative care and may work as first or second assistants during major surgery.

    PA’s obtain a master’s degree in Physician Assistant Studies.

    See the AAPA's "What is a PA?" to learn more about this profession.
  • Becoming a PA
  • Obtain undergraduate degree and complete all pre-PA requirements, including prerequisites, the GRE, and experiences (4 years)

    Attend an accredited PA program (2-3 years)

    Pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) to become certified

    Optional: Complete a fellowship (length varies)

    Become licensed by the state in which you want to practice

    Maintain certification 

    PAs can work in any specialty in medicine, including surgery, emergency medicine, oncology, and more. Many PAs will switch from one specialty to another over the course of their careers. 
  • Physician Assistant School Prerequisites
  • PA School Prerequisites Courses to take at UC Davis
    Most schools require:  
    General Biology with Lab BIS 2ABC
    General Chemistry with Lab CHE 2ABC
    Human Physiology NPB 101/NPB 101L  OR NPB 110C/NPB 101L 
    Human Anatomy EXB 106/106L  OR CHA 101/101L
    Microbiology MIC 102/103L
    Statistics STA 13 OR STA 100
    General Psychology PSC 1
    Some schools require:  
    Organic Chemistry CHE 8AB OR CHE 118 ABC
    Genetics BIS 101
    Biochemistry BIS 102 & 103 OR BIS 105
    Nutrition NUT 10 & 11**
    Math College-level math course 
    Sociology SOC 1 OR SOC 3 OR SOC 162/163/164
    Medical Terminology Course not offered at UC Davis*
    English Composition 3 quarters of ENL, COM, and/or UWP
    Spanish SPA 1, 2 & 3
    * Each school has different prerequisite coursework. Please check with individual schools to ensure you satisfy their prerequisite coursework.
    **Please note if a PA school requires Nutrition, NUT 10 may or may not fulfill the unit requirement. Students are recommended to take NUT 10 and NUT 11 if they are planning to fulfill the requirement at Davis.

    See the Physician Assistant Program Prerequisite Chart for a sample list of PA programs and their requirements. Note that pre-requisite courses may be taken at an accredited community college or four year university.

    Note: The above courses are only suggested, not absolute. 

    You can choose any major and apply to PA school. Even if your major does not require certain prerequisite courses for PA programs, you are still required to take them for admission to that school. Always cross-check your major requirements and the medical school requirements when choosing classes.

    Complete all of your prerequisite courses for a letter grade - DO NOT take any of them P/NP.

    HPA recommends that pre-PA students maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0, although many programs will have GPA averages above this minimum. Many programs have a 3.0 cutoff, meaning that they may "screen out" your application if you apply with lower than a 3.0

    Some PA programs require you to have your prerequisites done before you apply, while other programs want them done before you start the program. See HPA's California PA Program chart for more information. 
  • Standardized Exams
  • Please check the websites of schools that you are interested in applying to, for which exam they require or recommend.

    As of Summer 2020, some schools require or recommend the GRE and/or the PA-CAT.

    As of December 2018, only 3 PA programs in California required the GRE (Stanford University, Chapman University, and University of Southern California) and only 1 PA program recommends it (Dominican University of California).

    Available on a continuous basis throughout the year. Register for the GRE here.

    The GRE includes three sections:
         Verbal Reasoning
         Quantitative Reasoning
         Analytical Writing

    The exam cost $205 each time you take it.  You are only allowed to take the GRE every 21 days after your previous exam.

    The GRE is not a course-dependent test, meaning there are no specific UCD courses you need to take to prepare. The best way is to give yourself time to study the test by buying test prep books or taking a test prep course.

    Whatever you do, do not take the test without preparing! Click here to register for the GRE.

    The PA-CAT is a new science based entrance exam. As of June 2020, no California PA program requires the PA-CAT, but a PA-CAT score can be sent to select schools. Please always double check the schools you plan to apply to for updates. For more details and to register visit the PA-CAT website

  • Pre-PA Experiences
  • Asking, "Will this look good on a PA school application?" is the wrong way to approach your experience at UC Davis. PA schools will see who you are and what you care about through experiences that align with your interests, goals, and passions. Whatever you choose to do, be sure you are dedicated, passionate about it, and motivated to pursue it for the right reason!

    Many PA programs require 1,000 - 3,000 hours of Patient Care Experience (sometimes called “direct” or "hands-on" patient care). Most schools will have a sample list of experiences that will satisfy this requirement (See the UC Davis PA Program's experience requirements), but here is a list of Patient Care Experiences students commonly participate in during their undergraduate years or in their gap year:

         Medical assistant
         Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
         Certified nursing assistant (CNA)
         Phlebotomy technician
         Student-Run Clinics
         Health-Related Internships*
         * may not be accepted at all programs for the hands-on patient care requirement

    In addition to Patient Care Experience, you can also include the following types of experiences on your application:
         Health Care Experience (paid and unpaid experience in a health care setting that does not meet the criteria for Patient Care Experience)

    Click here to see a powerpoint with more information about gaining PA Experiences.

Applying to PA Programs

  • Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistant (CASPA)
  • The CASPA application cycle opens in April and will closes in May.

    It is very important that you read the CASPA Instructions & FAQ before starting your application. You are responsible for knowing this information before you apply.

    The initial cost for CASPA is $175 for the first program you apply to. Any additional programs you choose to apply to will cost $50 per school.

  • Personal Statement
  • You will have 5,000 characters to write a “brief statement expressing your motivation or desire to become a physician assistant.” - CASPA Instructions & FAQ

    All programs you apply to will see the same personal statement. Once you submit your CASPA application, you cannot update or edit your personal statement.

    The personal statement is your first chance to provide admissions committees with subjective information about your qualifications and your reasons for choosing this particular career. In other words, the personal statement is your initial opportunity to present yourself as an interesting and unique applicant who deserves a closer look.

  • Letters of Recommendation
  • CASPA allows you to submit 3 - 5 letters of recommendation, also called evaluations.

    Letters must be completed within CASPA at the time of your application. CASPA will not accept letters from Interfolio or other letter services.

    Your letter writers will also complete a questionnaire in which he or she evaluates you on a scale of 1–5 in regards to several different criteria.

    See CASPA’s How to Submit a Letter of Reference for more information.

  • Supplemental Applications
  • Some secondary questions are embedded in CASPA and sometimes sent later in supplemental applications, school-specific applications.

    Each school has a different supplemental application - some schools might ask you to complete additional short essays or a questionnaire, or they could ask for a resume or a headshot.

    Usually supplemental applications include a fee that can range from $50 - $100.

  • Interviews
  • Some PA schools include interviews in their admissions process, while others do not. 

    Interview styles vary by school and may include one-on-one conversations, panel interviews, and/or multiple mini interviews (MMI). 

    Schools using multiple mini interviews:InterviewGuide
    A.T. Still University
    George Washington University
    Mercer University
    Midwestern University
    Mount Saint Joseph
    Rosalind Franklin University
    SUNY Upstate
    University of Evansville
    University of Findlay
    University of Texas Southwestern
    Western University of Health Sciences


  • Choosing Schools
  • There are over 200 accredited PA programs in the U.S. and many more in the process of becoming accredited. See the ARC-PA list of programs

    There are a variety of factors that go into choosing which PA programs to apply to, including location, environment (i.e. urban), tuition, class size, focus or mission statement, etc. Spend some time researching schools online and create a spreadsheet that tracks the factors most important to you. HPA also recommends meeting with an advisor to discuss your school list.

    California PA programs:

         California Baptist University
         Chapman University
         Charles R. Drew University
         Dominican University (Accreditation in progress)
         Keck School of Medicine (USC)
         Loma Linda University
         Samuel Merritt University
         Southern California University of Health Sciences
         Stanford University School of Medicine
         Touro University California
         University of California, Davis
         University of La Verne (Accreditation in progress)
         University of the Pacific
         Western University of Health Sciences

    Click here to see the list of California PA School's Policies on DACA. 

Pre-PA Frequently Asked Questions

  • What major should I choose?
  • Choose a major you are passionate about. You can pursue any major, from biochemistry to music, and apply to PA school as long as you complete the school prerequisites. PA programs review applications holistically, and your major is just one small piece of your story.
  • What courses satisfy the English requirement for PA schools?
  • Lower and upper division English (ENL), UWP, and Comparative Literature (COM) courses will satisfy the English requirement for PA schools, unless a school website says otherwise. You may also take similar classes at a community college. 

    Note: Testing out of the upper division UWP course requirement via the Upper Division Composition Exam (UDCE) for graduation does not count towards the PA school requirement. 

  • Which classes count towards my science GPA?
  • You can see which courses count towards the science GPA calculated by CASPA here

    To calculate your science GPA, pull up your Academic Record in OASIS. Along the left side of the course list, you will see boxes. Check off the boxes for the courses you wish to be included in the GPA calculation on the right side of the page.

  • Do PA programs accept AP credit?
  • PA programs are not consistent in how they handle AP credit. Some programs may allow you to use AP credit to fulfill certain prerequisites, while other programs might not accept it at all. HPA recommends that you take college-level coursework for all prerequisites. 
  • Do I have to complete all of the prerequisites before applying?
  • Some PA programs, such as UOP, require that all of your prerequisites be completed at the time you submit your CASPA application. Check each school's website that you plan on applying to see their policy.

  • UC Davis does not offer a Medical Terminology course. How do I complete this prerequisite?
  • Many community colleges offer medical terminology courses as part of their Allied Health coursework. For example, American River College and other Los Rios District Community Colleges offer AH 110: Medical Language for Health-Care Providers (3 semester units). See the Los Rios course catalogs here. 

  • Can I study abroad?
  • Studying abroad is a wonderful experience that we encourage you to pursue. It is a valuable experience that provides the opportunity for growth in both maturity and cultural awareness.

    You should not study abroad because you are pre-health in an effort to make your application stand out. You should study abroad because you want to gain the experience.

    If your study abroad program was through UC Davis Study Abroad or UC Education Abroad (UCEAP), then your coursework will be on your official UC Davis transcript and fullfil prerequisites. If you studied abroad directly through a foreign institution, then your coursework will be on a "foreign transcript," which most health professional schools do not accept. 

  • Do HRI internships count as Patient Care Experience?
  • It depends on what responsibilities and duties you have during the HRI. If you are mostly involved with administrative duties or have no patient contact, then most PA programs probably won't accept that for the Patient Care Experience. You can still include these HRI's on your CASPA application as Health Care Experience
  • Can I include experiences from high school?
  • "You may include any experience you believe is relevant to your PA application. However, it is preferable to focus on experiences from the last 10 years and which began at least at a collegiate level."

                                                                        -CASPA Instructions & FAQ

  • When should I start writing my personal statement?
  • The personal statement should be a reflective, well-polished document. You can create your first draft as soon as you want. The more time you give yourself to get feedback and revise the better. Health Professions Advising advisors are happy to read your essay and give you feedback, but please make the appointment at least a month before your deadline.

    Please bring a printed draft of your personal statement to appointments and drop-in advising.

  • When should I submit CASPA?
  • "Apply early! To ensure your application is verified on time, ALL MATERIALS should arrive at CASPA to complete your application at least four weeks prior to your earliest deadline. Once your application is considered complete, it can take up to FOUR WEEKS for it to be processed."

                                                                                                                                 CASPA Instructions & FAQ