Physician Assistants (PAs) practice medicine under the supervision of physicians and surgeons.  PAs have considerable job autonomy and perform a wide range of medical duties including the ability to write prescriptions, take medical histories, exam patients, and even make diagnoses.  PAs also often act as first or second assistants in surgeries and provide pre and post-operative care.  PAs work as members of the health care team, ordering and interpreting laboratory tests and x-rays, treating minor injuries, and other tasks delegated by a physician.  Although PAs work under the supervision of a physician, in some areas such as rural and inner-city clinics, they are the principle care provider where a physician is present only a few days a week.  It is also in rural and inner-city areas that have a shortage of physicians that job opportunities for PAs are best.  Indeed, application to PA programs has grown exponentially over the past few years.  PAs work everywhere from major urban hospitals, in doctor’s offices, clinics, the armed forces, and generally any other area where medical care is provided.

Most students that graduate from a four year university with a bachelor’s degree choose to enter the two year Physician Assistant Master’s Degree (MA-PA).  The first year of the program focuses on pre-clinical studies and the second year focuses on clinical experiences in primary care, medical and surgical specialties.   

Medical Exposure

Most PA programs require a minimum number of direct patient care hours with direct hands on experience.  Although many applicants to PA programs have previous experience in the health care field, the majority have prior experience as registered nurses, emergency medical technicians, physical therapists, and other allied health occupations.  It is critical to gain exposure to the health care field in order to make an informed decision about your career.

Application Process

Applicants for Physician Assistant programs are submitted online through the Centralized Application Service for Physician’s Assistants (CASPA).  CASPA is the only centralized application service for students applying to Physician Assistant programs.  Similar to online central application services for medicine, pharmacy, dentistry and other health professions, CASPA offers students a convenient way to research and apply to multiple Physician Assistant programs with a single online application.  Please refer to the CASPA website for a complete list of participating schools.  The GRE is required for admission into a Physician Assistant program and students should apply at the earliest possible date, which varies by school.


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