Physician assistants are highly trained health care professionals that are responsible for various duties of patient care under the supervision of licensed physicians. It is expected that job opportunities of physician assistants will increase 39 percent from 2008 to 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. With the increase of employment opportunities, many people are considering a career in physician assisting. Before you can begin training as a physician assistant, you must complete certain prerequisites.
In order to gain admittance into a graduate physician assistant program, you need to have a bachelor's degree. The major of your degree isn't extremely important, but many schools want you to have a strong science background. Depending on the graduate school you attend, you must meet a minimum overall GPA. Some schools, such as Keck School of Medicine USC, require that your final GPA is a minimum of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. You are also required to take prerequisite courses in science, mathematics, language and psychology. Course examples include, but are not limited to, anatomy and physiology, organic chemistry, general chemistry, statistics, microbiology, general psychology and English composition. Just passing these classes may not be good enough to gain admission to a PA program, as many schools require that you get B's or higher in prerequisite courses since these courses are the foundation of PA program courses.
Students who are entering a five-year physician assistant program as freshmen must also meet the same academic criteria as students applying to PA school with a bachelor's degree.
Patient Care Experience
Physician assistant programs like to see that applicants have patient care experience. Although hour requirements vary by program, having experience working with patients is an extremely important program prerequisite, whether you have 200 or 3,000 hours of experience. Patient care experience involves direct, hands-on care. Experience can include volunteering in hospice, working as an EMT or paramedic or taking patients' vital signs as an emergency room technician or nursing assistant. You can even work in different health care settings, such as physician offices or clinics, to gain varied experience.
Some physician assistant programs require that students take either the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) or MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). Taking either, or both, of these exams enables the program of your choice to see how you perform in standardized testing. These computer-based tests evaluate your ability to think, reason and write. Required minimum scores vary by school. For example, Mercy University requires that students have a quantitative and verbal combined score of no less than 1,000.
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