Pre-Physician Assistant


(Click on the headings below for more information.)

How Can I be Competitive for Physician Assistant School?

Admission to Physician Assistant (PA) programs is a highly competitive process. It is vitally important that Pre-Physician Assistant students prepare themselves to be competitive applicants during their undergraduate years.

Applicants are evaluated on a holistic level, with consideration on GPA, GRE scores, PA shadowing, patient contact (paid), and volunteer, leadership and research experiences.

Work closely with your Pre-Health counselor who can assist you with:

  • Prerequisite academic planning
  • Extra-curricular considerations (i.e. shadowing, healthcare experience, volunteering, etc.)
  • CASPA and the application process
  • GRE planning
  • Writing personal statements
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Mock interviews

Choosing the right PA school for you takes significant research. Plan to apply to at least 5-6 schools, more if you do not feel you are as competitive as you would like to be.

Choosing a Physician Assistant School

Physician Assistant programs vary in their admissions requirements, program delivery, missions, and quality. It is important to research PA schools to determine which schools fit your interests and needs most. Most students apply to an average of 5-6 Physician Assistant programs.

Physician Assistant Application (CASPA)

Approximately 80%+ of all Physician Assistant programs use the centralized application service for Physician Assistant programs (CASPA). CASPA allows you to apply to several schools without filling out multiple applications. CASPA usually opens in mid-April and runs for nearly one year per admissions cycle.

Plan to apply to PA school as soon as pre-requisites are completed (or almost completed). 

CASPA usually opens in mid-April and applicants will typically apply one year prior to admission. The CASPA application is subject to small changes each year, but generally you should plan to include:

  • Letters of recommendation (at least 3)
  • Official transcripts from every college/university attended
  • Personal statement—approximately 5000 characters
  • Summaries of extra-curricular experiences

Prerequisite Courses

Note: The prerequisites listed here are a general guideline of common courses required by PA programs. It is your responsibility to research the specific requirements for each school you are interested in applying to. If you have questions, always contact each individual program.

Note: Physician Assistant programs determine their own individual requirements. It is important for you to research the specific requirements for each school you are interested in applying to.
Your Pre-Health counselor will help you plan your pre-requisite courses, ensuring a doable sequence and proper timeline. It is recommended you prioritize the registration of prerequisite courses over major and general education requirements as it is ideal to apply to PA school one year prior to graduation.

Required by most PA programs with a grade of C or better (generally avoid online pre-req. options):

  • College Biology I with lab: BIOL 1610/1615 (recommended)
  • Human Anatomy: ZOOL 2320/2325
  • Human Physiology: ZOOL 2420/2425
  • Principles of Chemistry I and II with labs: CHEM 1210/1215 and 1220/1225
  • General Psychology: PSY 1010
  • Microbiology for Health Professions:  Micr 2060/2065
  • Principles of Statistics: MATH 2040 or Stats for Behavioral Science: BESC 3010

In addition, some programs require the following courses:

  • Organic Chemistry i and II with lab: CHEM 2310/2315 and 2320/2325
  • Biochemistry: BIOL 3600
  • Medical Terminology I: HLTH 1300
  • Abnormal Psychology: PSY 3400
  • Developmental Psychology (Child, Adolescent, Adult, Human)

 

Some schools will require additional courses.  Please check with the individual schools.


GPA

NOTE : All grades received for college credit will likely be calculated into your GPA, even if you have retaken courses. If you have taken any courses at a different school or if you have retaken courses, your UVU GPA will not likely reflect the accurate GPA calculation for PA schools.

GPA is a vital part of your application to PA programs. PA programs will consider your science GPA, non-science GPA and cumulative GPA.

Average accepted GPA: 3.5-3.6

Minimum GPA considered: 3.2

You can calculate your science GPA by downloading the GPA calculator through the following link. Although the calculator is specific to MD medical schools, it is still a useful tool for other health professions programs. Most programs will calculate your GPA in a similar way - science GPA, non-science GPA and cumulative GPA. Be sure to follow the guidelines below for the most accurate calculation. 

GUIDELINES:

  • Include every course you have taken for college credit even if you have retaken the course.
  • Include transfer credit from other schools you have attended.
  • Biology courses include BIOL, MICRO, BOT and ZOOL.
  • Physics courses include ASTR.
  • Exercise Science courses that are science based (Kinesiology, Biomechanics, etc.) should be calculated with the science GPA.
  • Pass/Fail courses are not included in the GPA.

GRE

 About 50% of the programs require the GRE.  Be sure to check to see if your programs require it.

The GRE revised General Test measures:

  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Analytical Writing

Studying for the GRE

Note:UVU does not endorse or recommend specific GRE preparation courses or materials. Research potential study methods and determine which ones fit your needs most appropriately. The GRE is a challenging exam that merits careful preparation. Plan to study for the GRE for several weeks in the way that fits your budget, schedule, and learning style best.

Free Study Materials:

Extracurricular Activities

Note: It is extremely challenging to be a competitive applicant to PA school without paid clinical healthcare experience.

Consider planning out your extra-curricular activities by semester, just like your pre-requisite courses. Starting early helps avoid the stress associated with cramming everything into the last few semesters prior to the application.

Minimum Recommended Extra-curricular Activities

  • Volunteer Service: 50 hours during each of your Pre-PA years including the year of application
  • Leadership: 3 different leadership positions
  • Physician Assistant Shadowing: 50+ hours
  • Medical Experience: 1000 hours to 3 years of paid experience

Extra-curricular activities help Physician Assistant programs evaluate your potential as a clinician and professional. They can help you stand out as an applicant and demonstrate your motivation for pursuing a career in healthcare.

It is extremely important to be involved in activities outside of the classroom in order to be competitive for admission into PA school. GPA and GRE scores are important, but they do not make you unique. Extracurricular activities are a chance for you to set yourself apart and display your motivation for pursuing a PA degree and dedication to serving the community. Preparing to apply for PA school is NOT about checking off boxes. PA schools are not going to care if you have done the experiences if you have not learned from them. Admissions committees want to know that you are willing and able to learn in any circumstance and/or environment.

Volunteering

What is it?

Volunteering is generally considered an altruistic activity, intended to promote good or improve human quality of life, but there are many benefits to volunteering including skill development, meeting others, having fun, and a variety of other reasons. Volunteerism is the act of selflessly giving of yourself without the expectation of compensation. Compensation includes payment, stipends, or grades for a class.

Why should I do it?

To be a strong applicant for health professions programs you should demonstrate dedication to serving the community. The volunteer opportunities you choose can also be an excellent way to set yourself apart by showing health professions programs what is meaningful to you. The activities you choose to be involved and the reasons why can make you unique. Consider which opportunities will be the best reflection of who you are.

Volunteer service can be done with any group or organization and does not have to be healthcare related, but it can be helpful to look for opportunities that will take you out of your comfort zone and show a diversity of experience. Being involved in 2-3 service opportunities will benefit you more than having several brief experiences. The number of hours each year we typically see from students who get accepted to physician assistant programs is 50 hours.

What are the expectations?

In order to be a competitive applicant, you should plan to be involved in volunteer service throughout each academic year (August-July). Most students are already busy taking a full-time schedule and oftentimes working, but it is important to make volunteering a priority. Fit it into your schedule any way it works best. Perhaps you will volunteer for one hour a week. Maybe it will better in your schedule to volunteer four hours on a Saturday once a month. You decide what works best for you.

It is important that you find something you can be dedicated to and passionate about. You will find the experience that much more rewarding. And remember, you are not just checking off boxes to get into a health professions school. You are making a difference in your community and learning valuable lessons about yourself and the world around you.

How do I do it?

It is up to you to find the volunteer experiences that are the best fit for you. One of the first places you can start looking is UVU's Volunteer and Service-Learning Center. This office maintains information on volunteer needs in the community in many different areas. There is a very good chance you will find something there that interests you. Other good resources include United Way and the website U Serve Utah maintained by the state.

Shadowing

What is it?

Shadowing provides an opportunity for you to gain exposure to the healthcare field you are interested in and develop a clear understanding of what life in that profession entails. It is a chance to observe a professional as they go through a routine day seeing patients, completing paperwork, talking with insurance companies, etc. Because shadowing is meant to be just observational, it does not fulfill other requirements to gain hands-on experience interacting with patients. Go to the Healthcare Experiences link for information about the hands-on experience expected by health professions programs.

Why should I do it?

Professional schools want to know you have had enough experience with professionals in the field to know that it is something you really want to do and that you have a good understanding of what your life will be like. In addition, it is a great opportunity to ask questions and develop rapport with professionals. You will likely need at least one letter of recommendation from someone in the field you have chosen. You will get a better letter if you spend some time getting to know the people you shadow.

What are the expectations?

You are expected to demonstrate dependability and professionalism, while discovering skills that will benefit you as a healthcare professional. Some programs look for separate shadowing and patient contact experience, while others will consider them combined. Plan to shadow each professional for a minimum of 9-12 hours. The number of overall shadowing hours we typically see from students who get accepted to physician assistant programs are 50+ hours of shadowing/experience with at least 2 or more specialties.  It is best to have at least one family practice shadowing experience. 

How do I do it?

It is up to you to find shadowing experiences that will work best for you. One place to start is by talking to your own healthcare providers. Are they willing to have you shadow? Do they know someone who may be willing to have you shadow them? A second place to start is by asking people you know if they know of anyone you can contact. Cold calling offices is one of the least effective ways to find shadowing opportunities. Start by asking people you know before taking this route.


Healthcare Experience

What is it?

Healthcare experience outside of shadowing usually includes volunteering or finding employment in a healthcare setting, usually with direct patient contact (i.e. offering clinical care and not just working in a healthcare environment). Many students will consider getting a basic certification or may find opportunities that offer on-the-job training.

Why should I do it?

Health professions programs will have greater confidence in your ability to interact positively with patients and withstand the rigor of a career in healthcare if they know you have already been part of the industry. As you work in healthcare, you will develop concrete examples of yourself showing compassion to patients, working with a team of healthcare providers, and solving problems. These experiences will likely assist you in your application, personal statement, letters of recommendation, and interviews. Additionally, many health professions programs actually REQUIRE healthcare experience or patient contact.

What are the expectations?

Research the requirements for your health professions program to ensure you are meeting their expectations for healthcare experience. Some programs will specify the hours required and may require the experience to be paid. The  recommendations for physician assistant healthcare experience is 1,000-5,000 hours of paid, direct patient contact.

How do I do it?

How you choose to get healthcare experience will depend on the qualifications of the jobs or volunteer opportunities you are seeking. Many positions in healthcare require a certification (e.g. C.N.A., medical assistant, paramedic) while others are more flexible and require on-the-job training. Sometimes approaching organizations directly is more effective than simply responding to job ads online. Many students will also offer to volunteer for free, which sometimes leads to paid employment.

For assistance looking for and applying to healthcare jobs, contact the UVU Career Development Center.


Writing a Personal Statement

Many students underestimate the power of a personal statement. It should not be written quickly or without planning. Your personal statement can determine whether you will be accepted into the program you want or not. It is the greatest tool an admissions committee has to get to know you, so it should be an accurate depiction of yourself. Remember, it's about what you learned, not what you did! Listed below are some do's and don'ts of personal statements.

  • DO talk about your motivation for choosing the career that you have (medicine, dental, pharmacy, PT, etc.).
  • DO make it interesting and compelling.
  • DO ask some of your friends and family to read it and ask them what kind of person they would think you are if they had never met you.
  • DO be honest and sincere.
  • DO NOT sound arrogant. Avoid using 'I' unless you are about to explain something you learned from a particular experience.
  • DO NOT describe the characteristics of a good doctor, dentist, pharmacist, etc. and how you have those same characteristics.
  • DO NOT repeat information that can be found elsewhere on your application unless you are adding additional details.
  • DO NOT list your experiences. This is not a resume. DO NOT write it like it is one. Choose one, two or three experiences and discuss them in detail.

Consider the following information from the NAAHP's publication Write for Success: Preparing a Successful Professional School Application:

"Answering some of the following questions my reveal some insights that you can share in your personal statement. As you are writing, you may find yourself feeling the urge to write about a specific event. Follow that urge. You may come up with something that will eventually make it into your personal statement.

  1. Who are the most influential people in your life?
  2. What have been the pivotal moments in your life? Looking back, what can you recall having changed you? How were you affected?
  3. Do feel a passion for medicine [dentistry, pharmacy, physical therapy, etc.]? What is the source of that passion?

If you have a strong reaction to something you are writing about, it means the situation is important to you. Take a moment to think about how your reaction reflects who you are."

Click here for some examples of personal statements. If you would like help with your personal statement, contact the Pre-Health Office at 801-863-6484 to schedule an appointment with a Pre-Health Counselor.


Letters of Recommendation

Requesting Letters of Recommendation

Provide the following information to each letter writer:

  • Letter of intent (Click here to see example)
  • Personal statement (Do not put off requesting letters if you do not have a rough draft yet. This is optional, but helpful.)
  • Resume or CV
  • Picture
  • Where to send it (Pre-addressed envelope if they are off-campus or instructions on how to submit electronically)

Suggested Guidelines

  • Request letters from professors who have taught you in a classroom setting. Science professors are those who have taught you in the lecture portion of a Biology, Zoology, Microbiology, Chemistry, or Physics course. No lab instructors.
  • Supervisors should be able to address your ability to work and/or serve others, demonstrate to an admissions committee that you are comfortable in a healthcare environment, and discuss your work ethic.
  • It is important for you to build a rapport with the people you shadow, work, or volunteer with as preparation to requesting a letter of recommendation. Be on time, work hard, learn as much as you can and, most importantly, be yourself. Letters of recommendation are one of the ways admissions committees get to know you. That is only possible if the letter writer knows you.
  • If you do not think someone will write you a strong letter of recommendation, DO NOT ASK THEM FOR ONE. A bad letter can kill your application even if the rest are stellar.
  • Do NOT request letters of recommendation from family members. Their letters are highly biased and may not be viewed as an accurate description of your character.
  • Letters of recommendation are expected to be confidential and should not be viewed by the student. You will be asked to waive your right to view the letters, but you also have the right to deny the waiver. If you choose to deny the waiver, you are required to inform all of your letter writers that you will have access to their letters.
  • Most other health professions programs will want to see 3-4 letters. 1-2 of these letters should be from science professors. You will also need 1-2 letters from healthcare professionals that you have shadowed or worked with. Check with the individual schools to determine which letters you need.
  • Many of the health professions schools you will be applying to use a Central Application Service (CAS) to process your application. Letters of recommendation are part of this application.

Follow the steps below to request your letters:

  1. Request letters from the appropriate supervisors and professors. You should provide your letter writers with your resume, personal statement and a letter of intent.
  2. Where applicable, inform the letter writer that they will receive an electronic request from the CAS to submit an evaluation for you.
  3. If the letters are not part of a CAS, provide the letter writer with pre-addressed, stamped envelopes for the schools you need the letter sent to.