Pre-Physician Assistant

About the Profession

Physician Assistants (PAs) are health professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. Many are primary providers, but specialties are possible. Training occurs in hospitals, colleges, universities and medical schools. The typical PA training format is a BS/MS degree or MS degree following four years of undergraduate study. Bachelor’s programs are four years in length with the prerequisites integrated into the total program. Some programs award a certificate instead of an academic degree. Degrees offered range from Associate’s degree (rare) to a Master’s degree. Selection criteria vary according to the individual institution’s philosophy. UB students pursuing Physician Assistant careers complete their Bachelor’s degree in any major, as well as the prerequisite courses, and apply to PA programs typically in the summer of their senior year. However, individual school deadlines should be carefully consulted. Many schools are on rolling admission, so applying early is important.

The minimum grade point averages hover near a 3.0 GPA but most students admitted have very competitive averages (e.g., 3.5 and higher). Course work in the sciences typically includes biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology and microbiology. Certain schools do require organic chemistry, physics, biochemistry and often calculus. Psychology, English and credits in humanities are frequently cited. Increasingly, PA programs insist on a specific number of hours of health related experience. Since each school varies in the number of hours and whether these may be volunteer or paid, students must research each school very carefully to determine qualifications.

For more information you may consult the Physician Assistant Programs Directory. There are close to 300 PA programs in the United States; several of which are in the State of New York. There are a large number of programs in the downstate area. There are three programs in Western New York at Canisius CollegeDaemen College and D’Youville University in Buffalo. Canisius and Daemen are free standing Master’s degree programs; D’Youville offers a combined BS/MS. The Canisius PA program gives preference to applicants from either Canisius or UB. 

Your Record

From the time you begin college, you are assembling a complete dossier with which to apply to these professional schools. Each of the requirements is a part of the whole. For PA schools your record will include:

  • A Bachelor’s degree (for those applying to free standing Master’s degree programs)
  • Prerequisite courses
  • References
  • Health related experience

Course Requirements

We recommend researching PA programs early as requirements can vary greatly from school to school, and you may need to plan ahead to fit in all required courses. The chart below contains the more commonly required courses, but check with individual schools for specifics or additional requirements. 

Pre-Physician Assistant Course Requirements
Chemistry CHE 101-102 w/labs 113-114, or 105-106, or 107-108 w/labs 127-128 10 credits
Biology BIO 200, and BIO 201 w/lab 211 9 credits
Anatomy PAS 313 (formerly 113) or PAS 427 or some will accept APY 345-346 4-5 credits
Physiology PGY 300 (possibly paired with PGY 412) or PGY 451-452 4-6 credits
Microbiology MIC 301 or 401 4 credits
Psychology PSY 101, possibly additional PSY or other social science courses 3+ credits
STA 119 or PSY 207 or STA 427 4 credits

Many require -

Communication Literacy 1 and 2
(If any waived take 3 or 6 credits of writing intensive, literature-based courses – check with prehealth advisor if unsure)

6 credits
Organic Chemistry
Many require 1 or both - CHE 201-202 or CHE 203-204 w/labs 205-206 5-10 credits
Biochemistry Many require - BIO 305 or BCH 403 3-4 credits
Medical Terminology
Some require - CL 151 or OT 217 1-3 credits
Genetics Some require - BIO 319 or BCH 410 3 credits
Other Requirements May include other courses in physics, math, humanities, communication, etc.  3+ credits
  • Not all PA programs require an entrance exam.
  • Many programs require the GRE.
  • The PA-CAT is a new exam that a small number of programs may require. 
  • In rare cases, a PA program may require or accept the MCAT.

Health Related Experience

Physician Assistant programs may require a minimum number of hours of health related experience that can range from as little as 100 hours to 1,000 or more. They may also require applicants to have hands-on patient care experience as opposed to just patient contact. Positions that involve patient care may include, but are not limited to:

  • Medical Assisting Positions
  • Medical Scribe Positions (not always accepted by some PA programs)
  • Patient Care Assistant or Associate Positions
  • Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
  • Phlebotomist: Draws blood for testing & blood drives. Contact Med Tech program at Erie Community College (ECC) regarding training.
  • Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
  • LPN
  • Orderly 
  • Home health aide
  • EKG/Monitor Technician 
  • Athletic Trainer
  • Dietician
  • Volunteer direct patient care (e.g., hospitals, hospice, nursing homes) 
  • PA Shadowing (Some schools limit acceptable hours) 

Consult individual PA school websites and admissions advisors for more suggestions and to be sure that they count these options.