Physician's Assistant Programs

Physician's Assistant

For all prospective PA students: our faculty resource person is Fr. Tim Cadigan.

Physican's Assistant (PA) is one of the fastest growing health professions today and is an excellent career choice. Many of our Biology graduates are opting for PA as an attractive and viable career option. There are a number of useful websites that you can consult for some information:

The American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) is generally a good resource for some basic information. This website gives you a list of all the ARC-PA certified programs in the United States, including the geographical location and contact information of each program.

The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) is the standard for PA education certification. A program that you are looking at needs to be ARC-PA certified. The ARC-PA site gives you more information on these programs.

The Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) website is also very helpful (see #4, below)

There is are sites called and PhysicianAssistantED that are independently maintained.  They are extremely informative.

General Information

  • PA school usually is anywhere from 23-27 months long (usually straight through, with no summer breaks). The first year is mostly coursework while the second year is clinical instruction. Classes usually begin right before or after graduation.
  • If you want to enter PA school right after you graduate, you would start to apply toward the end of your Junior year, and complete most of the application process in the summer before Senior year. Most PA programs have a deadline of anywhere from September through December for accepting applications for the following year.
  • It is really good to shadow one or a few PA to get a feel for what a PA does.


It is important to know that every individual program has somewhat different prerequisites than the next. The best way to learn exactly what prerequisites you need for a PA school is to go to that PA program’s individual web site and look under their admissions standards.
However here are a few things that are commonly required by most schools

1. Academic prerequisites

  • The science requirements varies slightly among schools, but generally for all of them you must have at least a 3.00 cumulative science GPA.
  • Two semesters of chemistry (one semester should either be organic or biochemistry)
  • Usually an Abnormal Psych class (at the U: Psyc 225)
  • Calculus (Math 114)
  • 16 semester credits of biology with labs (credits should be in mammalian or human biology), including 3-4 credits of microbiology/lab (Biol 250) and 6-8 credits of anatomy and physiology/lab (Biol 241 and Biol 245, or Biol 110 and 111) prior to application.

The Biology Major offers most of these required courses as part of the major requirements. While you could get away with taking Comparative Anatomy (Biol 241) the Anatomy requirement, most schools would really prefer if you took a human Anatomy class. One solution would be to take Bio 110 and 111 as part of your free electives.  Another would be to enroll in one of the human anatomy classes they offer in another institution (perhaps a college near where you live in the summers or winter break).

2. Admissions tests

About 50% of the PA schools want you to take the GRE General test (Graduate Record Examinations) to apply. They are somewhat like the SAT’s, and you can find some practice pages online and GRE preparation books and study guides are available at any bookstore. You can take them in your junior year, or in the summer going into your senior year.

3. Healthcare experience prerequisites

Almost all programs want you to have direct patient care experience. Schools will usually require anywhere from 1000-2000 hours of direct patient care prior to PA school matriculation. There are a number useful ways to get this.

  • You can have a paying job or volunteer (it’s important to make sure that you are actually working w/ patients)
  • You could get your EMT license,
  • You could get certified as a CNA (certified nursing assistant)
  • You could get certified as a phlebotomist

For any of these options above, you will have to take a class to get certified. It is highly recommended that you get certified because it makes you look like a better applicant. In addition, with these certifications you can get jobs or volunteer as an undergrad where you can actually interact with patients. Some of our former students got EMT licenses around their sophomore year of college, and did volunteer work around Scranton and back home in the summers.

A job like EMT, ER tech, or CNA will expose you to patients, teach you how to talk to patients, fill out paperwork, get vital signs, deal with Basic life support, and also you will get see a lot of interesting things and situations

4. The Application Process

The Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) is a very important tool for when you start to apply to PA programs. It is an online service that many (if not all) of the programs are using. This allows you to fill out one long and in-depth application that you can send out to as many schools as you like (for a price of course.) You would’t start to use CASPA application until the end of your junior year, but their web site is incredibly helpful even if you are not yet applying.

On their site they have a link with FAQ’s, some helpful information in the section ‘Before Applying’, and also a section entitled ‘Participating Programs’. The CASPA ‘Participating programs’ link is especially useful because it lists all the programs that accept applications through CASPA by state as well as gives you a direct link to the program’s PA website. Furthermore, this link will tell you what tests are required for application and the program deadlines for accepting applications.

NOTE: The information in this page was compiled by Courtney Southard, Class of 2006. After graduating from Scranton, she went to the PA program at Yale. We are deeply indebted to her for her assistance.