PA Initial Handout

Preprofessional Health Advising

San Diego State University
5500 Campanile Drive
San Diego CA  92182-1017
Tel: 619*594*6638
Fax: 619*594*0244


Besides providing a general introduction to the physician assistant career, this handout is designed to acquaint the SDSU Prephysician Assistant students with the preparation and application process.  The following information is offered as an overview, and is not intended to answer all of your questions or replace the advising services.  Read the following pages, attend an orientation to start a file, then make an appointment with the Advisor as soon as possible.



In the mid-1960s, physicians and educators recognized there was a shortage and uneven distribution of primary care physicians. To expand the delivery of quality medical care, Dr. Eugene Stead of the Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina put together the first class of PAs in 1965. He selected Navy corpsmen who received considerable medical training during their military service and during the war in Vietnam but who had no comparable civilian employment. He based the curriculum of the PA program in part on his knowledge of the fast-track training of doctors during World War II.



Career Physician Assistants are health care professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. PAs employed by the federal government are credentialed to practice. Common services provided by a PA include taking medical histories and performing physical examinations; ordering and interpreting lab tests; diagnosing and treating illnesses; assisting in surgery; prescribing and/or dispensing medication; and counseling patients.  PAs are trained in intensive education programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.

PAs in Practice- The AAPA estimates that 100,000 PAs will be in clinical practice by January 2015.

Accredited PA Programs - 164 programs have accreditation status (10 in California); some have provisional accreditation (a time-limited accreditation status awarded to new programs prior to admission of their first class). Accreditation is granted by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

Academic Training - The typical PA program is at least 24-32 months long, requires at least four years of college and some health care experience prior to admission. The majority of students have a BA/BS degree and 45 months of health care experience before admission to a PA program.  Of the 142 accredited PA programs: 113 award master’s degrees, 21 award bachelor’s degrees or a bachelor’s degree option, 3 award associate degrees, and 5 award certificates. (Some programs offer more than one option.)  The Physician Assistant Programs Directory is available for a $35 (plus shipping fee) by contacting API at (800) 708-7581, or you can access the directory online, for a monthly fee of $35, from:  Click on Publications and then on PA Programs Directory.

Students - About 12,000 students were expected to be enrolled in PA programs in 2012.

Prescribing – All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands have enacted laws that authorize PA prescribing.

Income - According to the 2012 AAPA Physician Assistant Census, the mean income for PAs in clinical practice for less than one year was $98,496.


Outlook on the Profession - According to the AAPA, 85 percent of all 2000 graduates from a PA program were employed as a PA in less than a year. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that the growth in PA jobs will increase by 30 percent between 2010 and 2020.

State Laws – All states, the District of Columbia and Guam have laws or regulations recognizing PA practice.

Certification and CME - PAs receive their national certification from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Only students who are graduates of accredited PA programs are eligible to sit for the exam. Once a PA is certified, he/she must complete a continuous six-year cycle to keep his/her certificate current: every two years a PA must earn and log 100 CME hours; reregister his/her certificate with the NCCPA in the second and fourth years, and sit for the Physician Assistant National Recertifying Examination (PANRE) in the sixth year. Almost all states require NCCPA certification.

For more information, try these web sites.  The site of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) is especially helpful and is the source of most of the preceding information.

Tripod Listing:                        
Student homepage:
PA programs:    



Because of the highly competitive application system, not every qualified applicant will be admitted to a preprofessional school.  What made the difference for those accepted?  What is a competitive application?  Use this handout as a resource, for it is designed to help answer these questions.  Stay in touch with us, too--we're here to work with you.  Good strategy is more important than good luck. Some, if not most, require documented patient care experience before you apply; it can be a minimum of 100 hours and up to 2000 hours.

Many students complete a major or degree program before entering a physician assistant program. The prerequisite courses a pre-physician assistant student must take before application and admission are usually specified by the physician assistant program. Generally, 60-90 hours of undergraduate coursework are necessary before application.

Although not required, a major in the sciences may include PA school prerequisites, thus eliminating the need to add specific additional courses to satisfy the major and the PA prerequisites.  Of course, if a student transfers to a PA program before completing the bachelor’s degree program, the major is irrelevant.

Admissions Testing:  Admissions testing varies greatly among programs. A few schools require the MCAT or most require the GRE.  Check with the specific physician assistant program.

CASPA, the Physician Assistant Application Service:  There are currently 118 programs participating in CASPA as of July 2009. The application fee is based on the number of programs you apply to, beginning at $170 for one school, then $210 for two, $250 for three, etc.  A list of participating programs and a full fee scale is available on the CASPA web site, 

Applying to other schools: Apply directly to the program you are interested in.  Application fees range from $25-$100.

Timeline:          CASPA Programs:        Applications available:  ~April 15
                                                            Application deadline:    August 1 – March 1 (varies by school)

                        For other programs, obtain information directly from the school.



Although many PA schools do not require a degree for acceptance, it is to your advantage to pursue and obtain an undergraduate degree rather than trying to meet all the prerequisites for all the schools.  You will be competing with students who have degrees or licenses in healthcare.

Prerequisites for physician assistant programs vary considerably.  The following list is typical of bachelor's degree physician assistant programs. Master's degree programs often have more prerequisites. Always consult your target physician assistant program directly for required prerequisite courses.

The following are usually required for admission:

. English (RWS 100 and 200)
. College Algebra
. History or Humanities
. Fine Arts
. Human Anatomy and Physiology (Bio 212, Bio 336 or 590,
   and Bio 436)

. Microbiology (Bio 350)
. General Chemistry (Chem 200 and 201)
. Organic Chemistry (Chem232/232L)
. Psychology/Sociology
. Biology (Bio 203/203L and 204/204L)
. Spanish required for some programs




Chem 365: Biochem, Cell & Molec. Biol

Math 121:  Calculus for Life Sciences

Biol 366/366L: Biochem, Cell & Molec. Biol

Bio 352: Genetics

Biol 215:  Biostatistics




Advising:   The Preprofessional Health Advisor is available for individual appointments.  Plan to attend an hour-long "orientation" session as your first appointment.  Subsequent appointments are available on most Wednesdays and Thursdays during the semester.  During the semester, Peer Advisors, students who are familiar with the application process, provide informal advising. Their schedule is posted on the wall near the peer advisor computer in room GMCS 323. The Preprofessional Health Advising Office is open Monday–Thursday from 8:00 to 12:00 and 1:00 to 4:30, Friday from 8:00 to 12:00 and 1:00 to 4:00.

Resources:     The advising office maintains a collection of catalogs, brochures, program directories, and sample applications. Don’t forget to check the World Wide Web.  It has information on physician assistant schools, comments by students who have applied in the past, the applications themselves, and opportunities to join the Prephysician Assistant Club and the National Prehealth Student Association.


Physician Assistant Schools are looking for students who are aware of the changes occurring in the profession and who have become involved with the national (AAPA) and state (CAPA) professional organizations.  You need to show commitment to service, and medical experience, preferably in primary care, rural medicine and/or with underserved communities.

Interviews include such questions as:
1.      Why do you want to be a Physician Assistant?
2.      How have you tested your interest in this career?
3.      Where (in what setting/community) do you plan to practice?
4.      Describe what type (specialty, etc.) of Physician Assistant you would like to be.
5.      Would you become a Physician Assistant and then apply for medical school?
6.      If your busy supervising physician ordered a dosage of drug you knew to be incorrect, what would you do?
7.      Why do you wish to attend our school?

Read the SDSU Preprofessional Health Advising Office handouts on interviewing.  Be prepared to discuss ethical issues.


(C = Certificate; A = Associates’; B = Bachelors; M = Master’s)

Charles R. Drew University of Medicine & Science
Physician Assistant Program
1731 East 120th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90059
(323) 563-5879
Credentials Awarded: C, B
CASPA Participating Program

Stanford University/ Foothill College
Primary Care Associate Program
1215 Welch Road, Modular G
Palo Alto, CA  94305-5408
(650) 725-6959
Credentials Awarded: C, A; B and M



Loma Linda University
Department of Physician Assistant Sciences
School of Allied Health Professions
Nichol Hall, Room 2033
Loma Linda, CA  92350
(909) 558-7295
Credentials Awarded: M
CASPA Participating Program

Touro University California
Joint MSPAS/MPH Program
Mare Island
1310 Johnson Lane
Vallejo, CA  94592
(707) 638-5270
Credentials Awarded: M
CASPA Participating Program



Riverside County Regional Medical Center/
Riverside Community College
Physician Assistant Program
16130 Lasselle Street
Moreno Valley, CA  92551
(951) 571-6166
Credentials Awarded: C; A

USC/Keck School of Medicine 
Physician Assistant Program
1000 S. Fremont Avenue,
Unit 7, Building A6 4th Floor
Alhambra, California 91803
(626) 457-4240
Credentials Awarded: M
CASPA Participating Program



Samuel Merritt College
Physician Assistant Program
450 30th Street, Suite 4708
Oakland, CA  94609
(510) 869-6623
Credentials Awarded: M
CASPA Participating Program

Univ. of California - Davis, Medical Center
Physician Assistant Program
Department of Family and Community Medicine
2516 Stockton Blvd., Suite 254
Sacramento, CA 95817
(916) 734-3551
Credentials Awarded: C; M
CASPA Participating Program



San Joaquin Valley College
SJVC Primary Care PA Program
Visalia Campus
8400 W. Mineral King Ave
Visalia, CA  93291
(559) 651-2500
Credentials Awarded: A

Western University of Health Sciences
Physician Assistant Program
College Plaza
309 East Second Street
Pomona, CA 91766-1889
(909) 469-5378
Credentials Awarded: M
CASPA Participating Program