Physician assistants (PA) practice medicine on health care teams with physicians and other providers. PAs are trained to obtain medical histories, perform examinations, order treatments, diagnose diseases, prescribe medication, order and interpret diagnostic tests, refer patients to specialists, and first or second-assist in surgery. PAs are able to treat patients in most clinical settings, including hospitals, physician offices, community health centers, nursing homes, retail clinics, and university and industrial settings.
Majors and Coursework
Physician Assistant programs do not give preference to particular majors over others; nor do they give preference to students with multiple majors or minors. Likewise, they do not give preference to a Bachelor of Science degree over a Bachelor of Arts degree. Most Physician Assistant programs seek to construct a class of students that is diverse in academic and experiential backgrounds. They look at the depth and richness of a student’s undergraduate experience rather than the quantity of titles and certifications earned. As such, pre-Physician Assistant students should select their majors based on their interest in a subject and their passion for studying it.
Although Physician Assistant programs do not give preference to certain types of majors over others, there is a common set of prerequisites that students must fulfill regardless of their area of study. For many programs, these requirements must be completed prior to application. Generally, the requirements for Physician Assistant programs include:
- 2 Semesters of General Chemistry with Lab
- 2 Semesters of Organic Chemistry with Lab
- 2-3 Semesters of Biology with Lab
- 1 Semester of Anatomy and 1 Semester of Physiology*
- 1 Semester of Microbiology
*Before registering for anatomy and physiology, students should check with individual programs to determine if a lab component is required, and what type of lab experiences are acceptable. Some programs do not accept simulation labs.
In addition to these core sciences, many Physician Assistant programs require courses in other subject areas. Due to the variation among the Physician Assistant program’s requirements, students are encouraged to identify what schools they plan to apply before the start of their junior year in order to determine the specific courses they need to complete over their last two years as an undergraduate student. Common, additional requirements include:
- 1 Semester of Statistics
- 1 Semester of Biochemistry
- 1-2 Semesters of English Composition
- 1-2 Semesters of Psychology
- 1 Semester of Medical Terminology
While slight differences exist (e.g. pre-PA students do not have to complete coursework in physics), the recommended sequence of courses is similar to pre-medical students and can be found on the Medicine page.
Formal, clinical exposure is an essential component of a pre-PA student’s preparation for graduate school. While there is considerable variance among the Physician Assistant programs, many of them require between 500 and 2,000 hours of direct patient health care experience. These hours cannot be accumulated through volunteer work, but require more formal and in-depth, patient contact achieved through positions such as a medical assistant, a certified nursing assistant, an emergency medical technician, or a surgical tech. Due to the contact hours requirement of Physician Assistant programs, many pre-PA students are not able to apply until after graduation from CWRU. In addition to accumulating contact hours, pre-PA students are encouraged to shadow current Physician Assistants and other health care providers during their undergraduate years.
The application cycle for Physician Assistance programs is an extensive process that takes approximately a year and half (including preparation of application materials) and requires numerous, well-informed decisions and keen attention to details. Support for the application process is provided by Dean Steven Scherger to current undergraduate students and alumni. Pre-PA students are encouraged to schedule an appointment to discuss any matter related to the application process. Individual appointments may be made by calling the Office of Undergraduate Studies at 216.368.2928, or in person in Sears 357.
Letters of Recommendation
CWRU undergraduate students applying to Physician Assistant programs may request a composite letter packet to be submitted by the Dean Scherger. The letter packet consists of letters of recommendation submitted to the Office of Undergraduate Studies from faculty, professional mentors, and supervisors, and a letter of evaluation from Dean Scherger. Go to Letter Writing Services for instructions on how to request a composite letter packet for the current application cycle and to submit letters of recommendation. Advice to students on selecting letter writers and to recommenders on the letter writing process is also provided.