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General Overview

Physician Assistants (PA) are nationally certified and state licensed to practice medicine. For nearly 50 years, PAs have been part of the healthcare team. PAs perform a comprehensive range of medical duties, from primary care to assisting in major surgery. PAs are educated at the graduate level and practice in every medical and surgical setting and specialty. Throughout their training, PAs complete more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations in family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, general surgery, emergency medicine, and psychiatry.

In the field, a PA will:
  • Order and interpret tests
  • Diagnose and treat illnesses
  • Prescribe medication
  • Counsel on preventative healthcare
  • Conduct physical exams
  • Obtain patient medical histories
  • Develop treatment plans
  • Prescribe medication
  • Assist in surgery
Resources: 

Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA): PA Program Directory.

American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA):The national professional society for PAs across all medical and surgical specialties.

My PA Network: An online community for PAs to communicate, learn, share experiences, and discuss changes in the profession.

Journal of the American Academy of Physicians Assistants

Choosing a Major

All master-level programs in physician assistant studies (MPAS) have pre-requisite courses, a few of which are uniform across programs. Programs do not generally require a specific major. With ample preparation, you can become a competitive applicant to MPAS programs regardless of your baccalaureate degree program, including starting with an Undeclared status.

Declaration and Progression Standards

Once you complete 12 or more credit hours in biology or chemistry (BC) course work at James Madison University, you will be subject to performance standard reviews twice a year. You must achieve and maintain an overall G.P.A. of 3.00 or above and BC G.P.A. of 2.70 or above to retain the Pre-Physician Assistant Program declaration. Since physician assistant programs consider all course attempts during the admissions process, the G.P.A. calculations for the Pre-Physician Assistant Program will include all course attempts. If your academic performance standards fall below a 3.00 overall G.P.A. or a 2.70 BC G.P.A., you are at very high risk for not being admitted to a physician assistant program. Therefore if you are unable to attain or maintain an a 3.00 overall G.P.A. or above or a 2.70 BC G.P.A. or above, then your Pre-Physician Assistant Program will be administratively dropped.

Pre-Physician Assistant Coursework

Pre-Professional Health Advising has developed requirements for the Pre-Physician Assistant Program based on pre-requisite courses of 76 PA schools in the District of Columbia and 8 states (CT, MA, MD, NC, NJ, NY, PA, and VA). Students are encourgaed to review individual PA school lists of pre-requisites to assure completion of all pre-requisite coursework. 

If you have credit for any of the following courses by earning Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), Cambridge International Exam (CIE), community college credit, or departmental test credit, please read the Non-JMU Coursework for Pre-Requisite Coursework .

Biology Coursework (24 credits)

  • BIO 140 + 140L: Foundations of Biology I and Lab (4 credits)
  • BIO 150 + 150L: Foundations of Biology II and Lab (4 credits)
  • BIO 245 + 245L: Microbiology and Lab (4 credits)
  • BIO 270 + 270L: Human Physiology and Lab (4 credits)
  • BIO 290 + 290L: Human Anatomy and Lab (4 credits)

Pre-PA students are required to complete 4 additional credit hours of intermediate or advanced Biology coursework. When choosing these 4 credit hours, Pre-Professional Health Advising strongly recommends:

  • BIO 240 + 240L: Genetics (4 credits)

Pre-Professional Health Advising subsequently recommends:

  • BIO 304: Cell & Molecular Biology (3 credits)
  • BIO 343 and 343L: Immunology and Immunology Laboratory (3 credits; 1 credit)
  • BIO 482: Histology (4 credits)

Chemistry Coursework (15-16 credits)

  • CHEM 131 + 131L: General Chemistry I and Lab (4 credits)
  • CHEM 132 + 132L: General Chemistry II and Lab (4 credits)

Students are also required to complete 4 credit hours of Organic Chemistry with lab. A large portion (~70%) of PA schools list Organic Chemistry I as a required pre-requisite or strongly recommended.

  • CHEM 241: Organic Chemistry I (3 credits)
  • CHEM 241L: Organic Chemistry II (1 credits) or CHEM 242L: Organic Chemistry Laboratory (2 credits)

Please note, at JMU if you are interested in taking CHEM 242L (2 credit hours), do not take CHEM 241L (1 credit hour). Students cannot earn credit for both 241L and 242L. Chem 242L is 2 credits and will fulfill an Organic I lab requirement. Please note that Organic I is a prerequisite to Biochemistry at JMU (CHEM 260 and BIO/CHEM 361), and Organic lab is a pre-requisite to CHEM 260.

Students are required to complete 3-4 credits of Biochemistry. In total, 68% of PA schools required, recommended, or listed Biochemistry as a requirement option. Some schools also state that a Biochemistry lab is preferred (some required), meaning you need to take CHEM 260L or CHEM 366L. Again, please pay careful attention to pre-requisite requirements listed for PA programs to which you intend to apply.

  • CHEM 260 and 260L: Concepts of Biochemistry and Laboratory (4 credits total) or 
  • CHEM 361: Biochemistry I (3 credits)

Mathematics Coursework (3-6 credits)

Pre-Physician Assistant students are required to complete 3 credits of a 200- or 300-level Statistics. It is recommended to take an additional math course.  

Statistics: There are two statistics courses that Pre-Physician Assistant students are encouraged to take for the Pre-PA statistics requirement at James Madison University. Your ALEKS score may require that you take MATH 105: Quantitative Literacy and Reasoning beforehand to be successful in these courses.

  • MATH 220: Elementary Statistics (3 credits)
  • MATH 229: Introduction to Applied Statistics Using R (3 credits)

Calculus: If you choose to take calculus, there are four 200-level Calculus options at James Madison University that should fulfill this prerequisite for PA schools. There are two calculus "pathways"; the 231-232 sequence, 233-234 sequence, and 235 prepare you for more advanced calculus courses. MATH 205 does not prepare you for more advanced calculus courses. Your ALEKS score may require that you take MATH 155 or 156: College Algebra beforehand, or that you take MATH 199: Algebra/Precalculus Gateway in conjunction with one of the following courses to be successful.

  • MATH 205: Introductory Calculus I (3 credits)
  • MATH 231: Calculus with Functions I (3 credits)
  • MATH 233E: A Modeling Approach to Calculus, Part A (3 credits; Biology majors only)
  • MATH 235: Calculus I (4 credits)

Psychology Coursework (6 credits)

Pre-PA students must complete 6 credits of Psychology coursework from the options listed below. You should look at individual PA schools' list of pre-requisites to guide selection of psychology coursework to assure completion of all pre-requisites.

  • PSYC 101: General Psychology (3 credits)
  • PSYC 160: Life Span Human Development (3 credits)
  • PSYC 250: Introduction to Abnormal Psychology (3 credits) or PSYC 335: Abnormal Psychology (3 credits; Psychology majors only)

Students are encouraged to utilize General Education as an opportunity to take Pre-PA Psychology coursework that will also count for General Education's Cluster 5: Sociocultural Domain.

  • PSYC 101: General Psychology (3 credits)
  • PSYC 160: Life Span Human Development (3 credits)

Medical Terminology Coursework 

  • HTH 210: Medical Terminology (3 credits)
Applying to PA School

The Centralized Application Services for Physician Assistants (CASPA) opens for submission in April of each year. Program start dates vary (January, May, June, August, September), thus application deadlines vary widely. It is always advantageous to apply early, so reach school deadlines well in advance! 

Academic performance is a critical factor in the evaluation of applicants. Typically programs review the overall Grade Point Average (GPA) and the GPA of science courses. Many programs have a minimum GPA requirement of a 3.0. In general, programs also examine the transcript for evidence of academic consistentcy, course load, and improvement in grade performance.

The Graduate Record Exam (GRE®)

The GRE General Test features question types that closely reflect the kind of thinking you'll do in your professional health program:

  • Verbal Reasoning - Measures your ability to analyze and evaluate written material and synthesize information obtained form it, analyze relationships among component parts of sentences and recognize relationships among words and concepts.
  • Quantitative Reasoning - Measures problem-solving ability using basic concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis.
  • Analytical Writing - Measures critical thinking and analytical writing skills, specifically your ability to articulate and support complex ideas clearly and effectively.

Learn more about the content and structure of the GRE® General Test from Educational Testing Services (ETS). Also you can find information about GRE® registration, test centers and dates through the ETS GRE® website.

Test Preparation Services

There are many types of test preparation resources that vary in cost and approach. PPH Advising deos not endorse any of the providers below, but are happy to speak with you about how you might identify the style of preparation that best fits your needs.

Source

Cost Level

Educational Testing Service (ETS)

Free - Low

Khan Academy

Free

Magoosh

Low

McGraw-Hill Education

Low

Clayborne Education

Low - High

Princeton Review

Low - High

Manhattan Prep

Mid - High

NextStep Test Prep

Free - High

Kaplan Test Prep

Free - High

Clinical Experience

Engagement in the PA profession will not only help you continue to explore and confirm your interest in the profession, but also demonstrate a commitment to serving others. Additionally, many PA programs require or prefer health care experience prior to entry. Each program defines the type and amount of experience it requires. The average amount is about 1,000 hours of direct-contact, patient-care hours. Advanced planning is extremely important since it generally requires certification and will take time to acquire the clinical experience.

Personal Statement

Your personal statement is a distinctive aspect of your application. It begins with reflection. Consider the following questions to begin:

  • Why do you want to become an physician assistant? Why is this the profession you have chosen instead of another?
  • Think back to your experiences volunteering, shadowing, researching, studying abroad. Can you provide a specific story that deeply impacted you and your decision to become a physician assistant?
  • What do you want the committee to know about you as a person or future colleague? What makes you a good fit for the profession?

The CASPA personal statement section includes a 5,000 character limit, including spaces. See CASPA for a formal prompt topic.

Letters of Recommendation or Evaluation

PA programs require letters of recommendation as part of the application. We recommend that students establish relationships with faculty within the university as well as with employers in clinical work place settings. Letters of evaluation from people who are able to comment on your academic preparation and health care experience are typically preferred.

You should provide 3 LORs and submit through the CASPA Electronic Evaluation Portal. Determine any specific LOR requirements from programs of choice. However, letters are most commonly required by: 

  • Science Faculty
  • Non-Science Faculty
  • Employer
  • Physician Assistant

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