Master of Science in Physician Assistant

In the Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Health program at NWHSU, you will take the credits you need to be competitive in your Physician Assistant (PA) school application. Through coursework and attentive advising, you will feel more than prepared for the rigorous academic setting of PA master’s program.

Pre-PA students in the PBPH program will work with Dr. Wotal to design an appropriate academic plan and complete a strong application.

Becoming a Physician Assistant

Physician assistants are health care professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. PAs conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery, and in virtually all states write prescriptions.

Within the physician-PA relationship, physician assistants exercise autonomy in medical decision making and provide a broad range of diagnostic and therapeutic services. A PA’s practice may also include education, research, and administrative services.

PAs are trained in intensive education programs accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). Upon graduation, physician assistants take a national certification examination developed by the National Commission on Certification of PAs (NCCPA) in conjunction with the National Board of Medical Examiners. The graduate program confers a master’s degree. The programs are typically 2.5-3 years in length.

Preparing for a PA Program

Many PA programs have unique and often very specific academic requirements or prerequisites for candidates.

Typical Prerequisites
  • One year of Organic Chemistry with lab
    • The prerequisite: One year of chemistry with lab
  • One course each of human anatomy and physiology with labs
  • One course in microbiology with lab
  • One course in statistics
  • One course in psychology
  • Medical Terminology
Other frequently required or recommended courses
  • general biology
  • genetics
  • biochemistry
  • additional courses in social/behavioral sciences
  • languages (some schools require coursework in Spanish)
  • public speaking

Carefully and fully research the programs you are interested in, do not assume a course that has a similar name will fulfill the requirement.

Applying to PA School

You will use the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants to apply to most PA programs. The portal typically opens late April.

Application Portal

Application Components

CASPA calculates several types of GPAs based on every college-level course you have taken, whether before, during, or after your undergraduate years. This includes any courses that you have retaken for grade replacement or grade averaging as allowed by your university. (Both the good and the bad rounds of the same course contribute to the overall calculation.)

Each GPA category is calculated by adding your credits multiplied by the numeric value of your grade (quality points) and dividing that number by the total credits you attempted to earn in this same category. There are several GPA categories, but the main ones are cumulative GPA (cGPA) and science GPA (sGPA).

cGPA = every course you have taken for college-level credit.
sGPA = Biology/Zoology, Inorganic Chemistry, Biochemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physics, and Other Science courses. (Does not include English, Math, Social/Behavioral Science, and Other Non-Science.)

Many programs have minimum cGPA requirements of either 3.2 or 3.0. The average cGPA of admitted students is 3.7.

Use this spreadsheet to calculate your PA GPA: GPA Calculator PA

Patient Care Hours
Schools have minimum thresholds for healthcare experience. Most programs seem to favor applicants with more healthcare and direct patient contact. Schools define and measure these hours differently—understand how your experiences will be assessed.

Create a spreadsheet to track patient care hours or use a template.

Personal Statement
The prompt: “In the space provided write a brief statement expressing your motivation or desire to become a physician assistant. Keep your statement general as the same essay will be sent to all schools you will apply to. Your statement must be written in your own words and may not exceed 5,000 characters (not words).

These are very hard to write and it takes time to generate a quality statement. Have your statement reviewed by peers. It needs to tell a story that gives the reader a clear picture of your choices and how you will be an asset to the school and the profession. Use grammar websites to proof check your statement.

Letters of Recommendation
You will need to submit 3 Letters of Recommendation (LORs). Some schools allow and/or require a committee academic LOR. The best LORs are from individuals that really know you and can describe your personal attributes. Your letter writers are assessing your academic abilities, critical thinking skills, reliability, demonstrated leadership, interpersonal skills, and more. For PA applications, it is often required or suggested that the 3 LORs are:

  1. A professor
  2. A physician or physician assistant
  3. An employer, none of whom are relatives of the applicant

Admission to PA programs requires an interview. This is typically a day-long event consisting of a tour, question and answer panel and one-on-one interviews or Multiple Mini Interview (MMI), or both. The MMI is an interview format that consists of a series of interview stations, each focused on a different question or scenario. It often includes ethical questions and may explore how applicants think on their feet.

GRE (required by many but not all)
The GRE is a general standardized exam that is used for graduate programs in many different fields. Typically, you will only take the general GRE not a subject specific GRE.

The general GRE has 3 sections:

  • The Analytical Writing Assessment, or “essay” section, measures whether you can articulate your thoughts and responses to complex ideas in a clear and reasoned way.
  • The Verbal Section tests your ability to analyze written material, as well as relationships among component parts of sentences, including words and concepts.
  • The Quantitative Reasoning Section tests your basic quantitative skills, as well as your ability to reason and solve problems with quantitative methods. You’ll see questions covering basic arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis. You will not see trigonometry, calculus, or any other high-level math. Quantitative Reasoning questions appear in several formats.

The Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning sections are each scored on a scale of 130 to 170. The mean score for Verbal Reasoning is 151, and the mean score for Quantitative Reasoning is 153.

The Analytical Writing Assessment is scored from 0 to 6 in half-point increments, and the mean score is 4.0.

The GRE is a Multi-Stage Test, which means that your performance on the first section of the scored Verbal and Quant sections will determine the level of difficulty of the subsequent Verbal and Quant sections. The raw score from each section is the number of questions you answered correctly.

Your raw score is then converted to a scaled score through a process called “equating.”  For example, if you perform very well on the first Verbal section, you will receive the most difficult second section in Verbal, but you’ll also have access to the highest potential score range. If you perform less well on the first section of Verbal, you’ll see a less difficult second Verbal section, but you’ll also have access to a lower score band or “potential.”  For the Analytical Writing section, each essay receives a score from at least one human reader, using a 6-point scale.

It is highly recommended to study extensively for this exam. Free online options as well as a host of programs that have in person classes, online classes, and individual tutoring are available. You can take several full-length practice tests prior to your exam date. This is a test of general knowledge and can be taken during your coursework. 

SIN (required for a small number of schools) 
This is a new, subject-specific test called PA-CAT. A small number of schools are piloting this test. Make sure you check if you need to take the exam.

Resources and Opportunities

Local Volunteering opportunities: