A physician assistant (PA) is a vital member of a healthcare team. Working under the supervision of a medical doctor, a PA can practice medicine and provide direct care to patients in a variety of healthcare environments. Being a pre–physician assistant (pre-PA) student, as part of Preprofessional Studies at Purdue Fort Wayne, refers to a student’s desire to become a licensed PA in the future. Pre-PA students can be in any department or major on campus, as there is no pre-PA major. Bachelor’s degrees in a health or a physical science major are common for students intending to apply to a PA graduate program after graduation. However, it is also important for pre-PA students to study subjects that excite and challenge them, and to take time to be confident about their chosen academic and career path.
A graduate degree from a program that is currently accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission of Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) is a necessary step in becoming a licensed physician assistant. These programs typically have a seven-term curriculum of medical courses combined with a variety of clinical rotations in healthcare settings. Both Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis and Indiana State University have PA programs that are currently ARC-PA accredited. After the graduate degree has been awarded, a passing score on the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam and the fulfillment of any state licensure requirements are also mandatory before applying to be a licensed PA. Once a license has been obtained, a PA may also choose to pursue specialty certifications with additional education.
Licensed PAs practice medicine in a variety of ways, working under the supervision of a medical doctor. Specialties include surgery, pediatrics, orthopedics, and anesthesiology. There are opportunities for PAs to practice medicine at hospitals, doctors’ offices, clinics, and other healthcare settings, and their primary role or duties often vary between states or within populations. Depending on the location or situation, a PA may even serve as a primary care physician or assist in surgical procedures. As the healthcare industry continues to grow in northeast Indiana, the number of PA positions needing to be filled is expected to increase steadily in the coming years.
Advising and Preparation
Being a pre-PA student at Purdue Fort Wayne does not refer to your chosen undergraduate major. It is an indication that you are preparing now for application to a graduate physician assistant program in order to pursue a career as a licensed PA. It is common for pre-PA students to earn a bachelor’s degree in a health or physical science major. However, it is completion of the required prerequisite coursework that is essential for applying to a program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission of Education for the Physician Assistant. It is important for pre-PA students, or any student considering a professional degree, to meet with the preprofessional advisor as early as possible in their academic career to discuss graduate program prerequisites, their undergraduate major, and an individualized academic plan. Once the pre-PA student has finalized their major and academic plan with their program advisor and the preprofessional advisor, a discipline-specific faculty member will also be assigned as a pre-PA mentor and guide.
Recommended and Required Coursework List
The following list includes some of the most common prerequisites for many of the master of physician assistant programs in the United States (since each program is unique, this is not a guaranteed or exhaustive list for all schools):
- Biology with labs
- Anatomy and physiology with labs
- General chemistry with labs
- Organic chemistry with labs
- Microbiology and/or biochemistry with labs
- General psychology
- Medical terminology
- English composition
Advanced placement credits or online courses may not be accepted as prerequisites by some PA programs.
Recommended Experience Outside the Classroom
Pre-PA students need to devote a lot of time to working (or volunteering) in a healthcare environment and gaining direct patient experience. It is not unusual for applicants to PA programs to have not only a bachelor’s degree but also to have held jobs in the medical field. That does not mean a previous career in healthcare is necessary, but these highly competitive programs will require a great deal of practical experience to strongly consider an applicant. Job-shadowing a licensed PA and volunteering at a hospital or care facility is a great way to start out and begin making contacts. It can also provide pre-PA students the opportunity to see, firsthand, what a career as a PA is like so that they can make an informed decision about their own path.
Applying to Graduate or Professional School
Most Accreditation Review Commission of Education for the Physician Assistant accredited PA programs, including Indiana University and Indiana State University, use the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants for their application process. A separate application to the university’s graduate school may also be necessary. In addition, some PA programs require Graduate Record Examination scores, certain hours spent job-shadowing or working with a licensed PA, and/or direct patient-care experience. Pre-PA students will need to start their applications as early as the spring before their senior year if they intend to begin a master’s program soon after graduation. Because some PA programs admit at different times of the year, it is important to research the specifics of each potential program being considered.
Here are some resources to aid in the process:
- ARC-PA (Accreditation Review Commission of Education for the Physician Assistant)
- CASPA (Central Application Service for Physician Assistants)
- The Princeton Review
Schedule an appointment to take the next steps toward a career as a PA:
Academic Advisor for Preprofessional Studies