Pre-Physician Assistant Studies


Physician assistants are licensed health professionals who practice medicine with physician supervision, exercise autonomy in medical decision making, provide a broad range of diagnostic and therapeutic services and may also perform education, research and administrative activities. As part of their comprehensive responsibilities, PAs conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery, and in most states can write prescriptions. PAs are trained in intensive education programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. Because of the close working relationship the PAs have with physicians, PAs are educated in the medical model designed to complement physician training.

PAs are educated in those areas of basic medical science and clinical disciplines that prepare them to function as primary care providers. Instruction in the medical sciences includes human anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pharmacotherapeutics, clinical laboratory medicine, clinical and preventive medicine and psych-social issues in healthcare. PA education includes training in patient assessment, including techniques of interviewing and eliciting a medical history, performing a physical examination and skills for presenting both oral and written data. Additionally, PA students are trained in the cognitive skills required for medical decision-making, including the ability to conduct a medical literature search, interpret relevant research findings, and incorporate these findings into one's clinical practice. PAs are trained in the areas of family medicine, general internal medicine, pediatrics, geriatrics, women's health, general surgery, psychiatry, health maintenance, and ambulatory, emergency and long-term care.

PAs are trained in a range of social and behavioral sciences, including but not limited to medical care organization, human development, cross-cultural competency, death and dying, sexuality, medical care administration, research methods and medical ethics. PAs require a breadth of skills in clinical and psychosocial competencies to function effectively as mid-level providers in today's complex and changing medical care environments.

PAs held about 83,600 jobs in 2010. The highest concentration of PAs is in the northeast and southeast United States. Over half of all PAs practice in a primary care setting that includes family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology. About 19% are in surgery or the surgical subspecialties. PA programs look for students who have a desire to study, work hard, and to be of service to their community. Most physician assistant programs require applicants to have previous health care experience and some college education. The typical applicant already has a bachelor's degree and over 4 years of health care experience. Commonly nurses, EMTs, and paramedics apply to PA programs.

Forty-nine states, the District of Columbia, and Guam have enacted laws that authorize PA prescribing. PAs in Illinois will be able to write prescriptions as soon as rules to accompany the new prescribing statute are adopted. In California, PA prescriptions are referred to as written prescription transmittal orders. Upon graduation, physician assistants take a national certification examination developed by the National Commission on Certification of PAs in conjunction with the National Board of Medical Examiners. To maintain their national certification, PAs must log 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years and sit for a re-certification every six years. Graduation from an accredited physician assistant program and passage of the national certifying exam are required for state licensure.

Job Market and Salaries

Employment of physician assistants is expected to increase 30 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations. As more physicians enter specialty areas of medicine, there will be a greater need for primary healthcare providers, such as physician assistants. Because physician assistants are more cost-effective than physicians, they are expected to have an increasing role in giving routine care. Physician assistants also will be needed because the population in general is growing. More people means more need for healthcare specialists. In addition, employment growth is expected because the large baby-boom generation is getting older. As they age, baby boomers will be increasingly susceptible to ailments and conditions such as heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. Physician assistants are expected to have an increasing role in keeping these people healthy and caring for them when they get ill. Healthcare providers are also expected to use more physician assistants in new ways as states continue to allow assistants to do more procedures.

The median annual wage of physician assistants was $86,410 in May 2010. The median annual wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $57,450, and the top 10 percent earned more than $117,720. Median annual wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of physician assistants in May 2010 were as follows: hospitals, $89,500; outpatient care centers, $88,160; offices of physicians, $85,340; government, $85,170; colleges, universities, and professional schools, $80,810.


Physician assistant education programs usually take at least 2 years of full-time study. In 2011, the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant accredited 165 education programs. Most of these accredited programs offer a master’s degree. Others offer a bachelor’s degree, and a very few award an associate’s degree or graduate certificate. These physician assistant programs are at schools of allied health, academic health centers, medical schools, and 4-year colleges. A few are part of the military or are found at community colleges or hospitals.

Program & Requirements

Admission to the School of Physician Assistant Studies is highly competitive. The applicant must complete a bachelor’s degree in any discipline; the prerequisite courses listed below prior to enrollment in the professional program and have a minimum of 1000 hours of experience in direct patient care prior to application to the program. In addition, the PA program utilizes computer-based learning throughout the program; therefore, each student is required to have a laptop computer and possess basic word processing skills.

The Science BCP (Biology, Chemistry and Physics) GPA as calculated by the Central Application Service for Physician Assistant programs (CASPA) and the last 45 credit GPA should be above a 2.75 to be considered for admissions.


All prerequisite course work must be completed prior to May 1 of the year of entry, as official final transcripts must be received by that date. A transcript showing a bachelor’s degree needs to be submitted before classes start in late May. The applicant must complete the following courses with a C or better. Anatomy and Physiology must be completed within seven (7) years of matriculation into the program.

Biological Sciences – 11+ semester hours (3 courses*)

Human Anatomy (one course with lab)
Biol 224 Human Anatomy with lab
Human Physiology (one course with lab)
Biol 240 Human Physiology with lab
Microbiology or Bacteriology
Biol 308 Microbiology with lab

Chemistry – 11+ semester hours (3 courses*)

Organic Chemistry or Biochemistry (one of the following courses, no lab)
Chem 300 Fundamentals of Organic Chemistry with lab
Chem 400 Advanced Organic Chemistry with lab
Chem 380 Biochemistry Two additional Chemistry courses with lab (may include additional Organic or Biochemistry Courses)
Chem 220 General Chemistry I
Chem 230 General Chemistry II
Or any course listed above

Statistics – 3-4 semester hours (one course)

Course must be taken in the department of psychology, sociology, statistics or math.
Math 207 General Elementary Statistics
or Psy 350 Behavioral Statistics
or Soc 301 Social Statistics

Psychology or Sociology – 4 semester hours (one course)

Any course in psychology or sociology
Soc 101 Intro to Sociology
Psy 150 Intro to Psychology

*Courses taken to fulfill the science prerequisites must be those for science majors.

While not required, to meet the foreign language requirement, Spanish is strongly encouraged.

A minimum of 1,000 hours of direct (hands-on) patient care/health care experience in a position of responsibility is required of all applicants.

Shadow experience with a Physician Assistant may count towards the requirement, but will not fulfill the requirement completely.

The method to document this experience is through the CASPA online application.
* Please note that The Admissions Committee will consider the total number of hours accumulated, at the time you submit your CASPA application. No consideration will be given to hours projected for the future.

More Information

Pacific University School of Physician Assistant Studies
American Academy of Physician Assistants

Program Contacts

Judy Ortiz
Program Director

Leah Pelto
Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions