Exciting: How to Get into PA School! – The 2020 Essential Guide

How to Get into PA School - The 2020 Essential Guide

Do you dream of becoming a Physician Assistant and caring for patients? Are you interested in learning more about becoming a great candidate for PA school? That’s great! Physician Assistants are in high demand to help provide care for patients. According to  US News, the #3 best job in the United States is a Physician Assistant! Maybe that’s why you’re here trying to figure out how to get into PA school. Discover what is required to begin a healthcare career as a Physician Assistant and get ahead of the curve! By the end of this article, you should understand how to get into PA school!

What’s a Physician Assistant & What Does a Physician Assistant Do?

Making sure you understand what a physician assistant does is important, prior to making any investments and long-term commitments. It would be devastating to invest in something long term only to find it is not what you expected. A physician assistant is a healthcare professional that works under the supervision of a physician.  Despite the name, a PA is not an assistant to a physician nor a medical assistant, instead, they practice medicine together to provide care for patients. Physician Assistants can provide many of the same services as doctors. However, they do not have to spend as much time in school as doctors.

PAs’ specific duties depend on the setting in which they work, their level of experience, their specialty, and state laws.

Generally, PAs can:

  • Take medical histories
  • Conduct physical exams
  • Diagnose and treat illness
  • Order and interpret tests
  • Develop treatment plans
  • Prescribe medication
  • Counsel on preventive care
  • Perform procedures
  • Assist in surgery
  • Make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes
  • Do clinical research

Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the demand for Physician Assistants is projected to grow 31 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Population growth and baby boomers aging and living longer, create a demand for healthcare services requiring healthcare experts such as physician assistants.

The median annual wage for physician assistants was $112,260 in May 2019.

How to Get into PA School - The 2020 Essential Guide
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

States with the Highest Level of Employment for Physician Assistants

How to Get into PA School - The 2020 Essential Guide
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Become a Physician Assistant?

Currently, there are about 250 PA programs in the United States. To become a PA, you must attend and graduate from an accredited PA program, pass the national certification exam, and get licensed in the state where you will practice. Typically, PA programs are about 26 months or 3 academic calendar years. Because PA programs are highly competitive you may be wondering how to get into PA school and be a great candidate. Continue to read below for that information.

1. You Must Gain Health Care & Patient Care Experience

Gaining real-world experience in healthcare is going to be extremely valuable as you begin your career as a Physician Assistant. Not only is the experience required for PA programs, but it will allow you to gain early insight into the healthcare field. You may discover that you love healthcare or that it is not really for you. Either way, you should test the waters before investing lots of time and money. Research the PA programs you’re interested in attending to find out what experience you will need to obtain. By doing this you will know how to get into PA school, with no surprises.

2. You Must Obtain a Bachelors Degree

Before you can even apply for a PA program, you must have a bachelor’s degree.  Your undergraduate studies should focus heavily on science courses. The best way to know what you will need to study is to find out the requirements of the PA programs you’re interested in attending.

3. You Must Obtain A Masters Degree

According to the American Academy of PAs (AAPA), Most Physician Assistant programs are about 26 months or 3 academic calendar years.

As a PA student, you’ll receive classroom instruction in:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Pharmacology
  • Physical diagnosis
  • Pathophysiology
  • Microbiology
  • Clinical laboratory science
  • Behavioral science
  • Medical ethics

You’ll also complete more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations, with an emphasis on primary care in ambulatory clinics, physician offices, and acute or long-term care facilities.

4. Pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE)

Once a potential physician assistant completes the PA program, they must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE). The examination consists of 300 multiple-choice questions over five hours. These questions assess your medical, surgical and scientific knowledge. Candidates are permitted to take the test no more than six times over six years. If they are not successful during this period, they will attend another ARC-PA educational program before attempting the exam again.

A physician assistant who passes the exam may use the credential “Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C).”

5. Get Licensed as A PA in The State You Wish To Practice

In the United States, all states require PAs to be licensed to practice. Refer to the state you wish to practice for more details.

6. Maintain Your PA Certification

Physician Assistants must complete 100 hours of continuing medical education (CME) credits every two years to maintain their national certification.  Every 10 years you will need to take a recertification exam the Physician Assistant National Recertifying Exam (PANRE).

How To Get Into PA School? What’s Required?

Becoming a Physician Assistant and enrolling in a PA program is highly competitive.   Currently, there are about 250 PA programs in the United States.   Typically, PA programs are about 2- 3 academic years. All PA schools are not the same, prerequisites and qualifications for physician assistant programs will vary.

African Med School Student

Prerequisites for Physician Assistant Programs

Undergraduate Courses

Most PA programs require prerequisite courses focused heavily on science. In addition, you may be required to take some non- science prerequisite courses. Because all PA programs are different, refer to the requirements of the PA program you’re interested in attending for specific courses, GPAs, Etc.

Again, this will help you plan for how to get into PA school with no problems when its time to apply!

Science Preresqiute Courses for PA Programs may include:

  • Chemistry
  • Physiology
  • Anatomy
  • Microbiology
  • Biology
  • Biochemistry
Senior teacher teaching biology to student in laboratory.

Patient Care Experience/ Healthcare Experience

Most PA programs require a minimum of 1000 hours of patient care experience. This is one of the most important things to consider when trying to figure out how to get into PA school. You can gain experience by starting a healthcare career, with an entry-level position such as the ones listed below:

  • Certified nursing assistant (CNA)
  • Emergency medical technician (EMT)
  • Medical assistant
  • Paramedic
  • Medic or medical corpsman
  • Peace Corps volunteer
  • Lab assistant/phlebotomist
  • Registered nurse
  • Emergency room technician
  • Surgical tech
doctor and nurse visiting senior woman at hospital

Become a Certified Nursing Assistant & Gain Experience!

Becoming a CNA is one of the easiest positions to obtain when beginning your career in healthcare. Under the supervision of a Register Nurse (RN), CNAs provide direct patient care in various healthcare settings such as hospitals, assisted living facilities, clinics, etc.

The cost of training is low compared to other healthcare programs. The cost of CNA programs varies for each state and school, however, the price ranges from $300 – $2000.

CNA programs can be completed within 1- 3 months which is much shorter compared to other healthcare programs. Research your state requirements to become a CNA.

If you’re located in the state of Florida you’re in luck! You can simply challenge the Florida CNA test to get your CNA license.

Click Here to Learn How to Get Your CNA License in Florida!

Doctor and nurse discussing over digital tablet


Trying to figure out how to get into PA school can be confusing. However, you will need to get started in the healthcare field with an entry-level position such as a Certifed Nursing Assistant (CNA). This will help satisfy the patient care experience most PA programs require. In addition, you will want to research your PA program to make sure you choose the correct prerequisite courses during your undergraduate studies. Once you complete a PA program you qualify to take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE). Once you pass the PANCE and get licensed in your state, you’re on your way to caring for the world!

Did we help you understand how to get into PA School?  Why are you considering becoming a PA?


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