Physician Assistant

What is a Physician Assistant?

A Physician Assistant is a health care professional licensed to practice medicine on teams with physicians and other healthcare professionals. They are usually supervised by a physician. Physician Assistants (PAs) conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery, and in most states write prescriptions. Similarly to physicians, PAs can specialize in many different areas of medicines, and in some rural areas, may be primary care providers. For more information, please see the PA profile in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook.

How do I become a Physician Assistant?

A master’s degree is required in order to become a Physician Assistant (PA). These programs are generally 2-3 years long, at the end of which students receive their Master of Physician Assistant (MPA), Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies (MSPAS), or Master of Health Professions or Physician Assistant Certificate. Before entering a PA program, students are required to have a Bachelor’s Degree and to have successfully completed a series of prerequisite courses.

PA programs do not require a specific major in order to apply, and the University of Maryland does not offer a “Pre-PA” major, degree, or certificate. However, the University of Maryland does offer the prerequisite courses needed for admission to a PA program, and offers advising for pre-PA students.

What prerequisite coursework is necessary to become a Physician Assistant?

While prerequisites vary widely from school to school, common prerequisites can include (but are not limited to):

  • General Biology
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology
  • General Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Microbiology
  • General Psychology
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • English Composition
  • Statistics
  • Medical Terminology

Students can use the Physician Assistant Education Association Online’s PA Program Directory to look at specific prerequisite courses for different schools, and can use the most recent Curriculum Survey Report to explore common prerequisites across PA programs.

What other necessary experience do I need to become a Physician Assistant?

Many PA programs require applicants to have had previous healthcare experience. The typical applicant already has two to four years (or over 1,000 hours) of direct patient care experience (such as EMT, CNA, MA, phlebotomist, etc). Some programs also require the Graduate Record Exam (GRE).

Check out the Physician Assistant Education Association Online's Latest Infographic on Competitive Applicants