Physician Assistant

Physician Assistant Programs

From the American Academy of Physician Assistants website:

"Physician assistants (PAs) are health professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. PAs perform a comprehensive range of medical duties, from basic primary care to high-technology specialty procedures. PAs often act as first or second assistants in major surgery and provide pre- and postoperative care.

In some rural areas where physicians are in short supply, PAs serve as the primary providers of health care, conferring with their supervising physicians and other medical professionals as needed and as required by law. PAs can be found in virtually every medical and surgical specialty.

The PA s responsibilities depend on the type of practice, his or her experience, the working relationship with physicians and other health care providers, and state laws."

A listing of all 140 of the Physician Assistant programs in the USA can be found here.

There are ten accredited PA programs in California; click here.for 9 of them. The tenth one is so new that it is not on that list: the PA program at Marshall B. Ketchum University in Orange County.

You can learn about the prerequisites and the type of program that is offered at the websites of PA programs. Linda Loma, for example, is a Master s program that requires a Bachelor's Degree from a regionally accredited institution, a minimum overall GPA and Science GPA of 3.0, various prereq courses. This is a typical representative list but individual programs may vary, so you need to check their websites:

  1. One course in Human Anatomy with lab
  2. One course in Human Physiology with lab
  3. One course in General Chemistry with lab
  4. One course in Microbiology or Bacteriology with lab
  5. One course in Algebra, Calculus or Statistics (Basic or advanced)
  6. One course in English Composition
  7. Two courses in Social Sciences. Ideal courses provide exposure to human or organizational behavior (such as Psychology, Sociology, Ethnic Studies, Women’s Studies or Cultural Anthropology).
  8. Overall GPA and Science GPA around 3.0

Most PA programs also require hands-on patient care experience that must be completed prior to enrollment. Touro University requires a minimum of 500 hours of such experience:

Military medic or corpsman, Paramedic/EMT (waiting time not included in hours), Nurse (LVN or RN), Radiology technologist , Physical therapist, Respiratory therapist, Occupational therapist, Medical technologist, Medical assistant (certified; back office hours only), Athletic trainer,
Certified Nurses Aide, PA Aide. (Careful on EMT hours - if
you are the driver only a percentage of your hours are counted.)

Touro has a 3 year program which is a joint Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies / Master of Public Health, but the high cost of this program ($233,000 including travel and room and board) requires careful consideration. PA's salaries top out at around $95K, so servicing that kind of debt would be problematic for many. However, there are federal and state loan repayment programs if you agree to work in medically underserved areas. Click here for a list of such programs.

FYI: San Joaquin Valley College s not accepting any applications to its PA program because it has lost its accreditation.

The average PA program takes 26.5 months to complete. On graduation from an accredited program, PAs are eligible to take the national certifying examination administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Only those passing the test can use the title Physician Assistant-Certified(PA-C).


For general information about PA programs, visit the Physician Assistant Education Association website. If you are thinking of applying to several PA programs, there is an application service run by PAEA: the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA). From their website: "CASPA offers applicants a convenient, state-of the-art, Web-based application service that will allow you to apply to any number of participating PA educational programs by completing a single application. The on-line application was specifically designed for your ease and convenience. With far less paperwork, streamlined processing, and ongoing communication with applicants, CASPA offers you the ability to apply to multiple programs across the country."