Preparing for Physician Assistant School
This page provides advice on preparing for admission to Physician Assistant programs. While this page includes information specific to the Indiana University Physician Assistant program, the guidelines and strategies explained throughout are widely applicable, regardless of which programs you intend to pursue. IUB students and alumni successfully apply to programs all around the country.
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Description of the Profession
What PAs do
A physician assistant is a health care professional licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. As part of their comprehensive responsibilities, PAs conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries, order and interpret lab tests and x-rays, counsel on preventative health care, assist in surgery, and write prescriptions. (As of 2009, PAs in Indiana are authorized to write prescriptions.) PAs practice in all areas of medicine: primary care (e.g., family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, and so on), emergency medicine and trauma, surgery, surgical sub-specialties, and in all other areas of practice.
In fact, PA school is often referred to as "accelerated medical school." PAs essentially need to function as physicians. In some settings - for example, in some rural clinics - a PA may be the primary healthcare provider, practicing under the supervision of an off-site physician. Though not yet pervasive, some states even allow PAs to operate their own practices, again, under the supervision of an off-site physician (see the section below about physician supervision of the physician assistant). Most PAs function as members of a team; interprofessional caregiving has become paramount in healthcare delivery.
One benefit that often draws people to the PA profession is the relative ease with which PAs can gain different kinds of specialization and expertise. They do so by working under the given type of physician, or in the kind of setting in which they wish to practice. In this way, PAs can gain multiple areas of specialization and expertise over their career. In many settings PAs are also able to work a more standard week, with fewer on-call hours. These details are negotiated between the PA and the physician or physician group that hires them.
The American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) site contains excellent information about PA practice, including details about working as a part of a team, how physicians and PAs collaborate, related healthcare ethics, and much more.
Interestingly, there has been some controversy over the very title physician assistant. Some within the profession believe physician associate more accurately reflects the traditional function that PAs have fulfilled within healthcare - that of a primary care provider, as distinguished from a "mere" assistant who is simply an extension of the physician's eyes and hands, so to speak. In fact, a few PA programs use the term physician associate, and there has been discussion within AAPA of changing the title, but such a change seems unlikely in the near future. The term physician assistant remains the current standard, as reaffirmed by AAPA in 2007. Physician's assistant (with an apostrophe s) and physicians assistant(plural s) are considered non-standard. In your conversations, emails, and other communications, we suggest you use the standard term, physician assistant.
For additional information, articles, and ephemera describing the history of the physician assistant profession, visit the Physician Assistant History Society site.
Skills and characteristics important to the PA profession
Excellent critical thinking, problem-solving, and science skills; the ability to work quickly and make good decisions under pressure; empathy; being an excellent communicator; the ability to work well independently as well as with a team of care givers and with a variety of personality types (as mentioned prior, interprofessional caregiving has become paramount) - all of this, while exhibiting consistent professionalism and impeccable ethics with patients and colleagues.
These and other professional development components are a critical part of any undergraduate degree. Carefully consider the guidelines on the HPPLC Professional Developmentpage.
Physician supervision of the physician assistant
The manner in which a PA is supervised by the physician depends on the laws of the given state, the specific healthcare setting, and the guidelines agreed upon by the PA and physician. Below are four EXAMPLES of different supervisory methods, from the CA.gov Physician Assistant Committee site. Each item describes a different way in which the physician and her or his PA might collaborate. There are other methods; these are just a few:
- The physician sees the patients the same day that they are treated by the PA.
- The physician reviews, signs, and dates the medical record of every patient treated by the physician assistant within thirty days of treatment.
- The physician adopts written protocols which specifically guide the actions of the PA. Within 30 days of treatment, the physician must select, review, sign, and date at least 10% of the medical records of patients treated by the physician assistant according to those protocols.
- In special circumstances, the physician provides supervision through another mechanism approved in advance by the [Physician Assistant Committee].
Choosing an Appropriate Pre-PA Degree and Major
A bachelors degree, along with prerequisite courses and other admission requirements, is required for admission to all Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) programs. While it is easier to work the PA prerequisites into some degrees/majors than others, most offer adequate flexibility. In addition, MPAS programs, including IU's, have no preference as to what degree/major applicants complete! Using the tips, guidelines, and resources at Choosing an Appropriate Degree/Major, you may be surprised how quickly you can narrow the field and move toward the options that best suit you!
Additional Information to Consider about the Profession
Physician Assistant compared to Nurse Practitioner (NP)
The differences and similarities between PAs and NPs noted below are contingent upon many variables, including the specific work setting, differing state regulations, and the preferences of the supervising physician.
- The length of formal training is roughly the same for NPs and for PAs enrolled in masters degree programs (about 24 - 27 months), although most NP programs require that applicants spend one or two years working as a registered nurse (RN) prior to beginning NP training.
- Pre-PA undergraduates may pursue any degree/major as they prepare to apply to PA programs. It is most common for those planning NP to first earn their BSN, work as a nurse for a year or two (or longer if they wish), and then enter an NP masters program. (There are other paths to the NP, but we won't go into those details here.)
- In some respects PA and NP are competing professions, so patient care responsibilities are very similar, even identical in some settings.
- It is often noted that NPs may operate their own medical practices, and, depending on certain circumstances, can often function more independently than PAs, both in terms of setting and the kinds of responsibilities they undertake. Some states allow PAs to operate their own practice, though these opportunities are not yet pervasive. In some settings where a local physician is not often present, such as in some rural clinics, a PA may be the main health care provider, even though technically they are under the supervision of an MD or a DO. Furthermore, how independently a PA practices is also very contingent upon state law, work setting, and the employment agreement between physician and PA.
- Both NPs and PAs may need to be on call, but PAs may have more predictable schedules with less on-call time, depending on the setting and their agreement with the supervising physician.
- PAs are covered by the physician's insurance. Depending on the setting, NPs often must have their own insurance. This is particularly true for NPs operating their own practice.
- Most PA degree programs are generalist in nature. PAs specialize by simply working and training with different kinds of physicians. By contrast, different NP training programs offer different specializations from the start. (For examples, see IU School of Nursing graduate programs.) Thus, for an RN or NP to move into another area of specialization (called "advanced nursing practice"), further schooling and certifications are necessary. There are some PA specialization training programs, but many within the PA profession argue against them because they believe PA training should, by definition, remain focused on producing general practitioners, that this more expansive training is one of the strengths of the traditional PA path, and that PA specializations should continue to be developed in the work setting, between the PA and their supervising physician, instead of through additional formal (and expensive) education.
- It is sometimes noted that PAs are trained according to a diagnostically-centered medical school model (we noted before that PA school is often referred to as "accelerated medical school"), whereas Nurse Practitioners are trained according to the holistic care model of the nursing profession. But what does this mean? It said that PA training generally focuses on the efficient gathering of information, assessment of symptoms related to the physical ailment, and the reaching of a diagnosis; whereas NP training is said to instill a more "holistic" approach to care - one that entails the assessment of the patient's whole physical, emotional, psychological, and cultural circumstances. According to this idea, while a busy NP may appear to be simply assessing physical symptoms and rendering diagnosis and treatment, the underlying philosophy of the NP's training and practice would nonetheless be holistic. At the same time, it would be a mistake to believe that an effective PA simply ignores a patient's psychological state, or cultural factors which might impact the patient's condition or treatment thereof. Those who job shadow both PAs and NPs, or who have been patients of each, often say they didn't experience much different between the two. It could be that this distinction is often more philosophical than practical.
- In 2006, an article in the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants stated, "While PAs embrace the physician-PA team concept and physician supervision, NPs generally use the term 'collaboration,' meaning a close working relationship between different professions. That said, NPs do view themselves as part of an interdisciplinary health care team" ('What's the Difference Between PAs and NPs?," JAAPA, V.19, No. 10 OCT 2006). More recently, "interprofessional collaboration" has become a hot topic. PA, NP, and healthcare in general, seem to be moving toward more collaborative, team-based care, which could mean that the practical distinctions between PA and NP could become even less discernible.
PA school versus medical school
Whether a given characteristic of med or PA is a so-called benefit or drawback, advantage or disadvantage to you, depends upon your personal circumstances, personality, aptitudes, goals, preferences, resources, and other factors. Length of professional training, for example, is a commonly cited difference between med and PA, but the choice between the two is not simply about the next stage of your education. It's also about which career seems the best fit for you. So what seems like a pro for one person might be a con for another; a factor that is important to one person might be inconsequential or neutral to another person.
PA school is often described as accelerated medical school, minus the residency component. This simple description is meant only as a starting point. If you are trying to decide between these two career paths, here are some suggestions:
- Arrange clinical observation (job shadowing) of both PAs and physicians so you can learn about the distinctions, commonalities, and collaborative styles between the two professions.
- You can learn a lot about the professions by spending a couple of hours reading around in both PA and medical journals (IUB Herman B. Wells library), especially articles focused on best practices.
- Explore the career and education information on professional organization sites affiliated with each field (e.g., AAMC, AAPA).
- On PA program sites, look up curricular information (what sorts of courses you would take in med or PA school, what kinds of clinicals you would undertake, how classes tend to be taught, and so on). Also read descriptions for actual medical and PA school courses. Doing so can further enhance your understanding of the similarities and differences between the physician and PA educational and career paths.
Course Requirements for Physician Assistant Programs
The courses required for admission vary from one physician assistant program to another. All programs will require some coursework in sciences such as chemistry, biology, physiology and anatomy. Additional courses required vary from program to program. We encourage you to begin doing program research early on to determine the courses you should take for the PA programs where you plan to apply. The section below provides information on the courses that are required for admission to the Indiana University Physician Assistant program. In addition, you should consult the section below that provides information on other courses that are commonly required by some PA programs. Consult related information and resources on the Researching Accredited Programs page, where you will find important guidelines and tips, as well as links to the official lists of accredited PA programs. Using these resources will save you time and labor. We strongly recommend applying to 10 to 12 programs if at all possible.
Course Requirements for Indiana University Physician Assistant Program
The following coursework is required for admission to the Indiana University Physician Assistant Program. The left hand column shows the program’s requirement and the right hand column shows courses at IU Bloomington that can be used to fulfill the requirement.
All prerequisite courses listed below must be a minimum of three credit hours (with the exception of Medical Terminology, which is a minimum 1 credit hour). All science courses must be a course for science majors and include a lab.
IU PA Program Requirement
IU Bloomington course(s) that fulfill the requirement
Human Anatomy with Lab
Human Physiology with Lab
General Chemistry I with Lab
General Chemistry II with Lab
CHEM-C 118 or CHEM-N 330
Organic Chemistry with Lab
CHEM-C 341 and 3431
Biology with Lab
BIOL-L 112, 113, 2112
Microbiology with Lab
BIOL-M 380 and 315 or BIOL-M 250 and 315
Statistics or Biostatistics (must include inferential)
STAT-S 303 or 300, PSY-K 300, or equivalent statistics courses
PSY-P 101 or 155
1 While the IU PA program does not require CHEM-C 342 Organic Chemistry II (Lecture), it is recommend that CHEM-C 342 be taken before or concurrently with CHEM-C 343.
2 An additional upper-level lecture and lab course in genetics (BIOL-L 311 and 319) or cell biology (BIOL-L 312 and 313) is also recommended. Genetics is preferred and highly recommended.
Requirements for Other Physician Assistant Programs
In addition to the courses listed above, following are some common additional courses that may be required by some PA programs. Different programs require different prerequisites. Below are some of the common additional requirements you may encounter as you research programs.
A growing number of PA programs require biochemistry. Thoroughly research programs ahead of time to determine whether you need this background. For those NOT majoring or minoring in chemistry one option may be CHEM-C383 Chemical Organization of Living Systems, a biochemistry course specifically designed for pre-PA and premed students (P: CHEM-C 341). CHEM-C 483 Biological Chemistry (P: CHEM-C 342 or R340) and CHEM-C 484 Biomolecules and Catabolism (P: C342) are also possible options, especially for chem majors and minors. Both 483 and 484 are very intensive courses and will require substantial investment of time each week and a willingness to seek consistent help.
For PA programs requiring an immunology course: BIOL-L 321 Principles of Immunology (P: BIOL 211 and CHEM-C 117; R: BIOL-L 312).
For PA programs requiring molecular biology: BIOL-L 211 (P: BIOL-L112 and CHEM-C 117).
For PA programs requiring genetics: BIOL-L 311 (P: BIOL-L 211).
A number of PA programs require some coursework in psychology. If general psychology is required, then PSY-P 101 and perhaps 102, or P155, may be acceptable. If upper level is required than most any 300-level PSY course may be sufficient. Confirm with the given program.
Lifespan Development or Developmental Psychology
For PA programs requiring Lifespan Development or Developmental Psychology options may be SPH-F 150, EDUC-P 314, or PSY-P 3151 . PSY-P 315 may be a more flexible option, depending on program preferences. If Lifespan or Developmental Psychology is required it may need to cover the full lifespan, birth to death. Confirm with programs.
Some PA programs require a semester or two of physics. Options for physics courses would include PHYS-P 201 or 221 (if one semester is required) and PHYS-P 202 or 222 (if a second semester is required). Confirm with each program to which you plan to apply.
Some PA programs require a certain minimum number of humanities course credits. For options, refer to the IUB General Education list of A&H courses . (Select Arts & Humanities. Once the list populates be sure to click Next to reveal additional options.)
Prerequisite course notes:
- Officially, the prerequisite or corequisite for EDUC-P 314 is PSY-P 101 or P155. Prerequisite for PSY-P315 is PSY-P 101 and 102, or P155 by itself. (P155 is generally recommended only for psychology majors.)
- Prerequisite for PHYS- 201 / 202 is a solid trigonometry background. 221 and 222 are calculus-based physics courses and require a strong calculus background, such as MATH-M 211 / 212.
Researching Accredited Physician Assistant Programs
It is important to research the programs where you plan to apply long before you reach the application stage. Thoroughly utilize the Researching Accredited Programs pagethroughout your preprofessional process. It includes important guidelines and tips for identifying accredited programs, deciding where to apply, organizing your research process, finding programs for which your GPA is competitive, and much more. Use only the lists of programs linked from that page. Other lists are incomplete, outdated, and driven by marketing. Be sure to research and consider both CASPA and non-CASPA programs.
Use this Prerequisite Research Planning Tool to help you track requirements as you research programs.
Guidelines for Planning Your Prerequisites
Below, we've assembled some important guidelines to help you plan your prerequisites efficiently, while avoiding common oversights:
- It is usually best for pre-PA students to begin the chemistry prerequisites right away. Doing so can help you gauge your science aptitude early-on. It's fine to wait and take others like anatomy and physiology later. If you are on a strict 4-year plan, then summer courses are likely necessary.
- Each PA program has its own set of prerequisites, minimum grade/GPA requirements, and so on. We strongly encourage you to research lots of programs and apply to 10 or 12.
- Considerably higher grades than the minimum required are necessary, not only to be competitive for admission, but to help you develop the skills and knowledge you will need to thrive in intensive graduate-level coursework. Programs also like to see consistency on transcripts. For IU PA admission policies such as minimum required grades and GPA, refer to SHRS MPAS Admission Requirements > Academic Prerequisites.
- It is usually best to avoid overlapping multiple 4 or 5 credit lab courses. People usually earn lower grades when they take such classes in the same semester than had they taken them separately. For instance, most people are better off not taking CHEM-C 117/127 and ANAT-A 215 together.
- We also caution about combining organic chemistry with 4 or 5 credit lab courses, since the 3 cr organic chem course is actually more like 5 or 6 credits of work.
- Avoid online lab courses, as most programs will not accept them.
- Most PA programs, including IU, calculate a separate science GPA and consider it along with your cumulative GPA. Therefore, most prerequisites count twice during the admission process, making your performance in these courses doubly important.
- Programs calculate a total cumulative GPA in accordance with the given program's GPA policies, with all grades from all college-level courses , including original grades from transfer courses and dual credit. It doesn't matter how they transfer to IUB since programs go back to original transcripts. Programs will not use your Indiana University GPA. For easy to use GPA calculators, click HERE.
- Be wary of taking prerequisites at community colleges (2-year colleges). Some programs accept them, whereas others do not accept them or prefer prereqs taken at 4-year institutions; this, because they believe the latter offer better preparation for graduate-level work. In addition, low- or mid-level courses taken at a community college (for example, chemistry) often do not provide adequate preparation for mid- or upper-level IUB science courses.
- Course retake policies vary by program. Some calculate your GPA with only the retake grade and not the original grade; others average the first grade with the retake; some will calculate just the retake grade, but only for one or two courses, and so on. Obviously it's best to avoid the situation and earn strong grades the first time.
- For IU PA retake policies, refer to SHRS MPAS Admission Requirements > Academic Prerequisites.
- All programs have prerequisite deadlines, which vary substantially. Generally, plan to have your prerequisites completed in accordance with your earliest prerequisite deadline. You may need to apply as early as June or July.
- For details about the IU PA prerequisite deadline, see SHRS PA Application Information > Prerequisite Course Completion Form. Contact the program directly if you have related questions.
- Some programs may not accept Advanced Placement (AP) credit, credit-by-exam, or exemption from degree requirements in place of admission requirements, or may only accept such credit under specific circumstances. Check with each program to confirm its policies.
- The IU PA program will accept unlimited AP credit with a score of 3+ for specific prerequisite courses, as long as the prereq credit appears on your official transcript. If IUB did not grant AP credit, or only awarded "undistributed (UN)" credit, then IU PA will not grant prereq credit for the given subject(s).
- For the latest policy updates, visit School of Health and Rehabilitation Science's MPAS homepage, or contact the program directly.
Retaking and dropping classes
Course retake policies vary by program. Some calculate your GPA with only the retake grade and not the original grade; others average the first grade with the retake; some will calculate just the retake grade, but only for one or two courses, and so on. Obviously it's best to avoid the situation and earn strong grades the first time.
- Read about possible pros, cons, and options related to dropping and retaking courses, and consult related guidelines, on our Retaking and Dropping Classes page.
- For IU PA retake policies, refer to SHRS MPAS Admission Requirements > Academic Prerequisites.
A word about the pre-PA timeline
It is extremely common for people to wait an additional year or two (or more) to apply to PA programs so they can complete prerequisites, garner more direct care experience, more clinical observation, and so on. Feel free to discuss options, and your particular circumstances, with a HPPLC advisor.
What is a Competitive GPA?
What grade point average is competitive for admission depends on a number of factors. Visit our Competitive GPA page to gain a general sense of what GPA goals to set for yourself, and how GPA figures in relation to other admission requirements.
Without exception, programs that do not have a specific shadowing requirement nonetheless strongly recommend it. Shadowing requirements vary dramatically from one program to another. Once you research and narrow your list of programs to the ones to which you hope to apply, check their websites. Doing so is the only way to learn what kind and how much shadow you need at a minimum. Note that programs look more favorably upon applicants who go beyond mere minimums.
Clinical Observation Is Different From Volunteering and Direct Patient Care
Shadowing is watching; direct patient care is doing
Clinical observation (or shadowing - here, we use the terms interchangeably) is NOT the same thing as volunteering, direct patient care, and other hands-on experience. Clinical observation is exactly what it sounds like: you are observing a healthcare professional provide care to patients or clients in a clinical setting, such as a hospital, therapy clinic, long term care facility, private practice, and so on. Through clinical observation experiences, you see what the day-to-day responsibilities of a given health career might involve within a given healthcare setting. Consult this
Clinical Observation page for more information.
Direct Patient Care Experiences
All physician assistant programs require or strongly recommend that applicants garner direct patient care experience. "Patient care" is not the same thing as shadowing/clinical observation. Shadowing is watching, providing care is doing. Direct patient care is thus exactly what it sounds like: you are literally providing healthcare of some kind to patients. Often, even basic healthcare experience such as taking vitals is acceptable, though what is acceptable to a given program varies. That is where careful program research comes into play.
To repeat: programs vary in what kind of experience they will accept as "patient care." Consult the HPPLC PA Direct Patient Care Guidelines page, which explains what we mean by "direct patient care," how to understand the differing program requirements, and how to document your experiences for the benefit of your personal essay and admission interviews. We've also included a list of specific patient care options.
Certification in Basic Life Support (BLS) for Health Care Providers
Prior to beginning professional coursework, many programs require that you become certified for adult, child, and infant CPR, commonly referred to as BLS certification, Health Care Provider CPR, or CPR for the Professional Rescuer. Training courses are offered for a fee through the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross. The IU Bloomington course, SPH-H 160 First Aid And Emergency Care (3 cr), also includes all necessary instruction, including use of the Automated External Defibrillator (AED). Upon completing H160, students are eligible to complete CPR/AED certification for the Professional Rescuer and Health Care Provider, and can also become first aid certified.
Other Professional Development
Clinical observation (shadowing) and direct patient care are the two most important pre-PA professional development experiences. In addition, use your time as an undergraduate to develop a strong sense of professionalism and professional etiquette. Effective time management can still allow for other undergraduate experiences, which you can explore on theHPPLC Professional Development page.
Applying to Physician Assistant Programs
Many, although not all, Physician Assistant programs require that you apply through the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA). If you are applying to CASPA programs, as you complete the online application you will be prompted to complete various CASPA procedures. The CASPA site includes detailed information about each step in the CASPA application process. Fully utilize the CASPA FAQs pertaining to the CASPA application process. The FAQs are good, and will thoroughly address most of your questions about CASPA. Consult the site often and consistently to make sure you understand their policies and procedures. If you have specific questions about CASPA procedures, or technical questions about the electronic applicant itself, you can contact CASPA directly. CASPA tends to have pretty good customer service, so a phone call is often your best bet.
For programs that do not use CASPA, you need to submit an application directly to the program. Consult the individual program’s website for information on their application process.
Remember to consider the dozens of non-CASPA programs, or you risk overlooking excellent opportunities. Whether or not a program partners with the central application service has absolutely no bearing on program quality or accreditation; it is simply a choice they've made about their application process.
When to apply
Plan to apply to PA programs during the summer. Fall is often too late!
Application cycles vary considerably. Some programs begin during the summer, some in the fall, others in the spring. Some application deadlines are as early as August 1. For programs that begin in January, applications are often submitted the spring prior.
Application cycles occur roughly 8 to 11 months prior to when admitted applicants will begin the PA program itself. In other words, you apply the year prior to when you plan to enter PA school. Some pre-PA students choose to apply during the summer after junior year (if they are on the traditional "4 year plan"), but most choose to (or find that they must) defer their application for a year or more so they can garner more patient care experience, work in additional shadowing and prerequisites, etc. (For help planning your timeline, click HERE.)
Programs are receiving more applications than ever, so submit your application many weeks before deadlines, taking into account rolling admissions cycles.
Many programs have "rolling admissions" meaning they begin filling spaces as soon as the program's application cycle opens for the given year. For programs with rolling admissions, we recommend that you submit your completed application toward the beginning of their application cycle. Applying late during rolling admissions can greatly decrease your chances of being admitted to some programs. In fact, we recommend you set the opening of your earliest rolling admissions cycle as your own soft application deadline. It is also true that the timing of your applications depends on other variables, such as how much time you need to prepare for and take the GRE, allowing yourself enough time to compose an excellent personal essay, and so on. Therefore, you have to plan your application according to what is most advantageous to you.
Go to this link and watch an informative but lighthearted cartoon short about rolling admissions.
A personal essay is required as part of the CASPA application, and programs that do not use CASPA may also require a personal statement or essay. Early in your program research (which you should begin now if you haven't already done so), confirm on program websites and central application sites whether any of your programs require that you submit an essay in response to a "custom question" instead of or in addition to your general essay.
For more advice go to: http://hpplc.indiana.edu/ohp/PersonalEssayOTPTPA.shtml.
Letters of recommendation
Most PA programs require two to three letters of recommendation. Some programs require letters from instructors and possibly from a practicing Physician Assistant you shadowed. If you are applying to programs via CASPA, the letters must be submitted directly by the recommender through CASPA. For CASPA programs, consult CASPA's Letter of Reference FAQ before submitting recommender information.
Get to know your instructors and request letters of recommendation 6, 8, or more weeks before you plan to submit applications. Follow the guidelines for Gathering and Submitting Letters of Recommendation, which include insight into the process for both CAS and non-CAS programs.
Graduate Record Exam (GRE - revised General Test)
As part of the application process, most PA programs require that you take the GRE revised General Test. Thoroughly read the HPPLC Graduate Record Exam (GRE) page, which includes important information and tips about when to take the GRE, preparing for and arranging to take the exam, how scores are reported, and how to decide whether or not to retake the exam.
MCAT scores and PA programs
A small number of PA programs will accept scores from the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) in place of GRE scores. (Program websites should indicate if this is the case.) The MCAT option sometimes arises when a premed student who has already taken the MCAT switches to pre-PA, or in those rare instance where a PA program requires it. If you think you might be in this situation, consult with a HPPLC advisor to discuss pros, cons, and options.
Most physician assistant programs conduct admission interviews. Because most programs receive hundreds, sometimes thousands, of applications, programs that conduct interviews rarely interview all applicants. For advice on preparing for interviews go to http://hpplc.indiana.edu/ohp/Interviews_PA-OT-PT.shtml.
The Indiana University Physician Assistant Program application process
The IU Physician Assistant program requires application through the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA). Refer to the IU School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences PA Admission Requirements page for information on the application process, standards of admission, letters of recommendation, interviews and more. Plan to apply during the summer as fall is often too late.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
- Mistakes listing your coursework and transcript information can delay or invalidate your CAS application. Inputting this information is tedious, but nonetheless must be done with perfect accuracy and attention to detail.
- When listing courses you transferred into IUB, you must refer to the transcript from the original school, not to your IUB transcript. All courses must be listed in the application with original course numbers, grades, credit hours, and so on.
- Allow plenty of time for application materials to be processed. Complete all application requirements and submit both CAS and non-CAS applications as close to the opening of your earliest rolling admission cycle as possible. This includes allowing several weeks for GRE scores to be reported, eight or more weeks for letters of recommendation to be written and submitted, four or more weeks for official transcripts from each and every college/university attended to be delivered, ample time for multiple drafts of yourpersonal essay, ample time to complete shadowing and hands-on/direct care experience, and time for fees to be processed.
- Check the website of each of your programs for any supplementary materials or secondary applications that must be submitted directly to the school and/or professional program itself. Note the secondary applications often include additional, specific short essay questions to which you must respond.
Additional Admission Information
After you have submitted applications :
- Double-check with the central application service, and any non-CAS programs to which you've applied, to make sure your application is complete.
- Once you've confirmed that all of your applications are complete, we recommend you send a professionally written follow-up email to each of your programs in which you reiterate your interest in the program, thank them for considering your application, and express your hope that you will have the opportunity to discuss both their program and your interest in more detail.
The process for establishing residency to perhaps eventually garner in-state tuition varies from state to state and program to program. Contact programs directly to learn about related policies and procedures.
If after the interview you learn that you have been put on an admission waitlist, contact the program to express your continued and enthusiastic interest. Sometimes applicants who take the time to do so are among the first to be contacted if spaces open up. If after doing so you don't hear back for a week-and-a-half or two weeks, feel free to contact them again to express your interest.
Contacting PA programs
Don't hesitate to contact PA programs directly to ask questions about their application process, or anything else pertaining to their program. They expect such contact. Always check websites first.
Always be perfectly professional and polite when talking with anyone and everyone! We know of applicants who were denied admission because of a single discourteous moment. Remember, too, that you are an ambassador for this university.
Physician Assistant Studies at Indiana University
A Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) program is offered within the Indiana University School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS - Indianapolis campus). The IU program is one of a relatively small number of PA programs affiliated with a medical school. The MPAS degree is offered through SHRS in collaboration with the IU School of Medicine.
The IU MPAS professional coursework begins in May of each year. For those who plan to begin PA school immediately after graduating, the May start time means there will be essentially no break between the end of your undergraduate degree and the start of your graduate coursework. The average applicant to PA schools is around 24 years old. Many students defer their application till their senior summer, or a year or more after graduating, depending on where they are in their preprofessional process.
Develop a Contingency or Back-Up Plan
It is not uncommon for people to change their goals, or for changing circumstances to necessitate revised career plans. If this were to happen, you will feel better and be more secure if you have developed a contingency plan. HPPLC and the career advisors for your degree can help you.
Sometimes a contingency plan means simply taking a while longer to become eligible for more programs, and to strengthen your application. Other times - for example, if after shadowing you realize you are no longer drawn to your initial career choice, or if you find that you will have a difficult time being competitive for admission - developing a contingency plan means exploring other career options.
Sometimes preprofessionals actually employ both of the above strategies - working toward building a stronger application and casting a wider application net, while also undertaking some parallel career research just in case.
Which contingency strategy is best for you depends on your circumstances. To help think through the possibilities, you can meet with a HPPLC advisor and/or with an advisor in your school's career services office. Also make full use of our self-assessment and health career research resources.
Go to this link and watch a lighthearted but informative short cartoon about the importance of having contingencies, or a back-up plan.
Pre-Physician Assistant Timeline
Want to know what you should be doing now? How to keep on track? What your preprofessional timeline ought to be? Visit the preprofessional timeline page! Our detailed sample timeline can give you a sense of what you should be doing right now, and also help you with your long range planning.
Financing Your Degree
Click HERE for resources related to researching scholarships and grants, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and FAFSA application timing and deadline information. (When to file will depend on when your program begins. The January prior to the start of your program might be a useful benchmark, but it is your responsibility to confirm the timing.)
Additional Physician Assistant Resources
The average PA applicant is 24 years old
The typical applicant to PA programs is 24 years old, and has a good amount of hands-on, direct patient care experience, along with significant experience shadowing a PA. However, this does not mean that those who are younger or who have less experience cannot become strong applicants. In fact, the average age of applicants to PA programs has been falling. Every year, IUB students and alumni are accepted into PA programs around the country. PAs come from a wide variety of professional and academic backgrounds, including those who have worked in non-health fields, and those applying directly from their undergraduate degree. PA programs have no inherent preference for older applicants. They simply choose the most promising from their applicant pool.
HPPLC pre-PA email list
If you are not on the HPPLC PA email list, visit our homepage and join today. We send important announcements about application changes, visiting programs, group advising sessions, the GRE, and so on.
Having clear, realistic projected GPA information is especially important for preprofessional students, who are usually pursuing admission to programs with moderately or highly competitive admissions. For links to some useful GPA calculators, click HERE..
Scholarships and Educational Grants
Click HERE for resources related to researching scholarships and grants, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and FAFSA application timing and deadline information.
Help with anatomy
Follow our ANAT-A 215 Human Anatomy Study Tips, which include advice from students who have succeeded in this all-important class.
PA research resources
- For projected salary and other career information, consult the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Occupational Outlook Handbook.
- American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA)
- Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) home page
- Physician Assistant History Center (Duke University) Additional information, articles, and ephemera describing the history of the physician assistant profession.
- American Academy of Surgical Physician Assistants (AASPA)
- Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (JAAPA) Available for free online. We suggest you read around in the journal each month to help you become familiar with the kinds of issues and topics that are of concern to PAs.
- National Commission of Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA)
- Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA)
- Be sure to sign up for the HPPLC email list associated with your program(s) of interest. Feel free to sign up for more than one list.
IU Physician Assistant Program contact information
Deanna L. Hart
Director, Student Enrollment Services
IU School of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS)
Coleman Hall CF120
1140 W. Michigan St.
Indianapolis, IN 46202-5119
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