Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
Planning for graduate & professional schools


Physician assistant

What is a Physician Assistant?

According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), 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-tech specialty procedures. PAs often act as first or second assistants in major surgery and provide pre- and post-operative care. PAs can be found in virtually every medical and surgical specialty.

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

There are over 190 accredited PA programs. It takes 2 years of training to earn the PA degree.

Check out the 5 Tips for Getting into PA School.

Choosing a Major

There is no preferred or required pre-PA major. Schools are interested in students from different educational backgrounds. Universally, schools know the importance of a broad liberal arts education that includes a solid foundation in the sciences, as well as coursework in the social sciences and humanities. Students interested in the health professions should choose a major based on their academic interests and abilities. High grades in a well-rounded curriculum are more important than a student’s major.

Pre-requisites at Wheaton

All courses should be completed by the end of the junior year for students planning to apply to PA school in the senior year.

The below courses represent the requirements of many of physician assistant programs, but by no means all. There may be requirements for some programs that do not include a specific course or courses listed here. Some programs require other specific courses. The below courses will cover those that will allow students to apply to many PA schools. Students must consult the individual PA programs for their specific pre-requisite requirements.

Besides the pre-requisite courses, the vast majority of physician assistant programs require a specific number of hours of clinical experience – some up to as much as 3000 hours of direct patient contact. The majority of programs also require specific minimum grades for pre-requisite courses (often a B or above in each).

Physician Assistant Pre-requisite Outline

Advanced Placement (AP)

AP credit may on some occasions be used to satisfy the English writing (Eng 101) and/or mathematics requirements. It is highly recommended that AP science courses not be used to satisfy any of the science pre-requisites since health professions schools expect you to have the classroom experience of taking science lab classes at the college level. If you do accept credit for an AP class in a required science course, the expectation is that you will take an upper-level science courses/labs in the science department to satisfy the health school requirement. AP credit equivalent to Wheaton's English 101 will waive writing requirment, but students still have to take a 200-level English course.

Summer courses

Though there is nothing that says a student cannot take pre-requisite
science courses in summer school, students should remember that many of
the health professions schools prefer that science classes be done
during the semester to demonstrate the ability to take laboratory
courses while registered for a full course load. Students considering
taking a pre-requisite science course over the summer should consult
with Dean Trayford.

Pass/Grade/Fail option

Required pre-health professions courses should never be taken pass/fail. Students should also think carefully when considering taking any other classes under this option. Health profession schools want to see if you are successful in many different
areas of study, not just in the pre-requisite courses. Therefore, students are discouraged from taking any classes under the pass/grade/fail option. If there is a good reason for using this option, consult with Dean Trayford. Remember, take all science courses for a grade.

Study Abroad

Health professions schools consider a student who studied abroad in a very
positive light, particularly if the experience can be combined with health-care-related experiences. Students interested in studying abroad should definitely do so. It is important to plan ahead when thinking about studying abroad. Discuss your plans with Dean Trayford. Keep in mind though that pre-requisite courses should not be taken during study abroad. Most schools will not accept pre-requisite requirements taken at a for­eign institution.

Grade Point Average and Standardized Test Scores

A competitive science and cumulative average GPA for admission tends to be around a 3.5. On the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), average scores seem to be between 1000 and 1100 combined score. (The GRE scoring system will change as of August 2011.) Check with specific schools for data.

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