Pre-Physician Assistant Studies program

What is a PA?

Physician assistant is the No. 1 ranked healthcare job, according to U.S. News and World Report's 2021 Best Health Care Jobs list. PAs are medical providers who are licensed to diagnose and treat illness and disease and to prescribe medication for patients. They work in physician offices, hospitals and clinics in collaboration with a licensed physician.

Pre-Physician Assistant Studies is NOT a major at UW-La Crosse. It is a statement of your intention to apply to PA programs. You will still need to select a major to complete a degree at UWL.

Learn more about the profession on the UWL Physician Assistant Studies graduate program website and The American Academy of PAs "What is a PA?"

Nine reasons to be a physician assistant

1. Versatility
PAs practice in every state and in every medical setting and specialty. 
2. Work/life balance
Another fantastic benefit of the PA profession is the ability to have a life outside of your regular full-time job. 
3. Competitive Salary
According to the 2018 AAPA salary report, the median salary of PAs is $105,000. 
4. Length of school
Most PA programs last anywhere from 23-28 months, depending on the school, after you earn your bachelor's degree. 
5. Ability to give back to the community
Your PA training will allow you to volunteer in clinics in the U.S. and abroad. Many PAs go on to work with medical relief charities or volunteer in underserved countries.
6. Develop relationships with patients
You likely got into this field because you have a passion for working with others. As a PA, you will have the opportunity to truly make a difference in their quality of life.  
7. Team-based care
PAs are committed to team practice with physicians and other healthcare providers.  
8. Continuing education
PAs are required to complete 100 hours of continuing medical education (CME) every two years. 
9. Job market
The Bureau of Labor Statistics foresees the PA job market to increase 38 percent from 2012 to 2022. 

* Source: AAPA.org

Coursework

Make your intention to pursue a career as a Physician Assistant official by adding it as an "intended pre-professional track."

The following course list was designed based on the UWL PA Studies Program admission requirements. While taking these prerequisites will prepare you to apply to many other programs, requirements vary. It is important to consult the websites of the PA programs to which you plan to apply.

CASPA provides a GPA calculator here.

Many professional schools do not accept prerequisite courses that have been taken online or at non-U.S. institutions; AP, IB, AICE, and community college credit policies vary by school/program

For advising, reach out to Sara Peters.

Biology
  • General Biology (BIO 105)
  • Anatomy & Physiology I & II (BIO 312 & BIO 313)
  • At least one advanced Biology course, e.g. Genetics (BIO 306) or Cell Biology (BIO 315)
  • Fundamentals of Microbiology (MIC 230)
Chemistry/Biochemistry
  • General Chemistry I & II (CHM 103 & CHM 104)
  • Fundamental Organic Chemistry (CHM 300) or Organic Chemistry Theory I & II (CHM 303 & CHM 304); plus laboratory (CHM 302 or CHM 305)
Mathematics and Statistics
  • Precalculus (MTH 151) or Calculus I (MTH 207) for UWL
    • Precalculus/Calculus are not common prerequisites among other PA programs
  • Elementary Statistics (STAT 145) or Mathematical Models in Biology (MTH 265) 
Social Sciences
  • General Psychology (PSY 100)
Additional requirements
  • Cell Biology (BIO 315) or Fundamental Biochemistry (CHM 325) or Biochemistry I & II (CHM 417 & CHM 418)

Grow through experience

Gain patient care experience

Each program has a different definition of patient care experience (ex. UW-Madison, UW-La Crosse) but commonly it involves "hands-on" care. CNA, phlebotomist, EMT, resident assistant, and camp nurse are common roles held by Pre-PA students - many positions can be found on Handshake. Many applicants to PA schools will have years of experience working in more advanced roles (x-ray technicians, cardiographers, etc.) However, gaining experience should NOT come at the expense of a strong academic record

Shadow or observe the profession

Shadow or observe the profession: once you are interested in the PA profession, shadowing is a good next step. It can be a challenge to find shadowing opportunities in healthcare settings, but these tips can help. Keep in mind, PAs work in a variety of settings and specialty areas - one shadowing experience probably doesn't tell you whether the profession is right for you.

Join the club

Visit the Pre-PA Club's website on MyOrgs to learn more about the advantages of being involved and when they meet.

Prepare to apply

Applications

Most PA programs participate in the centralized application system "CASPA". This is a single online site where you can submit most or all of your applications. The admission "cycle" generally starts in late April, and applicants should try to submit their applications as soon as possible after that (consult each programs' website to learn their application deadline). The importance of GPA varies from program to program, but a strong GPA is expected.

Testing

Many programs will require the GRE exam. Some programs, such as UW-Madison, do not require it. The PA-CAT rolled out in 2020, and may soon become the standard exam. Learn more about standardized testing.

Selecting programs

To learn about the various programs where you might apply, the PAEA program directory is a good place to start. Always then consult the individual programs' websites for the most accurate and up to date info.

Timeline

Assuming you apply in late spring or early summer, you wouldn't start PA classes until at least a year later (assuming you are admitted to a program). In between are interview invites and decisions on which offer you will accept, if you are offered seats at multiple programs. See the UWL PA Studies program website for an example admission timeline.