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In its 2016 ranking of best health care jobs, U.S. News and World Report ranked physician assistant (PA) fourth in best health care jobs. 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.

For additional information on the profession, visit the UWL Physician Assistant Studies Program, as well as AAPA's "What is a PA?" site.

9 reasons the profession might be for you...

  1. Versatility
    PAs practice in every state and in every medical setting and specialty, improving healthcare access and quality. That’s right, any specialty you can think of, PAs are sure to be found helping care for patients. As a PA, you can practice in areas like dermatology, pathology, cardiothoracic surgery, emergency medicine, and of course, family medicine. Each specialty comes with its own set of responsibilities and practice guidelines, so even if you want to try your hand at a different specialty five years down the road, you can!
  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. Being a PA allows many to have families, hobbies, and time off, without having to be on-call 24/7.  While there are certain specialties that are a bit more demanding than others, in general you can count on being able to enjoy your days off without worrying about work.
  3. Competitive Salary
    According to the 2018 AAPA salary report, the median salary of PAs is $105,000. And while your annual salary as a PA will be based on multiple factors such as location, specialty, and years of experience, you can count on being able to provide a great standard of living for you and your family.
  4. Length of school
    Most PA programs last anywhere from 23-28 months, depending on the school. This is of course after you earn your bachelor’s degree. In comparison, medical school involves four years of additional classes after your bachelor’s, then internship/residency for at least three years, then a fellowship (if one chooses). By becoming a PA, you’ll be diagnosing and treating patients shortly after graduating from your PA program! Does it get any better than that?
  5. Ability to give back to the community
    As a PA student, you’ll be trained according to the medical model, getting exposure to many different facets of medicine. Your in-depth training will allow you to recognize and treat illnesses of all different kinds.  With this foundation of knowledge, you’ll eventually be able to help 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.  You’ll be able to assess and treat patients and, while doing so, you’ll get to hear about their lives: about their grandkids, vacations, relationships, etc.  You are going to be their shoulder to cry on, and it truly is an honor to be given that much trust and respect from someone who would otherwise be a complete stranger.
  7. Team-based care
    PAs are committed to team practice with physicians and other healthcare providers. In 2017, AAPA passed new policy called Optimal Team Practice, which calls for practice-level decision-making about collaboration. PAs in some specialties may be the only provider for miles, the only access to care patients have.  As a PA, you will likely be the one ordering diagnostic studies, doing physical exams, prescribing medicine, and referring patients to specialists. You’ll experience a lot of autonomy, but if you ever need any help, you’ll always have your team to ask questions!
  8. Continuing education
    PAs are required to complete 100 hours of continuing medical education (CME) every two years. This is a great way to stay up to date on the most current practice guidelines, treatment, and latest research. If you enjoy constantly learning and are never satisfied with your foundation of knowledge, this is the profession for you! Fortunately, AAPA provides its members with numerous resources to obtain CME including a JAAPA subscription that will help you hit that mark.
  9. Job market
    The Bureau of Labor Statistics foresees the PA job market to increase 38 percent from 2012 to 2022.  Other professions are dwindling, or being replaced by automation, but you can enter the PA field with considerable job security.

* Source: AAPA.org

The PA profession is not for you if you...

  • Don’t want to work with people
  • Don’t want to practice as part of a healthcare team
  • Don’t want to be a lifelong learner
  • Don’t like to make decisions
  • Want an easy job
  • Want to be the highest paid person in the hospital or clinic
  • Want to perform major surgeries
  • Want to be the final decision maker in complex medical cases
  • Want to spend your 20s in medical school/residency + fellowships

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


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) 
  • Organic Chemistry Survey (CHM 300) or Organic Chemistry Series I & II with laboratory (CHM 303 & CHM 304); plus laboratory (CHM 302 or CHM 305)

Math 

  • Precalculus (MTH 151) or Calculus I (MTH 207) 

Social Sciences 

  • General Psychology (PSY 100) 

Statistics  

  • Elementary Statistics (STAT 145) or Mathematical Models in Biology (MTH 265) 

Additional requirements 

  • Cell Biology (BIO 315) or Fundamental Biochemistry (CHM 325) or Biochemistry I & II (CHM 417 & CHM 418) 

For advising, reach out to Erin Flottmeyer.


Pre-PA is NOT a major at the University of Wisconsin-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. 

Declaring a Pre-PA track will help you determine common requirements for PA programs in our region. However, each program's requirements vary. When selecting coursework, it is important to consult the websites of the PA programs to which you plan to apply.

  • 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: 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 you can find tips here. 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. 
  • 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. For more info about standardized testing, go here
  • 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