University of Nevada, Reno
Professional School Advising
COLLEGE OF SCIENCE
411 Davidson Math & Science Center
PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT SCHOOL PREPARATION
A Physician Assistant (P.A.) practices medicine under the supervision of a physician in a variety
of health care settings, including: physician offices, hospitals, clinics, HMO’s, and the armed
services. PAs perform a wide range of medical duties which include conducting physical exams,
ordering and interpreting laboratory tests and x-rays, diagnosing and treating illness, counseling
and preventative health, and treating minor injuries. Given the relatively short training period for
PA’s, schools expect that candidates have already gained direct patient care experience prior to
application, ideally through employment. For more information go to the American Academy of
Physician Assistants website: www.aapa.org or the US Department of Labor Occupational
Outlook Handbook’s website: www.bls.gov/OCO/ocos081.htm
MAJOR: There is no one prescribed major for acceptance to PA programs. Students must
prepare themselves with a basic background in mathematics, chemistry, and biology as well as
the social and behavioral sciences, and the humanities. Beyond this basic preparation, you
should choose a major in what interests you.
Professional School Advising offers personal assistance for students in the College of Science
with the professional school application process, including academic guidance, seminars, the
personal statement, mock interviews, advice on getting letters of recommendation, admissions
testing, program selection, and application timeline and strategies.
COURSE REQUIREMENTS: Specific course requirements may vary between programs, but
the following courses are generally required. It is the applicant's responsibility to determine the
requirements of each program to which they are applying. For more information check the
online PA Program Directory: www.paeaonline.org/index.php?ht=d/sp/i/25515/ pid/25515 All
required courses must be taken for a letter grade. The general requirements include:
Math: Pre-calculus 127
Chemistry: General 121, 122 with lab
Biology: General 190, 191, and 192
Human Anatomy and Physiology 223, 224
English: Composition 101, 102
Psychology: General 101
Additional courses to consider: organic chemistry, physics, biochemistry, genetics, medical
terminology, nutrition, statistics, and additional courses in the social sciences and humanities.
EXPERIENCE: Some PA programs require applicants have 500-2000 hours of direct, hands on
patient care before applying. Some employment options: medical assistant, orderly, paramedic,
certified nursing assistant, nurse, EMT, respiratory therapist, phlebotomist, home health aide.
Research each program for specific requirements regarding the type of experience they will
accept, and the number of hours required or recommended.
PA EDUCATION: Because of the close working relationship PAs have with physicians, they
are educated in a medical model designed to complement physician training. Currently, most PA
programs are at the Master’s level. For more information go to Physician Assistant Education
Generally, PA programs take 2.5 years: 9 to 12 months of classroom studies, followed by 9 to 15
months of supervised clinical rotations. PA’s can also do post graduate residencies and specialize
in such areas as emergency medicine, neonatology and surgery.
APPLICATION PROCESS: Applications should be submitted 12-15 months prior to expected
enrollment in a PA program. Most PA programs belong to the Central Application Service for
Physician Assistants (CASPA) which allows students to apply through one initial application.
For more information go to www.caspaonline.org/ If you apply to schools which do not
participate in CASPA, you will need to submit individual applications to each school.
Most PA programs require that students take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), a
computerized test which is offered year round. For more information go to www.gre.org
Secondary/Supplemental Applications: After receiving your initial application, some PA
programs will send you their own application, known as a secondary or supplemental
Interviews are the final stage of the application process. If a school offers you an interview it
means they are seriously considering you. All schools interview potential matriculates.
LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION: Most programs require three letters of reference
(LOR’s): from a health care provider with an advanced degree, an employer, and the third should
be from a faculty member - science professors are preferred. Check the LOR requirement for
each program to which you are applying. CASPA offers a Letters of Recommendation Service;
for more information go to https://portal.caspaonline.org/applicants2013 /instruction
You may also consider storing your letters with a document collection and delivery service, such
as Interfolio, where letters can be kept on file for up to 5 years and delivered to the programs you
are apply to at your convenience. For more information go to www.Interfolio.com
Selection for admission is based on many factors which may include undergraduate GPA, test
scores, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, an interview, personal statement,
and awareness of and experience in health related fields.