In addition to a strong GPA and specific pre-requisite courses, PA programs also look at exam scores, letters of recommendation, and experiences. Typically, programs want well-rounded applicants, so it is critical that you do not neglect these areas of the application.
Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
Traditionally, PA have schools required that applicants take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). The GRE consists of three sections: Quantitative, Verbal, and Analytical Writing. Although you do not need any specific course before taking the exam, you should expect to study for at least a couple of months in advance.
Average combined GRE scores for accepted students tend to be in the range of 305-310 range. Also, a score of 4 or greater on the writing portion is preferred.
Please visit the GRE website for more information, registration dates, and study guides. The Pre-Professional Advising Office has a Resource Library from which you can check-out GRE prep books as well as Study Rooms which can be reserved.
Physician Assistant College Admissions Test (PA-CAT)
The PA-CAT is a new standardized admissions test which is being piloted by PA programs and which may be more fully adopted soon. The exam is 4.5 hours and consists of 240 multiple choice questions. The subjects tested are those covered by typical PA school prerequisites:
- General Biology
- General and Organic Chemistry
- Behavioral Sciences
The scoring range will be between 200 and 800. Please visit the PA-CAT website for more information, registration dates, and study guides.
Most PA schools will require you to have at least a minimum of three letters of reference.
- Augusta University requires that you have at least three references for admission and strongly recommend that these references focus on your abilities for clinical work, rather than solely academic capabilities. Since this is the case, it is recommended that students seek at least one reference from a physician assistant with whom they have had contact, but additional references from physician assistants in other clinical settings observed by the applicant are strongly encouraged. More weight is given to references that are provided by individuals who have observed your interactions with people in a clinical setting.
- Emory requires three letters of reference. They do not specify who should write the letters but it would behoove you to have at least one letter from a PA and the others written by individuals knowledgeable of your academic record (i.e., professors, academic advisors, etc.).
- GA-PCOM requires three letters of reference. One recommendation must be from a physician, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner.
- Mercer requires three letters of reference. One letter to be from a PA or physician with whom you have shadowed or worked, the second letter should be from a college professor and the third letter can come from another individual qualified to speak on your behalf (but must be a non-relative).
- South University requires three letters of reference. They prefer that the majority of your letters come from clinicians (i.e., physicians and PA’s), and specify that one recommendation must be from a physician, physician assistant or nurse practitioner.
- Morehouse School of Medicine requires three letters of reference and recommends that students select a PA or physician, a faculty member, and an employer/supervisor for these evaluations.
Should I waive my right to view my letters of recommendation?
Yes. Letters that can be viewed by the student do not carry the same weight as those kept confidential.
Prospective PA students are expected to spend time shadowing a PA. Specifically, this means hands-off observation only. The idea behind shadowing is to learn the nuances of patient care that may not be apparent from what is shown on television or in books. While some schools may not list a specific number of hours required, one should expect to have a little over 100 hours at the least (in fact, this amount suggested by Augusta University). Additionally, students should aim to observe the work of Physician Assistants in multiple settings. Since these providers can work in very diverse disciplines, it is important that pre-PA students have shadowed in multiple settings to gain an appreciation of the scope of the profession, as well as how job responsibilities may vary from one area to another.
Physician Assistant programs are also looking for students who demonstrate clear evidence of compassion, enjoy working with people and are dedicated to serving their community. Volunteering can be done in a clinical setting such as a hospital or hospice, but it can also be done with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, the Humane Society, or anything other organization (on-campus or off-campus) that the student is passionate about. Admissions committees appreciate students that show depth of commitment and substantial involvement and leadership in the community.
If attempting to volunteer at a local hospital or clinic (e.g., Piedmont Athens Regional, Mercy Clinic, or Shifa Clinic), it is important to be mindful of deadlines and requirements. Most hospitals and clinics have a specific time-window each year that they accept and train potential volunteers. Further, most require volunteers to pass background checks and have up-to-date immunizations and tuberculosis testing. It is your responsibility to research deadlines and requirements when seeking out volunteer opportunities.
Note: Shadowing and volunteering hours will not count towards “direct patient care” hours.
Admission committees consider a number of factors when evaluating an application, including: traits desirable in a future physician assistant, previous accomplishments, diverse life experiences, and significant knowledge of how to deliver health care. Experiences which demonstrate these traits may include: volunteer work, international mission work, military service, proficiency in foreign languages, unique life experiences, health training or certification, unique leadership positions, and biomedical research experience.