What does a physician assistant do?
Physician Assistants are broad in their training and work under the supervision of a physician in a variety of settings such as family practice, pediatrics, emergency medicine, and orthopedics. They may have their own offices, make house calls, work in a hospital, or in a doctor's office. A physician assistant takes patient histories, gives physicals, orders and interprets laboratory tests and x-rays, and makes diagnoses. They can also suture, splint, and cast minor injuries. The physician assistant is licensed to prescribe medication in 48 states and the District of Columbia. Regardless of the situation, the physician assistant must confirm each diagnosis and medications prescribed with a licensed physician.
How can I become a physician assistant, and which degree will best meet my professional needs?
The current demand for physician assistants is great, providing both career choices and job security. There are a variety of degrees available to the student interested in physician assistant, and it is important that you take the time to understand the differences between the degrees and decide which one is best for your professional interests. Licensure for physician assistants can come from an Associate's, Bachelor's, or Master's degree. Most Wittenberg students enter an entry level Master's program in physician assistant after graduating from Wittenberg. The entry level Master's program is typically just over 2 years, and intended for college graduates who do not have a degree in physician assistant. During the program, you will take the licensing examination, and gain graduate level training. The Master's degree gives you the most autonomy of the three options, and makes it easier for you to open your open practice or move up quickly into a management position. The Bachelor's programs are generally intended for college students who typically are working on their first degree, although many will transfer your undergraduate courses in so that you can focus on the required training to become a physician assistant. These programs are typically 1-2 years long, and provide the necessary coursework and training to pass the licensure examination. The Bachelor's degree would be a second Bachelor's degree for Wittenberg students, and qualifies you to take the licensing exam and then become a practicing physician assistant who might work in a hospital, physician's office, or home health care. Students who receive this degree can work in a clinic or hospital. The third option, which is not a good one for most Wittenberg graduates, is the certificate program. These are generally not degree bearing programs, and are roughly equivalent to the Associate's degree as far as level of training.
Matthew Collier, Ph.D.
Professor of Biology
BDK Science Center 207
What courses should I take at Wittenberg to prepare for physician assistant school?
While the physician assistant schools have not agreed on a standard set of prerequisite courses, many physician assistant schools require some or all of the following courses for admission:
- 1 semester of General Biology (170 and 180)
- 1 semester of Microbiology
- 1 year of Anatomy and Physiology, preferably human
- 1 year of General Chemistry (121 and 162)
- 1 semester of Organic Chemistry
- 1 semester of Biochemistry
- 1 year of Psychology, including Developmental Psychology
- 1 semester of Statistics (DATA 227)
- 1 year of English (101 and another English A course)
While the above prerequisites apply to most physician assistant schools, some schools add their own requirements. Be sure to check the schools that you are interested in applying to for other required coursework, such as:
- 1 semester of Organic Chemistry II
- 1 semester of Biochemistry
- 1 semester of Genetics
- 1 semester of Sociology
- 1 semester of Nutrition
Possible additional requirements:
- Hands on medically related experience
- CPR certification
- Demonstrable computer skills
- Medical Terminology. Most Wittenberg students complete this requirement via an independent study. One recommended text is Medical Terminology, a Programmed Text by Smith et al. from Delmar Publications (1-800-347-7707)
For specific information on your school of choice, be sure to find their list of prerequisites on their web page. A general list of physician assistant program web pages is located at: http://www.aapa.org
What major should I pursue at Wittenberg if I am interested in becoming a physician assistant?
You can choose any of Wittenberg's 20+ majors if you apply to an entry level Master's program as long as you take the prerequisite courses required by the schools to which you apply. As far as the physician assistant schools are concerned, they do not put much emphasis on whether you graduate with a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science degree - that choice is yours. Look at the prerequisite requirements for the schools that you are interested in and the degree requirements for your major to determine which degree is the best match for you.
Do I need to have medically related hours when applying to physician assistant schools?
Yes. Most physician assistant programs have specific minimum requirements for number of paid or volunteer hours spent with a physician assistant. The required minimum number of hours varies greatly from school to school (see tables below). Most schools require a significant amount of direct patient contact and many will not accept shadowing of a doctor or physician assistant in this tally. They want to see that applicants have experience dealing directly with people and medical care. The most feasible way for a full time college student to acquire the necessary hours is to work as a nurse assistant in a hospital or nursing home, or work as an EMT (there is a training program at the Clark County Joint Vocational School). Other options include previous employment as a nurse (LPN or RN), physical therapist, respiratory therapist, or paramedic.
Is it important that I participate in extracurricular activities while at Wittenberg?
Yes. While the schools do not require a specific number of extracurricular activities or leadership positions, they look for both in your application materials. They consider how many years you spent with each organization and how involved you appear to be with each one (e.g., leadership roles). The schools use your experiences in this area to better understand your ability to socially interact with others, your leadership potential, and your time management skills. They seek to recruit well-rounded individuals who can successfully balance a heavy academic load with medically related experience and extracurricular activities. If successful, they infer that you will rise to the challenge of their academic program when you have fewer non-academic commitments.
How can I locate the physician assistant program that is best for me?
Start early. The physician assistant schools have not agreed on one standard set of prerequisite requirements. Therefore, students should start looking at 8-10 schools of potential interest to them before registering for classes in the spring of their SOPHOMORE YEAR. The courses listed above are common to many physician assistant schools, but there may be additional requirements for the schools you are interested in as prerequisites vary widely from one program to another.
Do research. Go to the schools' websites and make a table of courses required, average GPA of their incoming class, and number of hours in a medical setting (if any). These will give you some idea of where you need to be academically when you graduate from Wittenberg, and the courses you need to take inside your major and in the general education program to make you a good candidate for that particular set of physician assistant schools. Schools consider both your science GPA and your cumulative GPA, so it is not wise to prioritize your grades in science courses over those taken for your general education requirements.
Summarize your findings. Create a sample table of school information assuming all want general biology and general chemistry. Add a column for each different course as you encounter them as prerequisites at your schools of interest.
|Human A&P||Micro||Nutrition||Psych||Soci||O Chem I||Average GPA||Medical hours|
Evaluate your findings. Match your cumulative GPA and GRE scores with the averages for the last incoming class at each school. Read all web pages for associated hospitals/medical centers that have a specialty that interests you. Look for data that report on the percentage of students that have passed the board exams.
Always apply to the school(s) in the state where your parents are living and paying taxes. You have the best chance to get into the public school in that state, and the tuition at your in-state school is much less than at a private or out-of-state public school. Apply to the public and/or private physician assistant schools in your home state. Regardless of which type of program you choose, consider applying to between 5 and 7 physician assistant schools.
How and when should I apply to physician assistant schools?
- If you intend to go directly from Wittenberg to physician assistant school, apply directly to the schools of your choice by the end of October of your senior year. While this applies to the vast majority of schools, some have deadlines in August and September. Be sure to check the deadlines for the schools to which you plan to apply.
- You should take the GRE prior to your application (see below).
- Typically, they will require official transcripts and three letters of evaluation be sent on your behalf in addition to their application materials. It is best to have at least one faculty member and one medical professional send letters to the physician assistant school, but be sure to follow the specific directions for each school.
- Some physician assistant schools do not require on campus interviews. It is in your best interest to arrange a visit with the schools that you are interested in, however, to better evaluate their faculty, facilities, and students in order to determine which schools are a good match for you.
- Wait for the results of your application after the interview to find out if you have been accepted, wait listed, or rejected by that particular school.
- You are at a disadvantage if you opt to take the GRE late or submit your materials late in the cycle - applications are often considered as they arrive, not at the time of the deadline. Complete and send your materials in a timely manner.
What is the General Record Ex am (GRE)?
The General GRE is a test taken by students wishing to pursue a graduate degree in many professions including physician assistant and is typically taken at the end of your junior year. It is not a test based on specific courses that you have taken in college, but rather is a test of general knowledge and aptitude. While it is not linked with specific courses, the General GRE is difficult, and you should consider studying for it well in advance. The verbal section is particularly difficult as they assume that you have continued to learn new vocabulary throughout your college career. It may be taken as many times as you like, but has a mandatory wait period before it may be retaken. The General GRE is a computerized test that can be taken year round at testing centers in Athens, Centerville, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Stowe, and Toledo, Ohio.
The General GRE is approximately 3 hours in length and contains three sections:
- Verbal Reasoning: Composed of analogies, antonyms, sentence completions, and reading comprehension, this section has students apply their knowledge of words, concepts, and sentence structure, and apply that knowledge to understanding complex passages.
- Quantitative Reasoning: Consisting of basic concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis, this section tests logical reasoning and basic mathematical skills. You are not allowed to use a calculator for this section of the test.
- Analytical Writing: This section is designed to assess your ability to communicate complex ideas effectively in writing. In the "issue" task, students choose one of two provided opinions and then construct and defend their own view of the issue. The purpose of this essay is to demonstrate sound thinking as you defend your position. In the "argument" task, students are given only one argument and critique the logic of that argument.
For more information on the GRE, visit the GRE Web site at http://www.gre.org or call 1-800-GRE-CALL.
Do I need to go through the Pre-Health Professions Committee when applying?
No. Physician assistant schools do not require its applicants to have a composite letter of evaluation that is generated by Wittenberg's Pre-Health Professions committee. Instead, you will usually be required to have three letters of evaluation submitted directly to the schools on your behalf. When choosing your evaluators, consider asking at least one physician assistant and one faculty member, but be sure to follow the specific directions for each school to which you apply.
Do I need to coordinate my applications through a service?
Yes. The Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA, www.caspaonline.org) is a nonprofit, centralized service to facilitate the process of applying to participating physician assistant schools. CASPA benefits the applicant by collecting, coordinating, and processing all transcripts and other application materials for the physician assistant schools. Most of these schools will not allow direct applications - you must use CASPA. The applicant completes the CASPA application, and CASPA will send copies of your application to each physician assistant school you specified on the application.
Do you have any tips for preparing an attractive application?
Filling out applications for these professional schools can be difficult and tedious, but require your best effort. Applications must be filled out completely and correctly or they will be returned to you. Having your application returned for further information delays contact with the admissions offices of your target schools. Pay particular attention to the required one page personal statement. Have someone assess your essay (i.e. Career Center staff, Writer's Workshop, etc.) after your revision. Remember that you are trying to sell yourself to an admissions committee. Irrelevant details, poor sentence and paragraph structure, incorrect grammar, misspelling, typographical errors, etc. detract from the image you wish to create as their ideal candidate.
Which physician assistant schools have Wittenberg students been accepted to in the last 10 years?
- Arcadia University
- Butler University
- Kettering Medical Arts
- Medical University of South Carolina
- Medical University of Ohio
- Midwestern University
What are some of the accredited physician assistant programs in this geographical area?
|Ohio||Degree||Mean GPA||Mean GRE||Patient Contact|
|Medical University of Ohio||MS||3.5||Not required||Not required|
|Kettering Medical Sciences||MS||>3.0||Not required||1,000 hours|
|Midwestern University||MS||>2.75||>50% each section||Not required|
|Rosalind Franklin University||MS||>3.0||Required||2,000 hours|
|University of St. Francis||MS||>3.0||Required||Required|
|Central Michigan University||MS||3.4||1050 V&Q||1,000 hours/td>|
|Wayne State||MS||3.45||1075 V&Q||500 hours|
|Western Michigan||MS||>2.5||Not required||1000 hours or 6 months|
|Arcadia University||MS||3.4||1050 V&Q||200 hours|