If you’re hoping to enroll in one of the top physician assistant degree programs, you’re probably focusing a lot on the science courses you need to get into and excel in a PA graduate program. Although science coursework is your biggest educational priority as an undergraduate, you shouldn’t neglect your math studies, either. Although courses directly in the field of mathematics aren’t usually a part of the graduate PA curriculum, you need to have strong math skills for the classes in science and medicine that you will take. You will also use math in your future career, likely on a daily basis and in situations where the stakes are high. This doesn’t mean you will need to be a math whiz who loves the theories of advanced calculus, but it does mean you need to be competent and performing real-world mathematical calculations that pertain to the practice of medicine.
The High School Math Courses Future PA Students Should Take
If you already know you want to work as a physician assistant when you’re still in high school, it’s a great idea to start preparing for your career path early. Colleges typically like to see that applicants to undergraduate degree programs, especially those aiming to pursue majors in health or the sciences, take a considerable amount of college preparatory-level math classes. This may include classes in algebra, calculus, geometry and trigonometry.
Some students choose to take Advanced Placement (AP) courses during high school in both their math and science studies to give them a taste of what college-level coursework in these difficult subjects will be like, but AP coursework isn’t strictly required. You want to take difficult enough math and science courses in high school that they will challenge you and help you gain the skills you need to perform scientific calculations in your college studies.
You should also make sure you aren’t spreading yourself too thin by taking too many AP and advanced courses that your GPA suffers or you’re unable to focus on the other aspects of your application that also matter, like extracurricular activities and volunteer work.
Undergraduate Math Coursework for Aspiring Physician Assistants
The most common prerequisites for graduate physician assistant programs are all sciences, such as chemistry, biology and anatomy, according to the American Academy of PAs. That said, it’s not realistic to think you can avoid taking math courses entirely in college. Most master’s degree programs in physician assistant studies require at least one to two semesters of college-level math coursework. Even if they didn’t, most undergraduate degree programs of any major have general education requirements that include at least one math course. Additionally, you need some amount of competence in math to handle the scientific calculations used in chemistry and biology.
Not all graduate PA programs specify what type of math coursework they expect or prefer students to have taken. Master’s programs in physician assistant studies that have a preference most commonly look for students to have a background in statistics. Some students meet this requirement with an introductory statistics course, while others take statistics courses tailored to their academic interests, such as biostatistics, data science or statistics for psychological science. If the PA schools you most hope to attend don’t require statistics, you could choose another type of math to meet your requirements, such as pre-calculus, calculus, algebra, trigonometry or mathematical modeling.
Whatever math course or courses you choose to take, it’s important that you do well in them. Even if your PA school isn’t particular about which math class you complete, it will factor in your grades in math courses when looking at your overall math/science GPA.
Using Math in Your Physician Assistant Career
Math does play an important part in your work as a physician assistant, primarily when it comes to calculating the right dosages of medications. You may need to convert one unit of measurement to another, such as kilograms to pounds, when determining the right dosage of medication to give a patient, according to Math for Grownups. To prevent a patient from getting too much of a medication to be safe or too little to be effective, you need to carefully determine how often the patient should get the medication and at what dosage. In emergency situations in which the provider is trying to stabilize a patient who is not doing well, there is a lot of pressure to get these calculations done quickly as well as accurately.
The good news is that doing your job well as a physician assistant doesn’t require high-level theoretical calculus, only practical calculations. PAs routinely use calculators and computer programs to perform these calculations or to check their work.
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