Individuals aspiring to become a PA (physician assistant) must display an academic penchant for the sciences. Excellence in classes like chemistry and biology will be apparent during the high school years. Anyone who struggles with the physical sciences in middle and high school will need to choose an alternative career. Becoming a PA is analogous to taking an accelerated and abbreviated program in medicine.
In preparation for college programs, individuals should load up their high school curriculum with as many science classes as possible. Many schools offer biology in the first year that studies cells, genetics, and organisms. Chemistry may not be included until the sophomore year, along with an emphasis on mathematics. Those who excel in math may add physics to their classes.
Path to a PA
One of the prerequisites for applying to a PA program is a bachelor’s degree. Depending on the college, the admission requirements may require applicants to have at least one semester in the following:
- General biology
- Anatomy and physiology
- General or principles of chemistry
- Biochemistry or organic chemistry
- General psychology
- Statistics or biostatistics
The courses above refer to the PA program at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pennsylvania. These class requirements are indicative of most schools. Kansas State University College of Health and Human Sciences, for example, has similar admission demands, which include anatomy, physiology, in addition to the typical courses of biology, chemistry, microbiology, and human genetics. The K-State program also recommends additional classes in biochemistry, organic chemistry, pharmacology, before applying.
Possible Undergraduate Options
Since a bachelor of science is imperative, what are some of the undergrad programs to consider? What major will afford courses weighted towards biology, genetics, and chemistry – all of which will be beneficial in a PA curriculum?
A B.S. in this major, at Arizona State University, offers classes in General Biology, General Chemistry, Statistics for Life Sciences, General Genetics, Organic Chemistry Lab, and English Composition. The latter course is a requirement for some schools’ admissions.
Not all undergraduate programs in this major are devoted to biology. At Grand Canyon University (GCU), its pre-pharmacy B.S. in Biology has an array of courses that are advantageous to your PA studies. In addition to the standard biology and chemistry, GCU includes the following:
- Anatomy and Physiology
- General Microbiology
- Principles of Biochemistry
- General Physics
- Chemistry Lab
- Pathophysiology (physiological processes that cause or result from disease)
With a focus on physiology and pharmacology, the program above suits students advancing to a Doctor of Pharmacy and future physician assistants.
This major does not generally have as many science courses as the ones mentioned above. The B.S. degree at Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences includes microbiology and epidemiology; however, the preponderance of your studies deviates from the sciences. For example, there are classes in health information management, health informatics, and general psychology. Similarly, the Health Sciences undergraduate program at the University of Cincinnati Online veers away from chemistry and biology. In its favor, it includes musculoskeletal anatomy, pathophysiology, pharmacology, medical terminology, and kinesiology. Judging from the curriculum, the Cincinnati major would be more suitable for a PA program.
Clinical Laboratory Science
The Bachelor of Science in Clinical Laboratory Science at National University builds knowledge of the human body in health and disease by teaching biochemistry, virology, immunology, physiology, chemistry, microbiology, hematology, quantitative analysis, and molecular diagnostics. Students become immersed in clinical labs in the pursuit of the study of immunology, hematology, microbiology, and molecular science. Other topics of emphasis are clinical biochemistry, lab management, quantitative analysis, and human anatomy.
Preparatory classes in high school and an appropriate undergraduate degree are beneficial for admission to a PA program in the United States. As you begin college selections, pay close attention to each one’s admission requirements. Other factors play a crucial role, such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), recommendation letters, GPA, and direct patient care experience. Requirements for patient care may be a minimum of 500 hours or as high as 1,000 hours before matriculation. The latter refers to the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.
The prerequisite direct patient work prepares students for programs with weeks of clinical exposure. The Baylor College of Medicine School of Health Professions incorporates 36 weeks of clinical practice at private and public healthcare facilities – in addition to the 13 months of didactic (lectures/book learning) phase of the program.
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