General Overview

Physician Assistants (PA) are nationally certified and state licensed to practice medicine. For nearly 50 years, PAs have been part of the healthcare team. PAs perform a comprehensive range of medical duties, from primary care to assisting in major surgery. PAs are educated at the graduate level and practice in every medical and surgical setting and specialty. Throughout their training, PAs complete more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations in family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, general surgery, emergency medicine, and psychiatry.

In the field, a PA will:
  • Order and interpret tests
  • Diagnose and treat illnesses
  • Prescribe medication
  • Counsel on preventative healthcare
  • Conduct physical exams
  • Obtain patient medical histories
  • Develop treatment plans
  • Prescribe medication
  • Assist in surgery

Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA): PA Program Directory.

American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA):The national professional society for PAs across all medical and surgical specialties.

My PA Network: An online community for PAs to communicate, learn, share experiences, and discuss changes in the profession.

Journal of the American Academy of Physicians Assistants

Choosing a Major

All master-level programs in physician assistant studies (MPAS) have pre-requisite courses, a few of which are uniform across programs. Programs do not generally require a specific major. With ample preparation, you can become a competitive applicant to MPAS programs regardless of your baccalaureate degree program, including starting with an Undeclared status.

Declaration and Progression Standards

Once you complete 12 or more credit hours in biology or chemistry (BC) course work at James Madison University, you will be subject to performance standard reviews twice a year. You must achieve and maintain a BC G.P.A. of 2.70 or above to retain the Pre-Physician Assistant Program declaration. Since physician assistant programs consider all course attempts during the admissions process, the G.P.A. calculation for the Pre-Physician Assistant Program will include all course attempts. If your academic performance standards fall below the 2.70 BC G.P.A., you are at very high risk for not being admitted to a physician assistant program. Therefore if you are unable to attain or maintain a 2.70 BC G.P.A. or above, then your Pre-Physician Assistant Program will be administratively dropped.

Pre-Physician Assistant Coursework

Pre-Professional Health Advising has developed requirements for the Pre-Physician Assistant Program based on pre-requisite courses of 76 PA schools in the District of Columbia and 8 states (CT, MA, MD, NC, NJ, NY, PA, and VA). Students are encourgaed to review individual PA school lists of pre-requisites to assure completion of all pre-requisite coursework. 

If you have credit for any of the following courses by earning Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), Cambridge International Exam (CIE), community college credit, or departmental test credit, please read the Non-JMU Coursework for Pre-Requisite Coursework .

To review required coursework for the Pre-Physician Assistant Minor, follow this link to the JMU Undergraduate Catalog. 

Applying to PA School

The Centralized Application Services for Physician Assistants (CASPA) opens for submission in April of each year. Program start dates vary (January, May, June, August, September), thus application deadlines vary widely. It is always advantageous to apply early, so reach school deadlines well in advance! 

Academic performance is a critical factor in the evaluation of applicants. Typically programs review the overall Grade Point Average (GPA) and the GPA of science courses. Many programs have a minimum GPA requirement of a 3.0. In general, programs also examine the transcript for evidence of academic consistentcy, course load, and improvement in grade performance.

The Graduate Record Exam (GRE®)

The GRE General Test features question types that closely reflect the kind of thinking you'll do in your professional health program:

  • Verbal Reasoning - Measures your ability to analyze and evaluate written material and synthesize information obtained form it, analyze relationships among component parts of sentences and recognize relationships among words and concepts.
  • Quantitative Reasoning - Measures problem-solving ability using basic concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis.
  • Analytical Writing - Measures critical thinking and analytical writing skills, specifically your ability to articulate and support complex ideas clearly and effectively.

Learn more about the content and structure of the GRE® General Test from Educational Testing Services (ETS). Also you can find information about GRE® registration, test centers and dates through the ETS GRE® website.

Test Preparation Services

There are many types of test preparation resources that vary in cost and approach. PPH Advising deos not endorse any of the providers below, but are happy to speak with you about how you might identify the style of preparation that best fits your needs.


Cost Level

Educational Testing Service (ETS)

Free - Low

Khan Academy




McGraw-Hill Education


Clayborne Education

Low - High

Princeton Review

Low - High

Manhattan Prep

Mid - High

NextStep Test Prep

Free - High

Kaplan Test Prep

Free - High

Clinical Experience

Engagement in the PA profession will not only help you continue to explore and confirm your interest in the profession, but also demonstrate a commitment to serving others. Additionally, many PA programs require or prefer health care experience prior to entry. Each program defines the type and amount of experience it requires. The average amount is about 1,000 hours of direct-contact, patient-care hours. Advanced planning is extremely important since it generally requires certification and will take time to acquire the clinical experience.

Personal Statement

Your personal statement is a distinctive aspect of your application. It begins with reflection. Consider the following questions to begin:

  • Why do you want to become an physician assistant? Why is this the profession you have chosen instead of another?
  • Think back to your experiences volunteering, shadowing, researching, studying abroad. Can you provide a specific story that deeply impacted you and your decision to become a physician assistant?
  • What do you want the committee to know about you as a person or future colleague? What makes you a good fit for the profession?

The CASPA personal statement section includes a 5,000 character limit, including spaces. See CASPA for a formal prompt topic.

Letters of Recommendation or Evaluation

PA programs require letters of recommendation as part of the application. We recommend that students establish relationships with faculty within the university as well as with employers in clinical work place settings. Letters of evaluation from people who are able to comment on your academic preparation and health care experience are typically preferred.

You should provide 3 LORs and submit through the CASPA Electronic Evaluation Portal. Determine any specific LOR requirements from programs of choice. However, letters are most commonly required by: 

  • Science Faculty
  • Non-Science Faculty
  • Employer
  • Physician Assistant

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