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Pre-Physician Assistant Guide for New Incoming Students


In this section you’ll find information for planning for admission to physician assistant (PA) programs, beginning with your first semester in college. When you meet with an academic advisor during New Student Orientation, please make sure you mention your intention to follow a pre-PA preparatory program. You will be subscribed to the Health Professions and Prelaw Center (HPPLC) mailing list, and receive information about important upcoming events, such as pre-PA Fall information sessions.  Consult University Division resources for more information on planning for summer orientation.

Description of the Profession

Physician assistants are health care professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. As part of their comprehensive responsibilities, PAs conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries, order and interpret lab tests and x-rays, counsel on preventative health care, assist in surgery, and write prescriptions. PAs work in all areas of medicine, and so practice in primary care (e.g., family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, emergency medicine, obstetrics and gynecology) as well as speciality and sub-specialty medicine. Skills and characteristics important to this profession: critical thinking and problem-solving skills, empathy, ability to work quickly and make good decisions under pressure, compassion, excellent time management skills, curiosity, effective interpersonal communication, love of science, resilience, the ability to work with a team of care givers,cultural competency, and willingness to invest in continued education as healthcare methodology and technology changes.


The Degree Path

To become a licensed physician assistant you must matriculate to and graduate from a provisionally, probaationary, or fully accredited PA training program. Before being admitted to a PA program you must successfully complete all prerequisite courses and other admission requirements, most by the point af application. These requirements include your successful completion of a bachelor’s degree and prerequisite courses. Prerequisites are not the same for all PA programs, but most do require all or nearly all of the prerequisites listed on this page.


Choosing Your Degree and Major

Almost any degree and major works fine for pre-physician assistant students. Most PA programs, including IU's, have no preference as to what major and degree you earn!  There does not need to be an obvious connection between your major and the PA profession. We recommend that you simply choose a major that interests you. It is also perfectly fine to be exploratory in the beginning, and to work with your academic advisor throughout the year to discover a major that is a good fit for you, as you continue to work in PA prerequisites. Consult  University Division resources to explore majors at IU.


Physician Assistant Course Admission Requirements

The courses required for admission vary from one PA program to another.  In the section at this link is a list of IU PA prerequisites, many of which are required by other PA programs, too. By choosing from the courses listed in the section below you can be confident that you will begin to lay a foundation that will enable you to apply to a variety of PA programs.  There is a gret deal of variation among the PA programs for prerequisties, deadlines, direct patient hours, AP credit, length of program, grade repalcement policy, cost, and matriculant average gpa or GRE. You are advised to begin researching programs a year in adviance and track the differences using a spreadsheet you develop or request a template from David Owen, using your IU email account..


Your Course Load

A normal course load for most preprofessional students is 14-16 total credit hours. That means you’ll probably be enrolling in from four to six classes. During New Student Orientation, an academic advisor will help you double-check your options, choose appropriate courses, and plan an appropriate course load in which you’ll be able to be successful.  To earn strong grades and succeed in being admitted, most pre-PA students need to devote about 30 hours per week outside of class to studying and class preparation.


Planning Your Fall Course Options

For your fall semester, you should begin with completing pre-physician assistant coursework, but you’ll also need to complete other courses for your particular undergraduate degree and major.  Consult the University Division website on how to plan your fall course schedule for any of the majors you are considering.

Below is a partial list of IU PA program prerequisites, many of which are required by other PA programs, too.  Try to register for 5-11 credits of these courses for the upcoming semester. We strongly advise that you not take more than one 5 credit course in the same semester.


As of this writing, the IU PA program generally accepts Advanced Placement credit as fulfilling prerequisites as long as the course is recorded on a college transcript and you received an AP score of 3 or higher. If you think you may have AP credit or other credit for one or more of the courses below, be sure to tell your Orientation advisor. For the most current policy, visit IU PA Admission Requirements and select Academic Prerequisites.


As a first step toward completing chemistry requirements, you should complete CHEM-C 117 Principles of Chemistry and Biochemistry I (lecture) and CHEM-C 127 (lab).  However, some students will need to complete a preparatory course before they are ready for CHEM-C 117/127. 
In order to determine your placement into chemistry, you should take the Chemistry Placement Exam.


Human Anatomy
ANAT-A 215 (5 credits). (This course has limited seating and may not be available during your Orientation. If so, you can simply take it later.) We urge you to follow the anatomy study tips.


Human Physiology
PHSL-P 215 (5 credits). Note that PHSL-P 215 may be appropriate if you have previously taken some anatomy and/or physiology in high school or college. (This course has limited seating and may not be available during your Orientation. If so, you can simply take it later.)


BIOL-L 111 or BIOL-L 112 lecture (3 credits each) if you are a biology major, or if you are not a biology major, then BIOL L 112.


Introductory or advanced psychology. Introductory courses include PSY-P 101; or PSY-P 155 if you feel there is a good chance you might major or minor in psychology (3 credits). 


Medical Terminology
CLAS-C 209 (2 credits)


Statistics or biostatistics
Most PA programs accept almost any 300-level statistics course. (IU PA requires an inferential statistics component, which most stats courses include.) You should consult with an academic advisor about whether you are ready to enrol in statistics during freshman year.



Additional Planning Notes; AP Credit

  • Generally, math and science courses must be major-level courses to count for PA admission. If placement exams recommend or require you take a prep course or prerequisite prior to a required course, don't worry: with careful planning (and consultation with an academic advisor) you can still stay on track.
  •  Some PA programs may not accept Advanced Placement (AP credit), credit-by-exam, or exemption from degree requirements in place of admission requirements, or may only accept such credit under specific circumstances. If you have placement credit and/or exemptions, you will eventually need to check with programs to confirm their policies.


Other Activities for Pre-Physician Assistant Students

Clinical observation (or job shadowing) is important to the PA admission process. Clinical observation will also help you decide if a career in PA is the best choice for you, or whether you need to explore other fields. Furthermore, extensive clinical observation in a variety of settings can help you become a more competitive applicant to PA programs.


We strongly suggest you undertake some observation prior to beginning classes in the Fall, but then use your freshman year to acclimate yourself to college, and to the increased demands of IUB courses. After freshman year, continue with more observation.  Log your shadowing hours and take some notes during your experiences. Refer to the PA Clinical Observation page for more detailed suggestions. 


In addition, unlike other health profession training programs, most physician assistant programs, including IU's, require or strongly prefer that applicants have some actual direct patient care experience (not to be confused with clinical observation and the defination of what constitutes direct patient care varies by school). IU requires minimum 500 hours of direct patient care.  The minimum for other programs ranges from 0 to 2,000. You can downloand the DIrect Patient Care Tracking Sheet to assist with keeping track of your hours.  The IU program also urges applicants to gain experience working with underserved and/or rural populations.  Some pre-PA students earn their Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Medical Assistant, Patient Technician or Emergency Medical Technician (EMT-B) certification the summer prior to arriving for fall IUB courses. Basic Life Support certification (BLS) is another alternative. Refer to the following link for details.  These certifications can often be found at a community college.   


We suggest you give yourself time acclimate to college, and the increased demands of IUB courses, before you begin devoting much time to garnering patient care experience. You may visit the related section of the HPPLC PA site for more information, and to see examples of how others have gained patient care experience. The Health Professions and Prelaw Center will also offer pre-PA orientation meetings in the fall to explain the pre-PA process in more detail.