The Health Professions and Prelaw Center pre-PA webpage offers information, ideas, and resources for students following a pre-physician assistant path at Indiana University. Hundreds of IUB students prepare for admission to physician assistant (PA) programs, and many successfully apply to programs across the country.
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This page is regularly revised and expanded, so it is important that you consult it often. Do not make the mistake of merely looking at the prerequisite chart! The other information and suggestions here will save you a great deal of time and labor, and help you avoid common pre-PA mistakes. Even if you know for sure which programs you are applying to, continue to return here often, as this page contains critical pre-PA information, suggestions, and resources beyond what is covered on PA school web sites.
At the same time, do not let the abundance of information on this page overwhelm you. It is meant to be quite complete, but the linked outline in the right hand column provides you with a useful overview of its contents, and an easy way to navigate.
The page is coherently organized into discreet sections, and the links in the right-hand margin form an outline of the page. Familiarize yourself with what is here and then refer back to it as needed. While juniors and seniors visiting this page for the first time really ought to read it in more detail to gain a sense of where they stand in the pre-PA process, freshmen and sophomores don't need to become familiar with everything all at once.
We do not suggest simply printing this page, as there are sub-pages linked from it which contain important information. If you wish to print part of a given page, first use your mouse to select the section you want to print. Then, from the Print dialogue box, choose Print > Selection. However, always refer back to the complete HPPLC PA page / sub-pages.
The most common pre-PA educational path is to first earn a bachelor of arts (BA) or bachelor of science (BS) degree - it doesn't matter which - and work in the prerequisites. Within that degree, it's important that you choose a major which truly interests you - one you would choose even if you weren't pre-PA. Almost any major can accommodate the prerequisite courses.
IMPORTANT: PA programs do not care what undergraduate degree / major you choose! Most programs suggest you choose a major in which you are genuinely interested, and in which you can excel; not one you merely think "will look good" on an application. Programs simply do not tend to screen applications in this manner, based upon major. This point is illustrated by the fact that, in any given year programs (including the IU MPAS program) admit applicants from dozens of different majors, including liberal arts and social science majors, like English, history, philosophy, and sociology; and from many other majors, such as social work, biology, exercise science, and so on.
If you are still deciding on a major, work with your academic advisor and utilize the resources on the Health Professions and Prelaw Center site, Exploring Majors, Minors, and Certificates.
What grade point average is competitive for admission depends on a number of factors. Visit our Competitive GPA page to gain a general sense of what GPA goals to set for yourself, and how GPA figures in relation to other admission requirements.
Want to know what you should be doing now? How to keep on track? What your preprofessional timeline ought to be? Visit the preprofessional timeline page! Our detailed sample timeline can give you a sense of what you should be doing right now, and also help you with your long range planning.
A physician assistant is a health care professional 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. (Note that Indiana PAs have been authorized to write prescriptions as of 2009.)
PAs work in all areas of medicine. They practice in primary care (e.g., family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology) as well as trauma, surgery, the surgical sub-specialties, and all other areas. PAs can garner different kinds of specialization and expertise by working under the given type of physician or in the given setting in which they wish to specialize. In this way, PAs can garner multiple areas of specialization and expertise over their career.
In some settings - for example, in some rural clinics - the PA may be the primary healthcare provider, though still under the supervision of an off-site physician. Some states do allow PAs to operate their own practices, again, under the supervision of an off-site physician (see Physician supervision of the physician assistant).
The American Academy of Physician Assistants has this to say:
Q: "Where do PAs 'draw the line' as far as what they can treat and what a physician can treat?"
A: "What a physician assistant does varies with training, experience, and state law. In addition, the scope of the PA's practice corresponds to the supervising physician's practice. In general, a physician assistant will see many of the same types of patients as the physician. The cases handled by physicians are generally the more complicated medical cases or those cases which require care that is not a routine part of the PA's scope of work. Referral to the physician, or close consultation between the patient-PA-physician, is done for unusual or hard to manage cases. Physician assistants are taught to 'know our limits' and refer to physicians appropriately."
Not all PAs would entirely agree with the above statement that "the cases handled by physicians are generally the more complicated medical cases." Some would say that whether the physician handles the more complicated cases depends upon the setting in which the PA is working, his or her level of experience, the method by which the physician supervises the PA, and upon how one defines "more complicated." Others may say that while the statement is more or less true, the emphasis should indeed be upon "generally the more complicated cases."
Relatedly, there has been some controversy over the very title "physician assistant." Some within the profession believe the title "physician associate" more accurately reflects the traditional function PAs have fulfilled within healthcare - that of a primary care provider, as distinguished from a "mere" assistant who is simply an extension of the physician's eyes and hands, so to speak. In fact, some PA programs use the term physician associate, and there has been discussion within the American Academy Of Physician Assistants to change the title of the career, but such a change seems unlikely in the near future. The term "physician assistant" remains the current standard. "Physician's assistant" (with an apostrophe s) and "physicians assistant" (plural s) are used less commonly.
For additional information, articles, and ephemera describing the history of the physician assistant profession, visit the Physician Assistant History Center website.
Use the links in the section, Additional PA Information and Resources, to learn about wages, job outlook, and other career and job information. (Pay special attention to the links to professional organizations like the American Academy of Physician Assistants, and the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, from which you can learn a lot about the profession.)
Solid critical thinking, problem-solving, and science skills; the ability to work quickly and make good decisions under pressure; empathy, and excellent interpersonal communication skills; the ability to work well independently as well as with a team of care givers (and with a variety of personality types), while exhibiting consistent professionalism. These and other professional development components are a critical part of any undergraduate degree. Carefully consider the suggestions on the HPPLC Professional Development page.
The manner in which a PA is supervised by the physician depends on the laws of the given state, the specific healthcare setting, and the guidelines agreed upon by the PA and physician. Below are four EXAMPLES of different supervisory mechanisms, quoted from the CA.gov Physician Assistant Committee site. Each item describes a different method by which a physician might supervise the work of the physician assistant:
- The physician sees the patients the same day that they are treated by the PA.
- The physician reviews, signs, and dates the medical record of every patient treated by the physician assistant within thirty days of treatment.
- The physician adopts written protocols which specifically guide the actions of the PA. Within 30 days of treatment, the physician must select, review, sign, and date at least 10% of the medical records of patients treated by the physician assistant according to those protocols.
- In special circumstances, the physician provides supervision through another mechanism approved in advance by the [Physician Assistant Committee].
For further description of the PA profession, be sure to also read the sections below: skills and characteristics important to the profession, and a comparison of PA to NP.
PA school has been described as accelerated medical school, minus the residency component. To be sure, this simple description is meant only as a starting point. Arranging clinical observation (job shadowing) of both PAs and physicians is the best way to draw distinctions and commonalities among the two professions, as is reading around in both PA and medical journals. Looking up program curricular information (what sorts of courses you will take, what kinds of clinicals you will participate in, learning how classes tend to be taught, and so on), and reading course descriptions can help you understand some of the similarities and differences between PA and medical school.
The so-called pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages, of medical school and PA school are a matter of opinion, and depend upon your personal circumstances and goals. Length of training is a commonly cited difference; but, again, what is a "pro" for one person might be a "con" for another person. And a factor that is important to one person might be inconsequential or neutral to another. If you are trying to decide between these two career paths, we encourage you to meet with a HPPLC premed and/or pre-PA advisor to discuss your particular situation, and of course undertake clinical observation with both physicians and physician assistants.
It is important to remember that the differences and similarities between PAs and NPs noted below are heavily contingent upon many variables, including the specific work setting, differing state regulations, and the preferences of the supervising physician.
- The length of initial training is roughly the same for NPs and for PAs enrolled in masters degree programs (about 27 months), although most NP programs require that applicants spend at least two years working as a registered nurse (RN) prior to beginning the NP training program.
- While a pre-PA undergraduate may pursue any degree, someone planning to become an NP must earn either their ASN or BSN (and those with an ASN must eventually complete their BSN prior to beginning an NP masters program, or complete it as part of a combined BSN completion / NP program).
- PA and NP are competing professions, so patient care responsibilities are often very similar, even identical in some settings.
- It is often noted that NPs may operate their own medical practices, and, depending on certain circumstances, can often function more independently than PAs, both in terms of setting and the kinds of responsibilities they undertake. However, it is also true that some states allow PAs to operate their own practice. In addition, in some settings where a local physician is not often present (e.g., rural clinics), a PA may be the main health care provider, even though technically they are under the supervision of an MD or a DO.
- Both NPs and PAs may need to be on call, but PAs may have more predictable schedules, depending on the setting and the supervising physician.
- PAs are covered by the physician's insurance. Depending on the setting, NPs often must have their own insurance. This is particularly true for NPs operating their own practice.
- Most PA degree programs are generalist in nature. PAs specialize by simply working and training with different kinds of physicians. For NPs, different NP training programs offer different specializations from the start. Similarly, for an RN or NP to move into another area of specialization (called "advanced nursing practice"), further schooling and certifications may be necessary. However, some believe that PA itself is slowly moving toward more specialization within PA degree programs. Some within the PA profession will argue against this trend, if it should occur, because they believe the PA training path should, by definition, remain generalist in nature. They believe that this broader, "general practitioner" training is one of the strengths of physician assistant training and practice.
- It is often noted that PAs are trained through a medical school approach, or philosophy, of diagnosis and treatment, whereas NP training employs a model similar to that of RN training. For example, it said that PA training generally focuses on the efficient gathering of information, assessment of symptoms related to the physical ailment, and the reaching of a diagnosis; whereas NP training is said to instill a more "holistic" approach to diagnosis—one that entails the assessment of the patient's whole physical, emotional, psychological, and cultural circumstances. According to this idea, while a busy NP may appear to be simply assessing physical symptoms and rendering diagnosis and treatment, the underlying philosophy of the NP's training and practice would nonetheless be holistic. At the same time, it would be a mistake to believe that PAs simply ignore a patient's psychological state, or cultural factors which might impact the patient's condition or treatment thereof.
- "While PAs embrace the physician-PA team concept and physician supervision, NPs generally use the term 'collaboration,' meaning a close working relationship between different professions. That said, NPs do view themselves as part of an interdisciplinary health care team" ("What's the Difference Between PAs and NPs?," Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, V.19, No. 10 OCT 2006).
Types of PA programs
There are currently about 155 accredited PA training programs in the US, the vast majority of which award a master of science degree. The average curriculum runs about 27 months, though that number can be greater or smaller, depending on the program. Most programs begin in the summer or fall; a smaller number have spring admission.
Requirements for becoming a certified or licensed PA vary by state. Generally, there are two main pathways to PA training:
- A) By far the most common route for pre-PA students is to earn an undergraduate degree while completing the prerequisite courses for the graduate-level PA programs to which they plan to apply. Physician assistant programs ultimately have no preference as to what applicants choose as their undergraduate degree or major. If you choose to pursue your masters degree, it is wise to major in whatever interests you the most, while working in your PA prerequisites and preprofessional activities. Prerequisite courses can be worked into most undergraduate majors.
- B) Far less common is for a pre-PA student to enter an undergraduate preprofessional program, which, depending on the given state's licensure rules, may itself prepare the student to take the PA licensure exams in that state; or may lead to further credentialing programs, like a certificate or an associate's degree, which then prepares the student to sit for the state's PA licensure exams; or may lead to post-undergraduate PA training such as a masters degree or masters-level certificate.
Which of the above professional credentials you choose to earn depends on your current level of education and other circumstances, as well as your career goals. Again, these days the vast majority of pre-PA students seek a masters degree, and indeed the MS is by far the most common PA credential offered.
Because of the close working relationship PAs have with physicians, PAs are educated according to a medical school model designed to reflect physician training, both methodologically and philosophically. The specific pedagogical (teaching) methodology will vary by program. For instance, some programs opt for a traditional lecture-based teaching style, while others incorporate problem-based learning strategies. In problem-based learning environments, PA students are presented with a mock clinical scenario in which they must assess a "patient's" symptoms and circumstances, collaboratively research possible diagnoses and treatments, and then assess and reflect upon this learning experience. Some programs, like the one offered through Indiana University, incorporate state of the art simulation centers into their training. Sim centers use computer-driven mannequins which simulate actual medical symptoms, vital signs, and so on.
Physician assistant education consists of classroom and laboratory instruction in the basic medical and behavioral sciences (such as anatomy, pharmacology, pathophysiology, clinical medicine, and physical diagnosis), followed by clinical rotations in internal medicine, family medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, emergency medicine, geriatric medicine, and sometimes others. masters degree programs usually include a research component as well. PA training is intentionally generalist in nature; PAs can specialize by working with different kinds of physicians and in different settings, so it is possible for PAs to gain multiple areas of specialization over their career.
Because more people apply to any given PA program than there are seats available, programs have selective admission. In other words, the PA admission process is competitive because programs can afford to be choosey, selecting only those applicants they consider most likely to excel in a rigourous, masters-level science program.
The level of competitiveness varies dramatically across programs; for instance, cumulative and/or science course GPAs of those admitted might range from 3.00 to 3.80 or higher, depending on the program. Because some programs count science courses twice (i.e., as part of the cumulative GPA, and in a separate science GPA), it is especially important that you do well in your prerequisite coursework. Sometimes a lower CGPA can be somewhat balanced by a higher science GPA, or vice versa, however this too depends on the program. Obviously your goal must be to earn excellent grades across your entire transcript. To this end, we urge you to utilize the HPPLC Time and Sanity Management Sheet, and to rigorously follow the academic tips therein.
For examples of some useful GPA calculators, click here.
In addition, many programs have "rolling admission" deadlines, or "early decision"; meaning that they begin to fill spots as soon as their application cycle opens. Click the center of the video box below to play a lighthearted but informative short cartoon about rolling admissions.
Excellent grades, clinical observation (job shadowing) of PAs, patient care experience, successful completion of prerequisite coursework, Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores, an admission essay, letters of reference, and an admission interview can be among the admission requirements; though again, requirements vary by program. Some programs will accept scores from the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) in place of GRE scores. While GPA will always be the most critical admission factor, programs consider your entire application portfolio when making their decisions, and most place a heavy emphasis on other admission factors as well.
Bottom line: keep your record clean! College presents countless opportunities for success, but also opportunities to undermine your goals. While a misdemeanor on your record may not necessarily prevent you from being admitted to a program or from practicing in a given health field, why take the risk? Gross misdemeanors and felony charges are obviously much more serious, but the impact of any given criminal history will depend on various factors and circumstances, such as the nature of the offense, how recent it was, whether there is a pattern of offenses, and so on. While a single underage drinking charge from high school may not become a serious issue, a string of them could. Likewise, a DUI charge, for instance, is much more serious because driving under the influence puts other people in danger, which of course not only reflects an alarming degree of irresponsibility, but also contradicts the very nature of the health professions.
There are two potential points at which a criminal history could become an issue: during the process of trying to be admitted to programs and during the professional licensure process, once you have completed the program. You should always be honest when you are filling out disclosure forms. Many programs, and the licensure process itself, will require that you submit at least a limited criminal background check, and if there are differences between what you yourself report and what the background check reveals, you could run into difficulties. Such a disparity would imply or reflect a degree of dishonesty which programs and state licensure boards are not likely to overlook.
If you already have charges on your record, then again, be honest during those parts of the application which ask you to disclose this information. During the licensure process there is usually an opportunity for you to offer an explanation of a mark on your record, and to explain what you learned from the experience. You can also add a similar addendum to program applications.
The typical applicant to graduate-level PA programs is 24 or 25 years old, and has at least some patient care experience. However, this does not mean that those who are younger or who have less experience cannot become strong applicants. In fact, the average age of applicants to PA programs is falling. Every year, IUB students are accepted into PA programs around the country. While it is true that experienced RNs, EMTs, paramedics, and other healthcare professionals apply to PA programs, it is equally true that PAs come from a wide variety of professional and academic backgrounds, including those who have worked in non-health fields, and those applying directly from their undergraduate degree. PA programs have no inherent preference for older applicants. They simply choose the most promising from their entire applicant pool.
A Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) program is currently undergoing accreditation within the Indiana University School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS - Indianapolis campus). In September 2010, the proposal for the program was approved by the University, and by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. The IU program will be one of a relatively small number of PA programs affiliated with a medical school. The MPAS degree will be offered through SHRS in collaboration with the IU School of Medicine.
The IUB Health Professions and Prelaw Center has posted details about the program's admission requirements throughout this webpage, and we will post more information as it becomes available.
The first cohort of IU PA students will begin PA classes in May of 2013, which means that qualified IUB students will be able to apply in fall 2012 for admission at the end of the spring 2013 semester.
The IUB Health Professions and Prelaw Center urges all interested IUB students and alumni who have an IU email, IU alumni email, or IU gmail account to join the HPPLC pre-PA email list from our homepage, through which we will continue to send out the latest information. We will also continue to post the latest information to the HPPLC PA site as soon as it becomes available. Be sure to utilize the HPPLC PA page, as our site contains critical information, suggestions, and resources beyond what is covered on PA school web sites.
IU Bloomington does not offer a physician assistant program, but pre-PA students may fulfill the admission requirements at IUB and then apply for admission to the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at IUPUI (IU's Indianapolis campus) to complete the Master of Physician Assistant Studies degree. Admission to the IU MPAS program requires successful completion of a baccalaureate degree, prerequisite courses (which can be worked into most undergraduate degrees), and other admission criteria, as explained throughout this page.
You may choose almost any undergraduate major as long as you also complete the PA prerequisite courses. The IU PA program shows no preference for one degree or major over another. Indiana University does not offer an undergraduate PA major (most schools do not).
The IU MPAS professional coursework will begin in May of each year. For those who plan to begin PA school immediately after graduating, the May start time means there will be little, if any, break in between the end of your undergraduate degree and the start of your graduate coursework.
The IU PA program consists of 7 consecutive semesters spanning 27 months, including 75 credit hours of didactic courses (i.e., classroom and lab instruction) and 36 hours of clinical rotations, for a total of 111 credit hours. The program requires courses or clinicals during all three summers - at the start of the program, in the middle, and at the end.
For a detailed overview of the IU PA coursework itself (as distinguished from the prerequisite coursework), see the links on the IU School of Health and Rehabilitation Science's MPAS homepage.
Important: Each PA program has its own set of admission requirements and policies. You must thoroughly research other programs in order to plan your prerequisites and other admission requirements, and to determine the timing of your courses and the application itself.
Admission to the IU Physician Assistant Program is very competitive. Admission requirements include significant direct patient care experience, successful completion of prerequisite coursework, admission exam scores, a directed essay (i.e., a brief essay focused on a particular question, as explained on the IU PA program site), letters of recommendation, and an admission interview (for those who qualify). Admission requirements are not weighted by percentage in terms of their importance during the admission process. They will be considered together as a complete application portfolio. Nonetheless, as with all PA programs, GPA is of central importance to the competitive admission process.
Indiana residents from certain Indiana counties will be given some preference as part of the program's commitment to producing PAs to work in underserved communities. Refer to the SHRS PA site for details. (The fact remains that admission to the program is very competitive in any case.)
As is common among graduate programs (although not true of all programs), in-state students (i.e., Indiana residents) will pay half the rate of tuition as out-of-state students.
It's very important that you utilize the information, suggestions, and resources on the HPPLC PA site throughout your pre-PA and application process. You should also utilize the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences PA site.
Important points to bear in mind as you plan your PA prerequisite courses
- Each PA program has its own set of prerequisites, minimum grade and GPA requirements, and so on. We urge you to research and apply to multiple programs.
- It is usually best for pre-PA students to begin the chemistry prerequisites right away. Other classes like anatomy and physiology can wait till later. If you are on a strict 4-year plan, then summer courses may very well be necessary.
- It is best to avoid overlapping multiple lecture / lab courses (for instance, avoid taking CHEM-C 117 / 127 and ANAT-A 215 together). Students usually struggle when they take these classes in the same semester. Avoiding this overlap may necessitate consistently taking one lab course most semesters.
- For a list of the general IU PA admission prerequisite courses and categories, without IUB equivalents, refer to the Prerequisite Course Completion Form link on the IU SHRS MPAS Admissions > Application and Selections Process page.
- The minimum cumulative GPA required to apply to IU PA is 3.00.
- The IU PA program will calculate your prerequisite GPA separately, and consider it along with your CGPA. This essentially means that prerequisites count twice during the admission process; hence, your performance in these courses is doubly important. The IU PA program does not weigh one GPA more than the other. Note that most PA programs consider GPA in similar fashion, taking both CGPA and either the science GPA or prerequisite GPA into account.
- A minimum grade of "C" is required in all IU PA prerequisite courses (C- not acceptable). Other PA programs will require similar grades, and some require higher minim grades (B's, for instance). While it also true that certain programs may require minimum grades of only a C -, such low grades will make you ineligible to apply to many programs, and certainly less competitive for admission, in addition to establishing a weak science foundation.
- Regarding course re-takes, IU PA will honor IUB's Extended X re-take policy. They will, therefore, take the second grade (whether higher or lower than the first) if you re-take a course and file a valid X petition to have the first grade replaced. If you re-take a course but do not file or do not qualify for the X grade replacement, then both the first and second grade will be on your transcript, and the PA program will therefore calculate both grades into your GPA. Note that different PA programs have different policies with regard to re-takes. For instance, some will effectively average the two grades by simply calculating both of them into your GPA.
- Prerequisite course deadlines: For the IU PA program, you must complete all but one (1) of the prerequisites prior to the fall in which you submit your application. You would then need to complete the one remaining prerequisite by the end of the fall semester of your application. IU MPAS professional coursework begins right at the end of spring semester; therefore, courses taken the spring after you apply will not count toward admission to the IU program!
- All programs have a prerequisite deadline, but deadlines vary substantially, depending largely upon whether a given program's professional coursework begins in the summer, fall, or spring. Careful research will help you plan your prerequisites accordingly. Generally speaking, you should plan to have your prerequisites completed in accordance with your earliest and most restrictive prerequisite deadline.
- Remember that many programs begin the professional coursework during the summer.
- IMPORTANT: Some 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. Check with each program to confirm its policies.
- The IU PA program will accept unlimited AP credit, in accordance with the standards and policies of the applicant's home institution. In other words, for an IUB student, the PA program will award AP credit for a given prerequisite course(s) as long as IUB awarded AP credit for the given course(s). If IUB did not grant AP credit, or only awarded "undistributed (UN)" credit, neither will the IU PA program grant credit for the given course(s).
- The IU policy includes only AP credit. Other special credit is not currently accepted (as of Fall 2013); e.g., credit from the IUB biology placement exam, IB credit, etc.
- The most recent policy can be viewed in the FAQs, linked from the IU School of Health and Rehabilitation Science's MPAS homepage.
- We encourage you to meet with the Health Professions and Prelaw Center's pre-physician assistant advisor to discuss your circumstances, career goals, research process, and so on.
- Carefully read the IMPORTANT NOTES associated with the courses listed below.
IMPORTANT: COURSES REQUIRED FOR ADMISSION VARY BY PROGRAM. THE GRID BELOW INCLUDES IUB EQUIVELANTS TO THE INDIANA UNIVERSITY PHYSICAN ASSISTANT PROGRAM PREREQUISITES. IT IS ONLY THROUGH RESEARCHING OTHER PA PROGRAMS TO WHICH YOU THINK YOU MAY APPLY THAT YOU WILL LEARN WHAT, IF ANY, ADDITONAL PREREQUISITES YOU MUST COMPLETE.
For complete prerequisite information and descriptions for courses listed below, refer to IUB Academic Bulletins.
P: = prerequisite (must be taken prior to the given course) C: = corequisite (can be taken with the given class)
Chemistry: There are essentially two possible chemistry sequences IUB pre-PA students can follow in order to fulfill the chem requirement for admission to the proposed IU PA program. In addition to including the PA prerequisites themselves, the sample sequences below incorporate the required chemistry department prerequisites for the courses. The courses are listed in the order in which they are best completed. Before taking CHEM-C 117 / 127 you should take the Chemistry Placement Exam (CPE). On the CPE page, read about your placement options and eligibility requirements. If necessary, discuss with your academic advisor.
(Note - If you are also considering other professions which recommend N330 among their prerequisites, you may wish to complete the N330 chem sequence. If you are focused exclusively on PA, PT, or OT, then in most cases, the C118 sequence would be fine.)
Chemistry sequence sample 1:
|Principles of Chemistry and Biochemistry I: CHEM-C 117 / 127 1||5 total|
Organic Chemistry I Lectures: CHEM-C 341 (P: C117)
|Organic Chemistry II Lectures: CHEM-C 342 (P: C341; 342 may be taken concurrently with C343) 2, 4||3|
|Organic Chemistry I Laboratory: CHEM-C 343 (P or C: C342; P: C117 / 127) 4||2|
|Intermediate Inorganic Chemistry: CHEM–N 330 (Fall, Spr, Sum; P: C342 and C343)||5|
Chemistry sequence sample 2:
|Principles of Chemistry and Biochemistry I: CHEM-C 117 / 127 1||5|
Principles of Chemistry and Biochemistry II: CHEM-C 118 (P: C117 / 127)
Organic Chemistry I Lectures: CHEM-C 341 (P: C117)
|Organic Chemistry II Lectures: CHEM-C 342 (P: C341; 342 may be taken concurrently with C343) 2, 4||2|
|Organic Chemistry I Laboratory: CHEM-C 343 (P or C: C342; P: C117 / 127) 4||3|
General Biology: Choose BIOL-L 112 Biological Mechanisms + BIOL-L 113 Biology Laboratory (112+113 PREFERRED) or BIOL-L 111 Evolution and Diversity + BIOL-L 112
Microbiology: BIOL-M 200 and M215 (Spring only; designed for preprofessional students who are non-biology majors); or M380 and M255 (P. BIOL-L 211 prior to 380); or BIOL-M 250 and 255 (P: Two semesters of college chemistry; and R: BIOL-L 211 prior to or concurrent with 250). 5
|4 - 5 total|
|Human Anatomy: ANAT-A 215 (be sure to closely follow the A215 study tips)||5|
Human Physiology: PHSL-P 215 (recommended prerequisite: ANAT-A 215)
(Note - IU MPAS will accept BIOL-P 451 Integrative Human Physiology in place of PHSL-P 215; however, you must confirm that P451 will work for all programs to which you plan to apply. P451, P: senior standing or permission of Instructor)
|4 - 5|
|English Composition: ENG-W 131 or W170; or CMLT-C 110||3|
|Statistics or Biostatistics: STAT-S 303 Applied Statistical Methods for the Life Sciences, STAT-S 300, PSY-K 300, or equivalent statistics course. Most 300-level stats are sufficient for most professional programs. 3||3 - 4|
|Psychology or Sociology: PSY-P 101, SOC-S 100, or any 3 credit equivalent||3|
|Medical Terminology: CLAS-C 209 (1 cr minimum required by IU program)||1 - 2|
|Health Promotion/Wellness/Nutrition or equivalent: SPH-N 231 Human Nutrition or SPH-N 220 Nutrition for Health strongly preferred. Other options include various SPH-H courses; consult with HPPLC pre-PA advisor if you wish to discuss options. (First Aid and EMT courses do not coun.)||3|
- Before taking CHEM-C 117 / 127 you must take the Chemistry Placement Exam (CPE), and meet certain other requirements.
- While CHEM-C 342: Organic Chemistry 2 Lectures is not technically required for admission to the IU PA program, it is a required prerequisite for certain IUB chemistry courses which are required for admission.
- Statistics courses generally assume minimum proficiency at the MATH-M 014 (algebra) level, but some assume more previous math experience. For instance, finite math is a suggested prerequisite for SPEA-K300; either finite math or calculus is recommended prior to PSY-K 300; MATH-M 119 or equivalent calculus is a prerequisite for MATH- K 310. Double-check bulletins and course descriptions for detailed prerequisite information, as prerequisites vary, and can change unexpectedly.
- C342 recommended taken concurrently with C343, though many students do split them up. Note that while this combination is 5 credits, the workload is more akin to 7 or 8 credits. Students often report having to spend about 20 hours per week between 342 and 343 (10 or more on 343 alone), so you may wish to reduce your course load to 12 or 13 hours that semester if you take them together. (As always, your options and necessities will depend on your circumstances.)
- BIOL-M200 / 215 cannot count toward biology major / minor requirements.
The chart below contains some additional prerequisites you might encounter as you research other physician assistant programs. IT IS ONLY THROUGH RESEARCHING OTHER PA PROGRAMS TO WHICH YOU THINK YOU MGIHT APPLY THAT YOU WILL LEARN WHAT, IF ANY, ADDITONAL PREREQUISITES YOU MUST COMPLETE. COURSES REQUIRED FOR ADMISSION VARY BY PROGRAM.
|Other Possible Prerequisites||Credits|
|Biochemistry: Some programs require biochemistry, for which CHEM-C 483 Biological Chemistry (P: CHEM-C 342 or R340) CHEM-C 484 Biomolecules and Catabolism (P: C342) are possible options. You will need to research programs to which you think you might apply in order to determine what, if any, additional chemistry you might need.||3|
|Immunology: BIOL-L 321 Principles of Immunology (P: Biol-L 211 and CHEM-C 117; R: BIOL-L 312)||3|
|Molecular Biology: BIOL-L 211 (P: BIOL-L112 and CHEM-C 117)||3|
|Genetics: BIOL-L 311 (P: BIOL-L 211)||3|
|Lifespan Development or Developmental Psychology: SPH-F 150, EDUC-P 314, or PSY-P 3151. (PSY-P 315 may be a more flexible option, depending on program preferences. If you take Developmental Psychology, it must cover the full lifespan, birth to death.)||3|
|General Physics, up to one or two semesters: PHYS-P 201 / 202 (or 221 / 222) 2||5 - 10|
|Humanities: some programs require a certain minimum number of humanities courses. For options, refer to the College of Arts and Sciences bulletin, distribution course listing||varies|
- Officially, the prerequisite or corequisite for EDUC-P 314 is PSY-P 101 or P155. Prerequisite for PSY-P315 is PSY-P 101 and 102, or P155 by itself. (P155 is generally recommended only for psychology majors.)
- Recommended prerequisite for physics is high school or college trigonometry.
Many physician assistant programs require or recommend that applicants garner patient care experience. You can find detailed information elsewhere on this page. Some pre-PA students choose to earn their Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification, whether through IU coursework or through another training program. Others choose to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), which might enable them to, for instance, secure a paid position at a nursing home, or enable them to volunteer in a more patient-care-oriented capacity. There are many additional opportunities to garner patient care experience, as indicated elsewhere on this page.
The EMT and CNA options are just that - options. Few if any PA programs actually require any such certification among their admission requirements, though some recommend it.
CNA training: For programs in Indiana, use the IN.gov site, www.in.gov/isdh/reports/QAMIS/nat/search.htm. Other states will have similar listings of certified programs on the state's Department of Health site or something similar. Don't hesitate to call or email the state government if you can't locate the resource.
EMT training: Taking the IU courses listed in the grid below and passing the certification exam is one way to earn your EMT. For a list of other EMS training providers in Indiana, visit www.in.gov/dhs/ > IDHS Training Calendar (right hand menu) > EMS Training. (EMT Basic may be a better choice than First Responder, which is a lesser certification.) The list is continually updated, and other states should have similar listings of certified programs on state's Department of Health site or something similar. Don't hesitate to call or email the state government if you can't locate the resource. The cost of EMT courses in Indiana ranges from about $400-$600, and programs can last weeks or months depending upon how often classes meet.
IC EMS, the Indiana University Bloomington student-run EMS service, frequently offers first aid and CPR training and certification. For details, see their website or contact them.
IUB courses for EMT certification
|Emergency Medical Technician Certification (EMT)||Cr|
|First Aid and Emergency Care (First Aid Certification): SPH-H 160 *||3|
|EMT Training: SPH-H401 and 404, taken together||4 total|
* First aid certification earned through IC EMS, the Red Cross, hospitals, etc. does not exempt students from H160. First Responder certification may in rare cases allow exemption from H160. H160 is the official prerequisite or corequisite for H401 / 404 because it garners students a significant proportion of the training hours ultimately required for EMT certification.
Because of the nature of the admission requirements and the application process, pre-PA students usually find that the year before they apply, and the application period itself, are their busiest times. One of the keys to a successful, less stressful application process is planning ahead. Pay attention to the tips throughout this page related to timelines.
While many pre-PA students apply to programs during their junior summer / senior fall, it is also extremely common for people to wait an extra year or more to apply so they can finish prerequisites, garner more patient care experience, and so on. Feel free to discuss options, and your particular circumstances, with the HPPLC pre-PA advisor.
Visit our preprofessional timeline page, where a detailed sample timeline can give you a sense of what you should be doing right now, and also help you with your long range planning.
Before you proceed any further, please read about professional conduct during your research and application process, on our Researching Accredited Programs page. We have seen applicants denied admission for not following the kind of advice given therein - something which is completely avoidable.
|IMPORTANT: After you read the information below, read the HPPLC Clinical Observation page for important details about how to arrange clinical observation, how to log your hours, and how to document your experiences for the benefit of your personal statement and possible admission interviews.|
Clinical observation, often referred to as "job shadowing," is the best way for you to determine whether a PA career is something you wish to pursue. Clinical observation and patient care experience (see below) are your most important professional development experiences. Health professions programs either strongly recommend or require clinical observation, and these experiences can help build your credibility with program admission committees by showing them that you have thoroughly researched the profession.
Even programs that do not require these experiences will nonetheless usually expect that you will have had them.
Extensive clinical experience can greatly strengthen your personal statement, letters of recommendation, and, hopefully, admission interviews.
Indiana University Physician Assistant program and clinical observation
See the section below pertaining to direct patient care experience.
What "direct patient care experience" is, and why you need it
"Patient care" is not the same thing as shadowing or clinical observation. "Direct patient care" is exactly what it sounds like: You are literally providing healthcare of some kind to patients or clients in a healthcare setting, in either a paid or volunteer capacity.
- The amount and type of patient care necessary for admission varies greatly from one program to another!
- All physician assistant programs either require or strongly recommend that applicants garner patient care experience.
- Direct patient care experience is important to developing skills necessary for success in PA school. Applicants without adequate direct patient care experience are not likely to be competitive for admission, nor likely to have developed the level of comfort and skill necessary to thrive in a PA program's clinical settings.
- Patient care experiences can help you build your credibility with program admission committees by demonstrating that you are committed to a career in healthcare, and are comfortable working in a healthcare setting.
- Along the same lines, extensive patient care experience can greatly strengthen your personal statement, letters of recommendation, and admission interview.
- Patient care experiences can help you determine whether a career in healthcare and the PA profession is a good fit for you.
To learn what sort of direct patient care experience would be best for you to garner, utilize the resources on the HPPLC Researching Accredited Programs page. You will need to confirm preferences and requirements for each program to which you plan to apply.
- Requirements vary dramatically across programs!
- The only way to confirm a program's patient care requirement or preference is to check their webpage, and call them if you need clarification.
- Applicants with little or no direct patient experience are putting themselves at a serious competitive disadvantage, and will not have developed skills important to thriving in PA programs.
- Most healthcare professional programs require students to earn Certification in Basic Life Support (BLS) for Health Care Providers prior to beginning professional coursework.
- Different PA programs define "patient care" differently, and count "patient care hours" differently.
- For example, some programs will accept volunteer hours spent in a nursing home helping patients eat, or assisting patients in a recreation room; other programs are looking for more literal healthcare experience, such as taking vital signs during intake at a clinic, working as a CNA, and so on.
- In any healthcare setting, be sure you are interacting directly with patients, providing care. Filing or stocking shelves is not the kind of experience PA programs are looking for. An activity like taking patient history is more borderline insofar as being considered patient care; some programs may accept it and some may not. The same holds true for pharmacy tech. At the same time, any experience interacting with patients can still be useful in helping you develop skills you can transfer to direct care experience, as long as you also garner actual patient care experience.
- Focus on the quality of your patient care experiences, and not merely the quantity. You are not simply fulfilling a check box on the application, but developing skills and experience which are crucial to your professional development as a program applicant, a student, and a budding healthcare professional.
- Some programs "recommend" patient care experience, and some "require" it. You yourself should consider it a requirement in any case, because:
- A) few, if any, programs will admit applicants who have little or no patient care experience,
- and B) applicants without such experience are putting themselves at a serious competitive disadvantage, even with regard to programs that don't technically require patient care experience. A lack of such experience inherently weakens the personal essay and admission interview (assuming the applicant garners an interview), especially when considered side by side with strong applicants who have made the effort to become professionalized through patient care experience.
- Some programs express no preference as to whether the work is paid or voluntary, but some do have a preference. Still others may express a preference for paid work, but might still consider applicants with extensive volunteer direct patient care experience (especially if the work stems from some kind of certification; for example, CNA, EMT, or hospice certification). Check websites and call programs if you need clarification.
- The required number of direct patient care hours varies widely among programs that require patient care, ranging literally from 0 to 3000. What these numbers mean in practical terms can also vary, so if a program's website does not make it quite clear how you should tally patient care hours, and what kind of experiences will meet the requirement or recommendation, we suggest you contact them and politely inquire.
During freshman year, we suggest you focus on establishing strong academic skills and habits, and excellent time management skills (maximize your academic performance by using the time and stress management tools and resources, linked from the HPPLC Professional Development page). During the summer after freshman year, identify and arrange ahead of time, the patient care experiences you plan to undertake that summer, and during your sophomore year and beyond.
If you became pre-PA sometime after freshman year, then just exactly how your own pre-PA timeline should best unfold will depend on your circumstances. Everyone's pre-PA process is unique to their situation. Always focus first and foremost on academics, but begin clinical observation and direct patient care as soon as possible after freshman year.
We can't stress enough the importance of establishing excellent time management and academic habits from the very beginning, as your academic performance will have a profound impact on your graduate school applications! Academics should never take a back seat to other activities, preprofessional or social. After freshman year, and once you are more certain you wish to pursue the PA profession, you can work additional patient care experience into your semester schedule. (The sample preprofessional timeline can give you a sense of what you should be doing right now, and also help you with your long range planning.)
- It is extremely important that you document your patient care experiences by keeping an informal journal of your experiences, according to the same suggestions as noted in the clinical observation section, above.
- As part of your note taking, record every different type of medical procedure you perform, assist with, or observe during your direct patient care and clinical observation experiences. You should include these details when you report your hours and experiences in applications, including CASAP. It is likely that some of these experiences will play an important role in your personal essay.
- Do not perform any assisting or provide any direct patient care that would not be legal and ethical for you to do within whatever level of official training or certification you might have. The same holds true for those undertaking opportunities abroad, such as mission trips. In this regard, it does not matter if you are providing care in another country: Do as much as you can, but only within the parameters of US legal and ethical standards.
Remember: it is critically important that you conduct yourself in a thoroughly professional manner during all such interactions. Review the HPPLC page on professional etiquette, and the section above on professional conduct. Adopt any of the suggestions you have not already incorporated into your own conduct.
Below you will find examples of some possible experiences that some programs might consider as direct patient care experience. Note the qualifiers in the previous sentence, and remember that what one program might accept another may not.
Begin by consulting program websites, and then contact them directly if you are not sure how they will look upon a given experience. Remember, too, that some PA programs prefer paid over voluntary work, though they are probably less common than programs which have no strong preference.
These are only examples, and you are not obligated to pursue any of them. You may in fact find other opportunities which better suit your needs and interests:
- Hospice (voluntary - training is required, and is usually free). A simple web search (e.g., bloomington indiana hospice) identifies several possibilities. Note that hospice work involves a bit more of a long term, consistent commitment than some other opportunities (oftentimes one year, a couple of hours each week, though this is often negotiable with regard to student schedules).
- Volunteering at local health or rehabilitation clinics, such as Volunteers in Medicine (VIM). If you pursue VIM, you must fill out the application as early as possible, and make sure they know you are seeking patient care experience. If you have any certifications, such as first aid, BLS, CNA, or EMT, be sure to include it on the application. (Note that VIM often has more applicants than available positions.)
- Volunteering as a "sidewalker" with People & Animal Learning Services, Inc., or the Horseshoes of Hope Equine Academy (HHEA). (Note that sidewalking is about the only role with these organizations that most PA programs would consider "patient care.")
- Volunteering for summer therapeutic recreation camps at Bradford Woods. In this setting you would be working as something resembling a therapeutic recreation assistant, helping campers with their personal care needs: toileting, bathing, and during meal times; and helping campers keep on task during activities. (If interested, contact them for information about the summer camp schedule, mandatory background check and reference forms, and volunteer application.)
- Working with developmentally disabled clients through Stone Belt. Visit their website and contact Stone Belt for more information.
- Working with developmentally disabled clients through AccessAbilities, Inc. Each client's needs are unique, but AccessAbilities fully trains its staff. In general, the job involves spending time with disabled people in their home environment, interacting with them and helping them as needed. Opportunities primarily involve helping people who have developmental disabilities, and the aged. AccessAbilities fills paid positions as needed. Part time and weekend hours are available, as well as overnight shifts, and students are often hired. You must have your own transportation, as the job involves driving from client to client within the given area. Currently, there are branches in Bloomington, Indianapolis, and Merrillville.
- Area 10 Agency on Aging offers a variety of opportunities for volunteers to work directly with older people in need of service. Examples include, being trained to instruct in a small group setting, with regard to helping people learn to live healthy lifestyles in spite of chronic conditions such as diabetes or arthritis; providing a variety of services to isolated individuals, possibly including friendly visiting and meal prep. (As always, try to work in a capacity which affords you ample opportunities to interact with the clients themselves. Working as a trained instructor as described above is an example of an Area 10 opportunity that may be more in line with what PA programs will consider an acceptable form of "healthcare," but you would want to confirm with programs.)
- Comfort Keepers (Monroe County IN and surrounding areas) - Paid, hands-on care opportunities, especially for those with their CNA, hospice certification, or EMT. Comfort Keepers accepts Medicaid. As such, those who work for Comfort Keepers will likely have the opportunity to work with underserved populations, which is the kind of experience many programs appreciate in applicants. If you contact Comfort Keepers for information, be sure to specify that you are looking for hands-on experience - what Comfort Keepers seems to designate as "Personal Care Services" and "Specialized Care Services." For pre-PA students, hands on experience with bathing, grooming, hygiene, mobility assistance, feeding, toileting, and the like, would be more beneficial than, for instance, providing "companionship care."
- Earning your Certified Nursing Assistant or Emergency Medical Technician certification (CNA or EMT) and pursuing related work (paid and / or voluntary):
- Be aware that in the Bloomington area, due to the nature of the local job market, CNAs can sometimes more easily garner direct patient care hours on a paid or voluntary basis than EMTs, usually at area nursing homes or long-term care facilities. EMTs can sometimes garner direct patient care experience through the local Volunteers in Medicine clinic (see entry above), though these opportunities are more difficult to come by.
- In addition, many PA programs expect applicants to count only those EMT hours spent administering actual direct patient care, and will not count the hours spent waiting for a call. (If you work as an EMT, log both your total hours, and the actual time spent with patients, as two separate numbers.)
- Those who will be working as an EMT in a larger, busier city often have plenty of opportunities to accumulate direct patient care experience. EMTs and those with first aid certification can also volunteer for IC EMS (see entry below).
- Personal preference is also important in terms of choosing what sort of patient care experiences you would prefer, but bear the latter points in mind if you are thinking of earning your CNA or EMT. Many students earn one certification or the other.
- IC EMS (Indiana Collegiate Emergency Medical Service) - Indiana University Bloomington's student-run emergency medical service (voluntary; IC EMS offers CPR and first aid training, or you can garner first aid certification by taking SPH-H 160 First Aid and Emergency Care, or through the American Red Cross or another provider).
- Working with patients in nursing homes (paid and / or voluntary). Many PA programs will accept helping patients in the activity room or dining room as patient care. It may be difficult to find more medically-oriented patient care opportunities in nursing homes unless you have your CNA. If you do not have your CNA, try contacting nursing homes and specifying that you would like to assist patients during their meals, or assist in the recreation or activity room. (To locate local nursing homes, try a web search for "nursing homes bloomington indiana" or "long term care facilities bloomington indiana".)
- Working for Home Instead Senior Care, Bloomington. Paid part time positions are sometimes available, in which care givers provide in-home senior care and elderly home companionship. Training is provided, and hours are flexible according to student schedules.
- Patient tech; post- or pre-op tech; out-patient tech (usually voluntary, sometimes paid, usually on-sight training at the hospital or clinic offering the opportunity, usually no certification is required).
- Phlebotomy (usually paid, training required).
- (Note that many programs, including the IU PA program, will not count lifeguarding as patient care experience - check with your programs to confirm. Depending on your specific experiences while lifeguarding, you could possibly make use of it in your personal essay, especially if you participated in any saves, back-boardings, or resuscitations. And certainly you would want to list any and all related certifications on your CASPA application, and on non-CASPA applications.)
As of Fall 2013, the IU PA program requires that applicants garner 500 hours of direct patient contact, which can be any combination of hours from clinical observation and / or direct patient care experience. The policy also states that the hours must be garnered within the 5 years prior to applying. The IU PA program has no preference regarding paid or voluntary experience. Nor does it currently matter what proportion of the experience is from clinical observation or direct patient care. Nonetheless, bear in mind that most programs require or prefer that applicants have direct patient care experience, and some may have separate clinical observation requirements. Furthermore, direct patient care experience is important to developing skills necessary for success in PA school, and plays an important role in any strong personal essay.
- For details about the IU program's clinical experience requirement, refer to the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences PA website, Admissions > Prerequisites > Clinical Prerequisite.
- The IU program strongly encourages applicants to gain experience working with underserved and/or rural populations. The latter preference reflects the program's philosophical and practical emphasis, and clinical observation and / or patient care in such settings is preferred.
- You will find a link to the IU MPAS form for recording clinical observation and / or patient care experience on the SHRS PA page.
Clinical observation (shadowing) and patient care experience are your most important professional development experiences. Even programs that do not require these experiences will nonetheless usually expect that you will have had them. In addition, use your time as an undergraduate to develop a strong sense of professionalism and professional etiquette, a set of characteristics graduate programs will assume you posses.
How much and what kind of professional development activities you undertake in addition to clinical observation and patient care depends on your circumstances, and on whether any of your prospective programs express preferences. Academics - developing excellent time management, reading comprehension, and writing skills; mastering course material and earning excellent grades; and so on - must be your top priority. Effective time management can make room for a variety of activities during your undergraduate years which can help you become a more experienced, professionalized applicant. If you wish to explore additional options, visit the HPPLC Professional Development page.
Most PA programs require applicants to submit a personal essay. The Indiana University program requires applicants to submit a "directed" essay; meaning that they want applicants to respond to a specific question posed by the program. Consult the IU MPAS website for details. In past years, the program has wanted applicants to explain why they feel the IU program itself is a good fit for the applicant.
Because some programs require applicants to submit a directed essay instead of or in addition to a general personal essay, it is very possible you might need to write two or more different essays leading up to your application process. Research your programs to determine such requirements well ahead of time. Plan accordingly, being sure to allot enough time to draft each essay in a non-rushed fashion.
Note that some programs, including the IU program, prefer applicants who demonstrate a desire to work with underserved populations. The latter reflects the IU program's stated philosophical and practical "commitment to provide health care in underserved and rural communities," to quote from their website. Hopefully, prior to submitting your directed essay, you are able to garner direct patient care or community service experience through which you are able to develop an understanding of who constitutes "underserved" and / or "rural" populations, and thus develop informed empathy for people who belong to those communities.
General personal statement information
Note: Some programs may also require you to submit written responses to additional questions during a secondary application process once you have submitted the primary application (whether through CASPA or directly to the PA program itself). Applicants can often pull paragraphs or sections from their primary essay and revise them according to secondary application questions.
Essay timeline: Sometimes applicants begin generating ideas for their personal essay early on, but they usually wait until the year prior to applying before they begin in earnest to spend time writing the essay itself. Draft your essay over time; do not rush the process! The essay can carry great weight with some programs, so rushing it could undermine an otherwise strong application. We recommend that you complete your final draft close to the opening of your earliest rolling admissions cycle.
- Refresh your memory and re-read the top portion of this site, including the sections, Description of the Profession and Description of Physician Assistant Programs.
- Most applicants find that the question, "Why do I want to be a PA?" becomes an integral part of their personal statement.
- Consult program philosophy and mission statements to get a feel for what ideals and goals seem important to them. This may help you generate ideas, and could even help clarify what is important to you as well.
- Use your clinical observations and direct patient care experiences (and, hopefully, related notes!) as a launch pad or brainstorming tool for your personal statement.
- Look back over your notes (or think back to your shadowing and patient care experiences, if you did not keep a journal), and reflect on the variety of skills and attributes exhibited by the PAs you shadowed, as well as the skills and attributes you developed or strengthened during your own patient care experiences - especially ones you believe are important to successful practice as a physician assistant. Think about what you learned about yourself and the profession which you did not know prior to these experiences. How did your experiences refine your impressions of the profession? How did your experiences help confirm your wish to enter a service profession - more specifically, a career in healthcare, and PA in particular?
- Following from the above, perhaps write out your two or three most impactful experiences, around which you can fashion your essay. We suggest that you relate with a fair amount of detail some specific direct patient care experiences you have had, and some interactions you've had with a given PA while shadowing - experiences which impacted your decision to pursue the profession, or which taught you something you did not previously know about yourself in relation to PA. It is not mandatory that you include detailed accounts of shadowing or patient care experiences in your essay, but many applicants find that doing so helps them demonstrate their interest in the profession, and their preparedness for embarking upon the intensive formal training process. Vagueness and over-generalization are the enemies of a strong personal essay. In fact, applicants will sometimes be as specific in their essay as, "...For instance, once, when shadowing a PA at such and such a place, I observed this and that, and here is specifically how that particular experience reinforced my understanding of the profession / my decision to be a PA / my own related skills and attributes, such as this particular skill and this specific attribute." This level of specificity can greatly enhance a personal statement. It can reduce the chances that admission committees will have to read between the lines and guess what you mean, or, worse, assume that you really have not thought much about your goals and your reasons for pursuing them.
- Personal statements can take many different forms, both stylistically and content-wise. One central purpose they should all share is building the applicant's credibility: it is important that you demonstrate to admission committees that you are 100% devoted to pursuing PA; that you have worked hard to develop the academic and personal skills, and gained the experience necessary, for success in graduate school; and that you are equally devoted to excelling within the profession itself.
- Many of these tips reflect another core purpose of the personal essay, and one to which most admission committees pay close attention: your ability to self-assess - to reflect upon your own experiences and draw conclusions from them about your goals, skills, and attributes; your ability to learn from your experiences; perhaps your dedication to learning from your mistakes, or willingness to challenge your own preconceptions; your ability to effectively assess your goals and your reasons for pursing them; and, equally important, your ability to convey this information in a coherent, professional manner.
- Remember that within the health professions the focus is always on service to patients; on the caregiver-patient relationship; on effective rapport-building and communication within that relationship; on working effectively with other healthcare professionals on behalf of your patient; and on patient advocacy. Some aspect of this patient-centric approach should play a role in your personal essay. In other words, not to put too fine a point on it, but it's not all about what the profession can do for you (though certainly you want to find your career personally fulfilling), it's about the patient.
- A personal essay is not a résumé in paragraph format! Follow the suggestions in this section to avoid this potential pitfall. The essay is not a list of what you've done. It is an opportunity for you to reflect on the experiences you have undertaken to learn about the profession, and a self-assessment in which you explain why you chose this particular career.
- Stylistically, it is common practice to write the personal statement from the first person (I / me) perspective. This is your opportunity to tell admission committees the three or four most important things about yourself and your pre-PA experience prior to (hopefully) the interview. You could look upon the personal essay as the interview before the interview.
- Avoid needless redundancy; avoid repeating the same thought, sentence, or phrase unless there is a valid stylistic or rhetorical reason for doing so.
- Along the same lines, remember that vagueness and over-generalization are the enemies of a strong personal essay. Specificity is key.
- The construct, "physician assistant," tends to be fairly standard. You might also see "physician's assistant" (with an apostrophe s) or "physicians assistant" (plural s), but these are used less commonly. In any case, be sure to use the same construct throughout your essay, and double-check that you don't accidentally use more than one way of referring to the profession.
- The term "physician assistant" does not need to be capitalized. It is also fine to use the abbreviation, PA, to refer to either the field or to someone practicing within the field (i.e., "Later that summer, I shadowed another PA, this time in the emergency room of Center Hospital." Or, "...the ever-expanding PA profession..."). Alternating in some fashion between the full tern and its abbreviation is the best way to avoid sounding repetitious.
- Maintain patient privacy when describing clinical observation and direct patient care experiences. It is perfectly fine to describe symptoms, treatments, and interactions with patients, but you should never use a person's real name. Instead, you can refer to them using pronouns (he, she, they). It is also standard practice to substitute a made up name for the real name if it will help your writing flow better; for example, "My very first experience offering direct patient care was treating an athlete - I'll call him Ted - for heatstroke...". (HIPPA - Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act)
- The average personal essay runs between 600 to 800 words (CASPA, for instance, limits the number of characters you can use). Thus, bearing in mind the importance of writing a detailed essay characterized by specificity, you will at the same time need to be selective and very pointed with what you do choose to write about, and what you decide to describe in more detail.
- Avoid clichés like, "I am very passionate..." Generalities and clichés can give the impression that you have not thought in detail about your reasons for pursuing the profession, and have not done a thorough assessment of the specific experiences and attributes that will enable you to be a successful graduate student, and an excellent practitioner in the profession. Generalities and cliche's tell admission committees nothing about you. You may indeed feel passionate about pursuing the profession (in fact, if you don't, you should be pursuing something else!), but you need to demonstrate how the passion developed, and how you have channeled that energy into your preparation. Do so by using specific language to describe how your shadowing, patient care experience, academics, and so on, clearly reflect your devotion to the profession.
- Your essay should be perfectly free of typos and spelling / grammatical errors. Some admission committees stop reading after two or three such mistakes, and literally drop the offending essay onto the "No" pile. Professionalism is crucial. Just as college is a step up from high school, graduate school is a step (or two) up from your undergraduate degree.
- Some programs have specific essay requirements or particular questions they want you to address, so check the web sites of individual programs to which you plan to apply. Check the same with regard to possible secondary applications.
- Regarding the CASPA Narrative (Personal Statement): the CASPA application limits the number of characters (not words) you can input. See the CASPA personal statement FAQ for important instructions and recommendations.
|IMPORTANT: After you read the information below, visit Gathering and Submitting Letters of Recommendation, where you will find important information and tips about how, from whom, and when to collect and submit recommendations, information about central application services, and much more.|
Indiana University Physician Assistant Program recommendation requirement
The IU PA program requires that applicants submit letters of reference through the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA). Refer to the IU SHRS MPAS Admissions page for specific requirements.
In addition, it is important that in the year leading up to your application, you read the HPPLC guidelines related to the PA application process, including information about when to apply, common mistakes to avoid, and so on.
Be sure to utilize the Gathering and Submitting Letters of Recommendation page!
|IMPORTANT: After you read the information below, thoroughly read the HPPLC Graduate Record Exam (GRE) page, which includes important information and tips about when to take the GRE, preparing for and arranging to take the exam, how scores are reported, and how to decide whether or not to retake the exam.|
As part of the application process, most physician assistant graduate programs require that you take the GRE revised General Test.
IMPORTANT: For detailed information and suggestions about when to take the GRE, preparing for and arranging to take the exam, how scores are reported, and how to decide whether or not to retake the exam, thoroughly read our page devoted to the Graduate Record Exam (GRE Revised General Test).
Some PA programs will accept MCAT scores in place of the GRE. See MCAT scores and PA programs, below, for further explanation.
The IU PA program requires GRE or MCAT scores taken within the past 5 years. No minimum score has been set (obviously the higher your scores the better), nor is there a set value in terms of how significant a role the exam will play during the admission process. Scores will be considered as part of your total application portfolio.
As of Fall 2012, the IU program indicted that only the verbal section would be considered. Other programs, however, may consider other sections as well.
Some PA programs will accept scores from the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) in place of GRE scores. (Program websites should indicate if this is the case.) The MCAT option sometimes arises when a premed student who has already taken the MCAT switches to pre-PA, or wants to apply to both medical school and PA programs. If you think you might be in this situation, consult with a HPPLC advisor to discuss pros, cons, and options. If you are not thinking of applying to medical school and have not yet taken the MCAT, then opt for the GRE instead (assuming you are applying to PA programs which require the GRE).
Be sure to thoroughly read the HPPLC Graduate Record Exam (GRE) page!
|IMPORTANT: After you read the information below, thoroughly read the HPPLC Preparing for Admission Interviews page, which includes sample interview questions, interview tips, information about interview formats, and more.|
Indiana University Physician Assistant Program admission interview
The IU MPAS program plans to conduct admission interviews with up to 132 qualified applicants on the IUPUI campus, November through January of each application cycle. As with many program interview processes, you should plan to arrive early and spend the entire day on campus.
Prior to beginning professional coursework, many programs require that you become certified for adult, child, and infant CPR, commonly referred to as BLS certification, Health Care Provider CPR, or CPR for the Professional Rescuer.
Training courses are offered for a fee through the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross. The IU Bloomington course, SPH-H 160 First Aid And Emergency Care (3 cr), also includes all necessary instruction, including use of the Automated External Defibrillator (AED). Upon completing H160, students are eligible to complete CPR/AED certification for the Professional Rescuer and Health Care Provider, and can also become first aid certified.
Misdemeanors, felonies, and background checks
Many programs require applicants to submit at least a limited criminal history check either as part of the application process or once an applicant has been provisionally admitted. Background checks are also a part of the licensure process in most states. Click here for important information.
|IMPORTANT: After you read the information below, visit the HPPLC Researching Accredited Programs page, and thoroughly utilize those resources throughout your preprofessional process! There, you will find important tips and information about how to identify accredited programs, how to decide where to apply, how to organize your research process, competitive GPA information, and much more.|
We strongly recommend that you consult only the lists of programs linked from the Researching Accredited Programs page. Other lists are incomplete, outdated, driven by marketing, and may even contain non-accredited programs. Be sure to research and consider both CASPA and non-CASPA programs! There are dozens of programs that do not use CASPA.
If you are a freshman, you should focus on your academics and your transition to college, not on program research! Begin your chemistry courses during freshman year. If you can, do some clinical observation over winter or spring break, and then continue with shadowing over the summer; but when classes are in session, focus on developing excellent academic skills and time management.
Sophomores and beyond
If you are currently an IUB sophomore or beyond, or a graduate of IUB, and have not yet met with the HPPLC pre-PA advisor, you may call to schedule an initial appointment. If you have not decided for sure whether you will pursue this profession, we can help you with your decision. On the other hand, if you are in fact sure, then HPPLC advising can help you plan your preprofessional timeline, up to and including the application and (hopefully) interviews.
As you begin the process of deciding where to apply, take heart in the fact that other people have already done much of your research for you by gathering together vast quantities of information and resources, so take advantage of it! In this section of our site, for instance, and in subsequent sections, you will find links to PA professional organizations, career web sites, program listings, and many other resources.
Visit the preprofessional timeline page. Our detailed sample timeline can give you a sense of what you should be doing now, and what can wait. Remember to attend the spring Health Programs Fair to speak with PT program representatives. Each year, a dozen or more PT programs visit IU to meet potential applicants!
Be sure to utilize the the HPPLC Researching Accredited Programs page!
It is not uncommon for people to change their goals and ambitions, or for circumstances to arise which impede plans, or necessitate deferring them and taking other action in the meantime. If such circumstances arise, you will be in a more secure position if you have developed contingencies, or what some call a back-up plan, or a Plan B.
Sometimes this simply means taking a bit longer to become eligible to apply to programs, or to strengthen the application. Other times - for example, if after shadowing you realize you are no longer drawn to your initial career choice, or if you find that you will have a difficult time being competitive for admission - then developing a contingency plan might mean exploring other career options. In the former case, whether deferring the application is the wisest choice depends on your circumstances. In the latter case, you have access to free resources that can help you explore your options; for instance, HPPLC's Other Health Professions page, and the IUB Career Development Center.
Click the center of the video box below to play a lighthearted but informative short cartoon about the importance of having contingencies, or a back-up plan.
Indiana University Physician Assistant Program application
For now, the proposed IU PA program will not require application through CASPA, but may do so in subsequent years. You can find IU PA application information and links on the program's website.
- The program will begin accepting applications in mid-June, with an October 31 deadline. We recommend submitting your applicant as soon as possible after June 15.
- Don't be caught off-guard! - As you plan your coursework, and well before you plan to apply, carefully read the prerequisite course deadline information.
- IU PA admission interviews are scheduled to begin no later than October 1. It is possible they may begin earlier.
Some professional programs require that you apply through a central application service, e.g., the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA); whereas others require that you apply directly to the program itself instead of through the central application service. Therefore, if you are applying to both CASPA and non-CASPA programs, you will need to meticulously follow two or more application processes. Attention to detail is critically important.
- About 80% of all US PA programs require applicants to submit an application, letters of reference, and other materials through CASPA. See details and deadlines on the CASPA site.
- By the same token, do not make the mistake of ignoring the two or three dozen non-CASPA programs, or you will be overlooking some excellent opportunities! Whether or not a program partners with the central application service has absolutely no bearing on program quality or accreditation; it is simply a choice they've made about their application process.
- Fully utilize the CASPA FAQs pertaining to the CASPA application process. The FAQs are very good, and will thoroughly address most of your questions about CASPA.
- Consult the HPPLC page, Gathering and Submitting Letters of Recommendation. While it is specifically focused on the letter of recommendation process, the site also offers insight into the application process for both CASPA and non-CASPA programs.
- For CASPA programs, consult CASPA's Letter of Reference FAQ before submitting recommender information.
Application cycles vary considerably; some PA programs begin during the summer, some in the fall, and others in the spring.
- Do not be caught off guard by the common misconception that "fall semester is when you apply"; it is wise to submit applications much earlier! Programs are receiving more applications than ever, so you should submit your application well before deadlines, while paying close attention to rolling admissions cycles!
- Generally speaking, the busiest application time is during the summer, continuing into the fall.
- For programs that begin in the spring, applications are often due the spring or summer prior.
Thus, application cycles occur roughly 8 to 11 months prior to when admitted applicants will begin the PA program itself. In other words, you apply the year prior to when you plan to enter PA school. Some pre-PA students choose to apply during the summer and fall after Junior year (if they are on the traditional "4 year plan"), but many choose to (or find that they must) defer their application for a year or more so they can garner more patient care experience, complete their program research, work in additional prerequisites, and so on.
- PA program application cycles and deadlines are different from the CASPA application cycle!
- The "CASPA application cycle" consists of the 11 months out of each year during which the CASPA application is available. The CASPA cycle opens in mid-April of each year, and closes in mid-March of the next year. In the year you plan to apply, we suggest you open a CASPA account once CASPA announces that the new application cycle has opened (i.e., mid-April).
- Within the CASPA application cycle, each CASPA program will have its own application cycle, i.e., its own opening and closing date. Some programs begin accepting applications as early as mid-April, May, or June, while others open much later. Click HERE for more detailed information about CASPA-program application cycles and deadlines.
- Don't forget about non-CASPA programs! - there are dozens of them. Refer to the HPPLC Program Research page for links to lists of accredited programs, both CASPA and non-CASPA.
- In addition, many programs have "rolling admissions" (or "early decision"), meaning they begin filling spaces as soon as the program's application cycle opens for the given year. For programs with rolling admissions, we recommend that you submit your completed application toward the beginning of their application cycle. Applying late during rolling admissions can greatly decrease your chances of being admitted to some programs. In fact, we recommend you set the opening of your earliest rolling admissions cycle as your own soft application deadline. It is also true that the timing of your applications depends on other variables, such as how much time you need to prepare for and take the GRE, allowing yourself enough time to compose an excellent personal essay, and so on. Therefore, you have to plan your application according to what is most advantageous and necessary within your circumstances.
- For programs that do not have rolling admissions - i.e., ones that do not fill spaces until after the program's application deadline - you should still turn in all application materials several weeks before the deadline if at all possible, just in case there are mistakes, oversights, or other delays.
- CASPA suggests you allow 5 weeks for them to process your application and submit it to schools. Optimally, this would mean submitting your CASPA application about 5 weeks before you need your programs to have it. Remember that we suggest you set the opening of your earliest rolling admissions cycle as your own soft application deadline.
- Note that CASPA purges all non-submitted applications from their database in mid-March (i.e., applications of people who began to fill it out, but then for one reason or another chose not to complete the application process). CASPA does retain certain portions of submitted applications in case the applicant plans to re-apply if not admitted to a program.
Note: Be aware of financial aid deadlines, which can arrive during or shortly after your application period!
(a.k.a., common application mistakes)
- Mistakes listing your coursework and transcript information can delay or invalidate your CASPA application. Inputting this information is tedious, but nonetheless must be done with perfect accuracy and attention to detail. Past applicants have told us it works best if you systematically enter this information more or less at one time, such as over the course of a weekend, instead of doing it piecemeal.
- When listing courses you transferred into IUB, you must refer to the transcript from the original school, not to your IUB transcript. All courses must be listed in the application with original course numbers, grades, credit hours, and so on.
- Inform CASPA, and non-CASPA programs, if your name is different on one or more of your transcripts compared to how you've listed it on your application.
- Allow plenty of time for applications to be processed. Submit both CASPA and non-CASPA applications as close to the opening of your earliest rolling admission cycle as possible. Application components commonly include GRE scores, letters of recommendation, an official transcript from each college or university attended, personal essay, information about and possible verification of your clinical observation and/or direct patient care experience, and fees. Missing components or incomplete / inaccurate information will delay your application processing.
- Check the website of each of your programs for any supplementary materials or secondary applications that must be submitted directly to the school and/or PA program itself. Note the secondary applications often include additional, specific short essay questions to which you must respond (oftentimes, portions of the personal essay can be reworked or used as a starting point).
After you have submitted your applications:
- Double-check with CASPA that your application is complete (for non-CASPA programs, check with the program itself).
- Once you've confirmed that all of your applications are complete, we recommend that you then send a professionally written follow-up email to each program to which you are applying, in which you reiterate your interest in the program, thank them for considering your application, and express your hope that you will have the opportunity to discuss both their program and your interest in it in more detail.
If you are applying to CASPA programs, as you complete the online application you will be prompted as to various CASPA procedures. The CASPA site includes detailed information about each step in the CASPA application process, including a very important FAQ section. Consult the site often and consistently to make sure you understand their policies and procedures. If you have specific questions about CASPA procedures, or technical questions about the electronic applicant itself, you can contact CASPA directly. CASPA has tended to have pretty good customer service, so a phone call is often your best bet.
Don't hesitate to contact PA programs directly to ask questions about their application process, or anything else pertaining to their program. They expect such contact. Always check their website first.
The possible pros and cons of dropping or retaking classes
Read about possible pros, cons, and options related to dropping and retaking courses on the HPPLC Retaking and Dropping Classes information page.
If you have multiple drops and/or retakes, also refer to the application addendum information, below.
IU program course retake policies
The IU PA program currently (as of Fall 2012) allows for Indiana University's "Extended X Policy," by which you can petition to have the grade replaced if you repeat a course. SHRS will allow you to replace up to 15 credit hours of prerequisite coursework (though the IUB policy currently allows only 9 credits). See your IUB academic advisor to discuss the limitations of the policy, and directions on how / where to file the X Petition.
The IU PA program currently (as of Fall 2012) does not allow for "Academic Bankruptcy."
Always double-check policies with the SHRS Director of Student Enrollment Services in case things have recently changed.
An addendum is a brief supplemental document sometimes included with an application, in which the applicant explains extenuating circumstances he or she feel could adversely impact the application. Visit the HPPLC Application Addendum page to read more about what an addendum is, and whether/how to include one with your application.
If after the interview you learn that you have been put on an admission waitlist, immediately contact the program to express your continued and enthusiastic interest. Sometimes applicants who take the time to do so are among the first to be contacted if spaces open up. If after doing so you don't hear back for a week-and-a-half or two weeks, feel free to contact them again to express your interest.
Click HERE for resources related to researching scholarships and grants, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and FAFSA application timing and deadline information. (When to file will depend on when your program begins. The January prior to the start of your program might be a useful benchmark, but it is your responsibility to confirm the timing.)
- If you are not on the HPPLC PA email list, visit our homepage and join today. We send important announcements about visiting PA programs, PA group advising sessions, the GRE, and so on. The email list is also where you will learn details about the new Indiana University PA program as information becomes available.
- Follow us on Twitter (http://twitter.com/@HPPLCPA)! Our PA Tweets will include not only the announcements we send through the regular HPPLC PA email list, but also pre-PA tips, resources, and factoids. Keep yourself in the loop: follow us on Twitter!
GPA calculators: Having clear, realistic projected GPA information is especially important for preprofessional students, who are usually pursuing admission to programs with moderately or highly competitive admissions. For examples of some useful GPA calculators, click here.
Researching scholarships and educational grants: Click HERE for resources related to researching scholarships and grants, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and FAFSA application timing and deadline information.
- Utilize the HPPLC ANAT-A 215 Human Anatomy Study Tips page. We strongly urge you to closely follow the advice outlined there, all of which comes from students who succeeded in this very challenging course.
- We also encourage you to visit the IU Pre-Physician Assistant Club's Facebook and attend PA Club meetings. Watch the HPPLC PA email list for announcements.
Director, Student Enrollment Services
IU School of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS)
Coleman Hall 120
1140 W. Michigan St.
Indianapolis, IN 46202-5119
SHRS PA homepage
- Visit the US Department of Labor / Bureau of Labor Statistics / Occupational Outlook Handbook PA entry for projected salary and other career information. Also, the Bureau of Labor Statistics home page and the Handbook's alphabetical listing of careers
- American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA)
- Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) home page
- PAEA simple and more robust subscription listings of PA programs
- Physician Assistant History Center (Duke University) Additional information, articles, and ephemera describing the history of the physician assistant profession.
- American Academy of Surgical Physician Assistants (AASPA)
- Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (JAAPA) Available for free online. We suggest you read around in the journal each month to help you become familiar with the kinds of issues and topics that are of concern to PAs.
- Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA)
- CASPA instructions and FAQs
- National Commission of Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA)
- Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA)
- Butler University PA home page
- Indiana State University PA home page
- Indiana University School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS)
- Saint Frances University PA home page, and admission criteria / facts page
Professional Development is a critical part of any undergraduate degree. Carefully consider the suggestions on the HPPLC Professional Development page.
If you are interested in other health professions that are advised through HPPLC, we encourage you to sign up for the HPPLC email list associated with your program(s) of interest. Feel free to sign up for more than one list. Also refer to the HPPLC handout, Health Professions Descriptions.
This information was prepared for Indiana University Bloomington students by the Health Professions and Prelaw Center. Please note that specific requirements and policies can change at any time without notice. Students are responsible for obtaining the most current information directly from application and testing services, and the schools and programs in which they have an interest. Refer to each program's web pages, bulletins, and other publications for the most current information. Students are responsible for understanding degree course requirements, as well as other requirements, policies, and procedures related to the degree(s) they are pursuing; for enrolling in appropriate courses; for understanding IU policies/procedures; and for following through properly with regard to all of the preceding.