Licensed to practice medicine under the charge of a medical doctor, the physician assistant (PA) is educated in the same format as that of a medical student, although the length of training is significantly shorter than medical school. With the exception of shadowing, PA program prerequisites also tend to be somewhat identical, including premedical science coursework and post-baccalaureate examinations like the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Paid clinical work experience in a healthcare position such as a paramedic or medical scribe is frequently included in PA program prerequisites.
As the physician assistant is licensed to practice medicine, it is important that he or she have a thorough knowledge base within the natural sciences. Like medical colleges, all PA schools require completion of several pre-medical courses within the life and physical sciences for admission, typically including a year of introductory physics, biological science, and organic chemistry, as well as biochemistry. Completed as part of a bachelor's degree in no specific major, premedical science courses for entrance into PA programs are expected to be finished with above-average grades.
Depending upon the school, PA program prerequisites include scores from either the Medical Colleges Admissions Test (MCAT) or the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Some programs ask that those applying have reports from both types of examinations. In certain instances, colleges will not accept one for the other and tend to be very specific about what is necessary, such as desirable minimum scores and how recent the results are.
Most physician assistant schools require that applicants have clinical experience in the healthcare field like nursing, or through employment as a paramedic. Working as a medical scribe is also a popular option among pre-PA students. Medical scribes assist doctors by taking the medical histories of patients and making note of events that take place during visits, including important discussions between doctor and patient, treatments, and test results. Generally, there is a specification for the amount of clinical experience necessary, so it is essential for prospective students to contact PA schools to find out the total number of paid hours expected for admission consideration.
Not all PA programs require students to have shadowed licensed PAs, but it is frequently recommended in addition to PA program prerequisites. Shadowing involves the careful observation of a PA as he or she goes about the daily business of the work day. Done primarily for purposes of learning about the job of physician assisting, shadowing allows prospective physician assistants to acquire an understanding of the various capacities in which these professionals are employed. Students should observe actual PA duties being performed in several different areas of medicine.