Physician Assistant

Physician Assistants (PAs) provide services under the supervision of physicians. PAs are trained to provide diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive healthcare services, as deemed necessary by a physician.  PAs are educated as generalists in medicine. However, many PAs work in specialty fields, such as: cardiovascular surgery, orthopedics, and emergency medicine. Most PAs work in the primary care specialty areas of family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology.

 Physician Assistants typically do the following:

  • Work under the supervision of a physician

  • Take and review patients' medical histories

  • Examine and treat patients

  • Order and interpret laboratory tests and X-rays

  • Make diagnoses and prescribe medications

  • Give treatment, such as setting broken bones and immunizing patients

  • Educate and counsel patients and their families—for example, answering questions about how to care for a child with asthma

  • Order or carry out therapy

  • Prescribe medicine, when needed

  • Research the latest treatments to ensure the quality of patient care

  • Conduct or participate in outreach programs; talking to groups about managing diseases and promoting wellness

Important Qualities:

  • Communication skills: Physician assistants must explain complex medical issues in a way that patients can understand. They must also effectively communicate with doctors and other healthcare workers to ensure that they provide the best possible patient care.

  • Compassion: Physician assistants deal with patients who are sick or injured and may be in extreme pain or distress. They must be able to treat patients and their families with compassion and understanding.

  • Detail oriented: Physician assistants should be observant and have a strong ability to focus when evaluating and treating patients.

  • Emotional stability: Physician assistants, particularly those working in surgery or emergency medicine, should be able to work well under pressure. They must remain calm in stressful situations in order to provide quality care.

  • Problem-solving skills: Physician assistants need to evaluate patients’ symptoms and administer the appropriate treatments. They must be diligent when investigating complicated medical issues so that they can determine the best course of treatment for each patient.



Required Coursework

The chart below is a list of common Physician Assistant program prerequisites and the Emory course equivalents. The course prerequisites vary widely across programs. This list does not include all courses that may be required by PA programs. Additionally, schools have differing policies for accepting AP/IB credits to fulfill prerequisites.  Students are responsible for verifying the prerequisite coursework and AP/IB policies of the schools to which they plan to apply.

Helpful resources include the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) Program Directory and individual school websites.

PA Program Prerequisite Chart

This list was last updated in July 2017. Prerequisite chart is not an all-inclusive list.

*If you use AP credit for Biol 141, you must still take the Biol 141 Lab.  

**Organic Chemistry and/or Biochemistry
  • Many PA programs require only 1 semester of Organic Chemistry or 1 semester of Biochemistry
  • Starting in Fall 2018, the traditional Organic Chemistry sequence (CHEM 221 and 222) will no longer be offered at Emory. CHEM 203 and CHEM 204 will be the new sequence offered, however they will not be a direct replacement for CHEM 221 and 222. If a school requires one semester of Organic Chemistry, you will likely need to take both CHEM 203 and 204 in order to cover the all the topics required to fulfill an Organic Chemistry pre-req.
    • ++You may be permitted to take one semester of Organic Chemistry through the ARCHE program (starting Fall 2018). See below.

+ Human Anatomy and Physiology:

  • The Human Anatomy and Physiology with lab course sequence is not offered in the College. Students may be permitted to take this sequence in the Emory School of Nursing (NRSG 201 and 202 with labs), with permission from the SON (availability is not guaranteed).  
  • The most closely-related courses offered in the College are Biol 205 (Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy with lab) and Biol 336 (Human Physiology, no lab). These courses will not full the Human Anatomy and Physiology with lab sequence requirement for most PA programs.
  • Visit the individual school websites to determine the exact requirements for your chosen schools.
  • ++You may be permitted to take the Human Anatomy and Physiology sequence with lab through the ARCHE program. See below.

++If one of the prerequisite courses you need to take is not offered in the College, the ARCHE program is an available option:

Please contact your pre-health advisor if:
  • You have questions about using your AP/IB credit
  • You have questions about fulfilling the Organic/Biochem requirement
  • You transferred to Emory and have questions about prerequisite coursework taken at your previous institution
  • You have questions about taking a course through the ARCHE program

Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

The GRE is required for most PA schools. While the MCAT is not required for most schools, some will accept it instead of the GRE. Students should review all information on the GRE section of CASPA before submitting an application to test.

Length: 3 hours and 45 minutes

Sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing

Cost: The registration fee is $205 which includes the exam and scores sent to four schools. Sending scores to additional schools costs $27 each. Applicants with financial need may request a GRE Fee Reduction Certificate to cover 50% of the GRE fee.

Scores: Scores range from 260-340 Verbal and Quantitative Composite, and 0-6 Analytical Writing.

GRE Prep Resources: There are a variety of GRE prep resources, each differing in both cost and teaching style. The PHMO does not endorse any specific test prep resource, but we encourage you to explore each of the different options to determine which will best fit your needs. 

The PHMO does not endorse any specific preparation service or program.

School Selection

Number of schools: Students typically apply to between 5-10 PA programs.

Factors to consider:

  • Admission requirements: The prerequisite coursework and clinical experience requirements vary widely between each PA program. Determine where you're eligible to apply based on the coursework you've completed or will complete before matriculation and the number of clinical hours required.

  • Location: Urban vs. rural setting, proximity to family, recreational opportunities, cost of living, etc. Additionally, think about where you will be doing your clinical work – types of hospitals/clinics, patient population, etc.

  • Mission Statements: You should look for schools with mission statements that fit with your own goals.

  • Curriculum: Seek out information about the curriculum and consider how it fits with your learning style.

  • Cost: Consider tuition and type of financial aid available


*Not affiliated with PAEA. Always double check any information with CASPA, APTA, or with the school itself.

Primary Applications

Applications for CASPA are reviewed on a rolling basis. We recommend applying as early in the cycle as possible. For additional information on Centralized Application Services and Personal Statements, see the "Apply" section of the PHMO website.

  • Centralized Application Service: CASPA - Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants

  • Number of Participating Schools: Over 200

    • *There are currently 26 programs that do not participate in CASPA. Check the individual websites of the non-particiapting schools for their application procedures.

  • Cost: $177 which includes one PA program designation. Each additional school is $51.

  • Fee Assistance? Yes, through the CASPA Fee Assistance Program, which includes a waiver for all CASPA fees for the first PA program designation on your application. Applicants will pay the $51 fee for all additional program designations. Applications for fee waivers open in April and students should apply ASAP.

  • Personal Statement Prompt: In the space provided write a brief statement expressing your motivation or desire to become a physician assistant." 5,000 character limit

  • Application Timing: Students will apply in the spring/early summer of the year preceding their planned matriculation. The CASPA cycle opens mid-April.

*Not affiliated with PAEA. Always double check any information with CASPA, APTA, or with the school itself.

Secondary Applications

The majority of participating CASPA schools require a secondary application or supplemental materials. Information on each school's requirement is listed on the primary application. Required information may include a high school transcript, photo, fee, additional essays, and possibly other information (it varies widely by school).  Some schools may allow their secondary application materials to be submitted directly through the CASPA application, while others may request this material at a later time. If programs request this material be sent at a later time, the PHMO recommends a 2-weel turnaround on submitting this additional information. Applicants should check the primary application to determine what supplemental material is required. For more information, see the CASPA Supplemental Information page.

Recommendation Letters

Physician Assistant programs typically require between 3-4 recommendation letters. CASPA requires a minimum of 3 letters and accepts up to 5. The PHMO recommends at least one of your letters be from a science faculty member. It is also recommended to have one letter from an evaluator who can speak to your ability working with patients. The other letter(s) should be made up of professional references who can write compellingly about your personal qualities that will contribute to a successful career as a physician assistant. Check with each individual school to determine their requirements.

CASPA requires a minimum of three letters and accepts up to five.



After submitting the primary application, and secondary applications where required, students may receive interview offers any time in the year preceding matriculation. Not all PA programs require an interview as part of the application process, but for the ones that do, the interview is a very important element in the application process.  When a school invites you to an interview, they are indicating an interest in selecting you. The interview gives both of you the opportunity to exchange information to determine if you are a good “fit” for each other.

Schools use personal interviews with applicants to assess qualities such as self-confidence, interpersonal skills, and ability to overcome challenges. Be prepared to discuss why you wish to pursue a career in physical therapy and the experiences that have motivated you.


*Not affiliated with PAEA. Always double check any information with CASPA, APTA, or with the school itself.