Allie white coat classmates

Allie Jagielo ('11) with her classmates at the Univesity of Iowa's Physician Assistant Studies program.

The physician assistant profession is one of the fastest growing healthcare careers nationwide. Physician assistants (PAs) are becoming integral to the provision of healthcare, especially in the areas of primary care.

PAs provide health services under the supervision of physicians, and are formally trained to provide diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive healthcare services. Working as members of the healthcare team, they take medical histories, examine and treat patients, order and interpret laboratory tests and x-rays, make diagnoses, and prescribe medications. They also treat minor injuries, by suturing, splinting, and casting. PAs record progress notes and instruct and counsel patients. Most states allow physician assistants to prescribe medications. In many rural and inner city areas, PAs practice independently with supervision from a physician 1-2 days per week.


PA programs are two years in length and are full time. PA education includes classroom instruction in biochemistry, pathology, human anatomy, physiology, microbiology, clinical pharmacology, clinical medicine, geriatric and home healthcare, disease prevention, and medical ethics. Students obtain supervised clinical training by participating in several rotations, including primary care medicine, inpatient medicine, surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, geriatrics, emergency medicine, psychiatry, and pediatrics. PA's can become specialized in these areas as well.

After two years, students graduate with a Master’s of Physician Assistant Studies. Before a PA can begin practicing, he or she must pass the Physician Assistants National Certifying Examination, administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) and open to graduates of accredited PA education programs.

Cornell Courses and Other Requirements

Cornell can provide excellent preparation for physician assistant programs. PA program prerequisites often include the following:

  1. Successful undergraduate education as shown by a baccalaureate degree and GPA. A competitive GPA is 3.5 or higher. Many pre-PA students major in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Kinesiology, or Psychology.
  2. Introductory and advanced courses in the sciences including but not limited to: principles of chemistry (CHEM 121 and 122), organic chemistry (CHEm 225), general statistics (STA 201), biochemistry (CHEM 334), general biology (BIO 141 and 42), human anatomy (BIO 329), exercise physiology (KIN 315), genetics (BIO 315), microbiology (BIO 326), cellular and molecular biology (BIO 205)
  3. Three or more upper level courses are recommended. Many programs require Biochemistry (CHEM 334) and Abnormal Psychology (PSY 381).  These Cornell courses each have pre-requisites, so you need to plan ahead to build them into your course schedule.
  4. GRE scores. Competitive composite score of 1000 or higher.
  5. Healthcare and research experience (six months or more). Job shadowing a PA is often required as is a letter of recommendation from a PA.
  6. A variety of technical standards as declared by the institution (for example: University of Iowa Physician Assistant Program Technical Standards)

Click here to see a sample Cornell College course timeline.

The Dimensions Resource Center has additional resources that can assist you in preparing to apply to physician assistant programs, including GRE test preparation books.

Additional information:

American Academy of Physician Assistants
Physician Assistant Education Association
Application: Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA)