Pre-Physician Assistant 

Cornell College students interested in becoming a Physician Assistant are considered part of the Pre-Physician Assistant program. The Pre-Physician Assistant program is coordinated by the Dimensions for Health Professions.

The Dimensions Guide to Pre-Physician Assistant includes information on Physician Assistant program prerequisites, a sample course timeline, and other tips and resources helping you navigate your pre-PA career at Cornell College. 

The Co-Curricular Activity Journal is a resource aiding students in reflection and meaning making throughout their experiences leading to a healthcare career. The Dimensions Co-Curricular Activity Journal helps students keep an active record of co-curricular activities contributing to a strong application to Physician Assistant school.

What is a Physician Assistant?  

Physician Assistants (PAs) practice medicine on a team under the supervision of a licensed physician. They are formally educated to examine patients, diagnose injuries and illnesses, and provide treatment (Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2015). PAs are trained to provide diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive healthcare services. 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. 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. PAs must satisfy all of the requirements of a Physician Assistant program (usually a Master of Science degree in Physician Assistant Studies) and pass board examinations in order to practice as a licensed Physician Assistant. 

Preparing for Physician Assistant Programs at Cornell College 

Most PA programs are two to three years in length and are full time master's programs. 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. PAs can become specialized in these areas as well. Students ultimately graduate with a Master of Physician Assistant Studies.

Before a PA can begin practicing, they 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.

Choosing a Major

Many Pre-PA students major in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (BMB), Kinesiology, or Psychology at Cornell College.

Prerequisite Coursework

A competitive GPA for PA programs is 3.5 or higher. Students pursuing PA programs need to take introductory and advanced courses in the sciences including biology and chemistry courses, general statistics, human anatomy, and exercise physiology. Three or more additional upper level courses are recommended.

Many PA programs require Biochemistry (CHEM 334) and Abnormal Psychology (PSY 381).  These Cornell courses each have prerequisites, so you need to plan ahead and work with your Faculty Advisor to build them into your course schedule.

Because not all PA programs require the same prerequisites, it is best to meet with theAssociate Director of Dimensions to review school-specific prerequisites beginning in your second year. 

Admissions Examination

Graduate Record Exam (GRE)

Most PA programs require the GRE administered by the Educational Testing Service for admission. A competitive composite GRE score of 1000 or higher is required by most PA programs.

Some PA programs will accept Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores, but different PA programs will view MCAT scores differently. It’s best to check with PA programs of interest to see how they perceive applicants who have taken the MCAT. 

Dimensions has additional resources that can assist you in preparing to apply to PA programs including GRE test preparation books.

Application Process

Individuals interested in becoming a Physician Assistant will need to demonstrate knowledge and ability of a variety of technical standards as declared by the institution. These can usually be found by reviewing the PA program’s website. For example, here are the University of Iowa’s Physician Assistant Program Technical Standards.

Students applying to PA programs nationwide utilize the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA).

Dimensions is your primary source for information when you reach the planning stage for your PA application. Cornell students are expected to utilize the Health Professions Committee before the start of their intended application cycle. 

Additional Resources 

American Academy of Physician Assistants
Physician Assistant Education Association
Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook 
ExploreHealthCareers.org