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Pre-Physician Assistant


Physician assistants (PAs) practice medicine under the supervision of a physician. According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants, "PAs perform physical examinations, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret lab tests, perform procedures, assist in surgery, provide patient education and counseling and make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes." Interest and application to physician assistant programs have grown exponentially over the past few years.

According to the U.S. News and World Report, PA programs have become increasingly competitive in recent years. Therefore, a significant amount of previous healthcare experience, especially direct patient care, is often necessary to gain admission to a Physician Assistant Program.

Here you will find information on prerequisite coursework, required tests, and helpful links about becoming a physician assistant.

Physician assistant programs often require a large number of direct patient care hours for admission. For example, they ask for the following: "A minimum of 100 hours of direct patient care experience at the time of application is required for your application to be reviewed. However, we recommend having between 500-1000 hours in order to be competitive."


Some physician assistant (PA) programs require the following coursework for admission to medical school. However, PA pre-requisite coursework varies greatly by program so be sure to check with individual schools about their admission requirements.

Biological Sciences

Many PA programs require more general biology coursework as well as specific courses in anatomy, physiology, medical terminology, microbiology, and nutrition. At Edgewood, we recommend the following Biological Sciences courses for a pre-PA route:

  • Bio 151 General Biology: Cell Biology and Ecology (or)
  • Bio 181 Honors General Biology: Cell Biology and Ecology
  • Bio 152 General Biology: Genetics and Evolution (or)
  • Bio 182 Information Flow in Living Systems – Honors
  • Bio 208 Nutrition
  • Bio 210 Anatomy and Physiology I
  • Bio 211 Anatomy and Physiology II
  • Bio 312 Microbiology

Additional 400-level Biological Sciences courses may be useful for admission to and success in PA school. These include but are not limited to:

  • Bio 401 Genetics
  • Bio 406 Medical Microbiology (offered odd springs)
  • Bio 408 Immunology
  • Bio 410 Pathology

Behavioral Sciences

Many PA programs require at least one course in psychology and one in sociology. At Edgewood, these courses include:

  • Psy 101 General Psychology
  • Soc 201 Introduction to Sociology


Many PA programs require at least one semester of biochemistry in addition to general and organic chemistry coursework. At Edgewood College, students must complete one year of general chemistry and one year of organic chemistry before enrolling in biochemistry. Here is the sequence of courses at Edgewood:

  • Chem 120 General Chemistry I
  • Chem 121 General Chemistry II
  • Chem 321 Organic Chemistry I
  • Chem 323 Organic Chemistry II
  • Chem 340 Biochemistry


Most PA schools require college-level mathematics and/or statistics. We advise that you take at least one math course and one course in statistics, such as:

  • Math 114A Precalculus A: Algebra
  • Math 114B Precalculus B: Trigonometry
  • Math 231 Calculus I
  • Math 121 Statistics

The average grade point average for students admitted to the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Physician Assistant program is between a 3.5 and 3.6.

Relevant Tests

Students interested in this pre-health pathway are encouraged to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and obtain as many clinical hours as possible through working as a CNA.  Students can obtain CNA certification through Edgewood College’s Center for Healthcare Education and Simulation (CHES).  This CNA course allows you to become a Wisconsin-certified nursing assistant in a 3-week accelerated format, and to obtain your clinical education at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, WI.  Most other CNA courses in the state are 6 weeks long and clinical rotations are typically in nursing homes.

Most PA programs require Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores for admission.. Partial fee waivers are available for both exams. Contact individual programs for specific pre-requisite tests.