Pre-Physician Assistant

Physician Assistants (PAs) work in collaboration with physicians and are licensed to treat and prevent human illness, disease, and injury. Among other duties, PAs conduct examinations, order and interpret lab results, determine diagnoses, perform procedures, prescribe medication, and assist with surgeries.

Physician assistant programs across the United States vary in length but on average take 27 months.

In addition to pre-requisite coursework and standardized tests, many physician assistant programs require their applicants to have healthcare experience with direct patient contact, frequently for pay. The details of this requirement – such as how many hours are required and what exactly counts as direct patient contact – differ widely among programs. Consult the individual programs’ websites for details. The Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) has an up-to-date list of member programs that link to the websites for individual programs.


Again, PA schools differ widely between programs, so consult the websites of the individual schools for more targeted prerequisite course lists. The following courses are some basic prerequisites that will fulfill the requirements for many PA programs. These must be completed before matriculation:

  • One year (8 credit hours) of general chemistry with lab
  • One year (8 credit hours) of organic chemistry with lab
  • One year (8 credit hours) of physics with lab
  • One year (8 credit hours) of biological sciences with lab
  • One year (6 credit hours) of English—many schools will accept English 1000 and a Writing Intensive course

In addition, many PA programs require:

  • One semester (3-4 credit hours) of microbiology
  • One semester (4-5 credit hours) of human anatomy with lab
  • One semester (3 credit hours) of medical terminology

* See Plan of Study for MU course numbers.

Please Note: PA schools differ on their acceptance of AP credit for science and non-science course work. Do not make assumptions. Consult the individual program pages or the PAEA program directory linked above for confirmation.

Most PA programs require the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) for admittance; others will accept the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). If you intend to take the MCAT, we recommend the following courses:

  • One year (6 credit hours) of behavioral science, 3 in psychology and 3 in sociology
  • One semester (3 credit hours) of statistics
  • One year (6-8 credit hours) of biochemistry

Additional Courses for PA School Preparation:

  • Calculus I and II
  • Histology
  • Elements of Pharmacology
  • Health Care in the U.S.
  • Medical Ethics
  • MU Community Engagement Program

Advanced science classes should be selected carefully to develop breadth of course work and to demonstrate academic abilities. If early science grades are not distinguished, then performing at a level of excellence in one or more upper-level or graduate-level science courses reflects well on your candidacy.

PA schools are searching for broadly-educated individuals with excellent writing and speaking skills, who have developed analytical and synthetic thinking abilities. In addition to selecting a wide array of science courses, you are encouraged to balance your academic program to include history, art, literature, philosophy, social and behavioral sciences and communication skills.

Students are encouraged to consider course work in medical ethics and healthcare policy. PA programs expect that applicants have made some effort to become knowledgeable about current issues in healthcare delivery, policy, and ethics. These topics are often discussed in the admissions interview.