Are You Qualified for a PA Master's Program?

A female student with glasses writes in a book while sitting at a table.

If you're interested in launching a health care career that involves direct patient care, consider becoming a physician assistant, or PA. PAs conduct physical exams, counsel patients, create treatment plans, diagnose illnesses and injuries, interpret diagnostic tests, and prescribe medication. They work in various settings, including private practices, hospitals, surgical centers, urgent care clinics, and mental health facilities.

The employment outlook for PAs is very promising. Physician assistant is one of the top 10 fastest-growing jobs in the United States. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that job opportunities for PAs will increase by 31% between 2020 and 2030. The average PA earns about $115,000 per year. The highest-paid 10% earn more than $162,000. Additionally, MS in Physician Assistant Studies programs offer a fast, flexible, and affordable pathway into patient care.

That may be why PA studies programs are so competitive. If you're interested in becoming a physician assistant, it's critical to pinpoint what specific qualifications and prerequisites are necessary to improve your likelihood of admission. The University of Pittsburgh Physician Assistant Studies Hybrid Program (PAS-Hybrid) can prepare you to launch a PA career in about two years. However, you'll need more than just a bachelor's degree to apply. You can get started right now on your PA studies journey by identifying what academic and practical requirements you'll have to meet to ensure your physician assistant program application stands out.

Am I Qualified to Apply to a PA Master's Program?

To qualify for enrollment, you must meet rigorous academic requirements and practical prerequisites as outlined in your PA studies program application (submitted through the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA)). All PA studies programs have specific prerequisite course requirements applicants must fulfill, as well as requirements related to health care work. Physician assistant programs typically require aspiring physician assistants to have hands-on patient care experience on their resumes prior to applying.

The Academic Requirements

You do not need to be a pre-med student to apply to PA studies programs, though the curricula in most pre-med programs will satisfy the most common academic prerequisites. A few universities offer pre-PA programs designed around the PA program admissions requirements. However, most students who enroll in physician assistant studies programs don't have these pre-PA bachelor's degrees.

To apply to the University of Pittsburgh MS in Physician Assistant Studies program, you must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with an overall GPA of 3.0 in all college-level coursework. You don't need to submit GRE scores, but you do need to submit transcripts that show a minimum GPA of 3.0 in the following specific prerequisite coursework:

  • Anatomy with a lab and Physiology (two semesters)
  • Biology with a lab designed for science majors (two semesters)
  • Chemistry with a lab designed for science majors (two semesters)
  • English Composition/writing (two semesters)
  • Intro to Psychology
  • Medical Terminology
  • Microbiology with a lab
  • Statistics
  • Upper-level Chemistry with a lab
  • Upper-level Psychology

If your academic record or performance doesn't align perfectly with these prerequisites, don't assume that you won't be a good fit for the PAS-Hybrid Program. You don't need to have taken health sciences courses while enrolled as an undergrad—you can take them any time before you begin the application process or later as long as you pass with a 3.0 before acceptance into the program. You should reach out to an enrollment advisor well before the application deadline. These admissions experts can assess your qualifications to ensure you meet the technical standards for matriculation and offer advice on how to submit a stronger application.

The Practical Prerequisites

Physician Assistant program applicants must have the required hours of direct patient care experience. Each university sets its own minimum. At Pitt, you'll need to have amassed at least 500 hours of health care experience before matriculation. This experience, which can be paid or volunteer, must involve direct contact with patients in a professional medical environment. Relevant experiences include but are not limited to working as an RN, EMT, paramedic, medical assistant, physical therapy assistant, or occupational therapy assistant. Additionally, some programs accept shadowing hours.

Connecting with Pitt's enrollment advisors at PittPAHybrid@shrs.pitt.edu will help you determine whether the work you've done satisfies the practical prerequisite.

How to Strengthen Your PAS-Hybrid Application

In the United States, master's programs for physician assistants admit just 7% of applicants. In the 2017-18 academic year, slightly more than 27,000 people applied to PA programs, and 8,800 people were accepted into accredited programs. Don't let the competitive nature of PA master's programs keep you from applying, though. There are numerous strategies you can use to strengthen your PAS-Hybrid application:

  • Meet with an enrollment advisor: An admissions expert can review your application, qualifications and experience and give you insight into how best to highlight your strengths and temper your weaknesses.
  • Consider taking a gap year: After earning a bachelor's degree, you may have to complete additional bachelor's-level coursework or satisfy the experiential prerequisites to submit a competitive application.
  • Rework your personal essay: Feedback from multiple people can help you ace this key application requirement. Pitt asks PAS-Hybrid applicants to submit two essays. The first should highlight why you want to become a PA. The second one should reflect the mission of the PA Studies Hybrid program and its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Identify the best recommendation writers: Your three letters of recommendation should come from a university instructor, a supervisor, and a character reference who can accurately describe your commitment to leadership and service.
  • Complete the Basic Life Support Certification: You must have this certification from the American Heart Association at the time of matriculation to apply to the Physician Assistant Studies Hybrid Program, so it's a smart move to earn it as soon as possible.

It's also a good idea to apply early for planning purposes. Enrollment advisors can assist you in navigating the application and rolling admission process, and help position you as a strong candidate.

Why a Hybrid Physician Assistant Program Might Be the Right Fit

Once you know you're qualified to apply to PA programs, it's time to find the program that best suits your interests and needs. If relocating to attend an in-person program isn't the right option for you at this time, the hybrid PA studies model offers flexibility and accessibility. However, be aware there are very few hybrid physician assistant programs in the United States. Pitt's PAS-Hybrid program is one of the few. It combines interactive virtual lectures taught by top-tier faculty with three hands-on immersion opportunities on campus and eight outstanding clinical placements in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences network of over 2,000 care settings throughout the United States.

You can earn a degree in physician assistant studies in about two years and make a profound impact in medicine more quickly than you might in other health care disciplines. During your time in the program, you'll study:

  • Anatomy
  • Diagnostic procedures
  • Fundamentals of surgery
  • Genetic and molecular biology
  • Health policy
  • Patient education
  • Pharmacology
  • Physical examination and history taking
  • Physiology and pathophysiology

Your PAS-Hybrid rotations will give you hands-on experience in the following areas of patient care:

  • Behavioral health
  • Emergency medicine
  • Inpatient medicine
  • Obstetrical and gynecological medicine
  • Pediatrics
  • Primary care outpatient medicine
  • Surgery

The rigorous didactic core and comprehensive clinical rotations emphasize four key competencies that set graduates apart in the field: health literacy, communication skills, collaborative practice and patient-centered care. As a physician assistant student at Pitt, you will also receive extensive training in society and population health, the professional and legal aspects of health care, and financial and system management in health care. After just 24 months, you will have the skills and knowledge to sit for the 300-question, five-hour, multiple-choice Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) and fulfill your goal of becoming a PA.

Connect with the enrollment team for more information about the University of Pittsburgh's PAS-Hybrid program admissions requirements, the CASPA application process, and student learning outcomes.

Accreditation

The University of Pittsburgh PA Studies Hybrid Program has applied for Accreditation - Provisional from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). The University of Pittsburgh PA Studies Hybrid Program anticipates matriculating its first class in January 2023, pending achieving Accreditation - Provisional status at the September 2022 ARC-PA meeting. Accreditation - Provisional is an accreditation status granted when the plans and resource allocation, if fully implemented as planned, of a proposed program that has not yet enrolled students appear to demonstrate the program’s ability to meet the ARC-PA Standards or when a program holding accreditation-provisional status appears to demonstrate continued progress in complying with the Standards as it prepares for the graduation of the first class (cohort) of students.

In the event that the program does not achieve accreditation all students who have deposited a seat in the program will receive a full refund. The program will not accept the class until which time provisional accreditation has been granted.

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