Physician Assistant

A physician assistant (PA) is a medical professional who works as part of a team with a doctor. PA duties include diagnosing and treating illness, performing physical exams and procedures, assisting in surgery, prescribing medications, and providing patient counseling and education. PAs are trained and educated similarly to physicians, and therefore share similar diagnostic and therapeutic reasoning. Physician-PA practice can be described as delegated autonomy. PAs use autonomous decision-making for patient care, under the purview of a physician. Learn more from the Physician Assistant Education Association, PAEA.


Check individual schools as requirements vary.

Often include:

  • General Chemistry with lab (2 semesters)
  • Introductory Biology with lab (2 semesters)
  • Required hours of direct patient care

Sometimes include:

  • Anatomy & Physiology, Microbiology, Organic Chemistry, Physics, Biochemistry
  • Math (calculus and/or statistics)
  • English

Cocurricular Preparation

Many schools require significant hours of direct patient care (for example, Case Western, Duke, and Northwestern require a minimum of 1,000 hours). Schools may define direct care differently so be sure to research their specific requirements. Some schools require a letter of recommendation from a physician or PA.

Application logistics

  • When to apply: spring/early summer, about 16 months before intended entry.
  • Standardized tests:
    • The PA-CAT is a newer exam required by about 30 programs. It assesses science and statistical reasoning competencies.
    • The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is required by some programs. The GRE comprises three sections: Reading Comprehension; Quantitative Reasoning; and Analytical Writing.
    • Some programs will accept the MCAT.
  • Common Application: Apply through the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA).  Application opens in April.
  • Letters of recommendation: Program requirements vary, but expect to have at least three letters of recommendation. HPA can store copies of letters of recommendation, but recommenders will ultimately send references electronically through CASPA. Schools do not require a committee letter of recommendation.

PA Matriculant Profiles

AJ Chen '21 | PA | Wake Forest

"take the time to explore and consider different healthcare professions by shadowing and seeing different healthcare environments in person"

Princeton does not have a PA program. We share this information for Princeton students and alumni who may be interested in becoming physician assistants.