For students who have an interest in pursuing medicine without having to commit the amount of time it takes to complete medical school, enrolling in a Physician Assistant program might be a good option. Physician assistants are highly trained medical professionals that work under the supervision of a doctor and typically on a team with nurses and other medical staff. All physician assistants must complete an accredited program.
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General Information About Physician Assistant Graduate Programs
A student begins a physician assistant program after they have completed their bachelor's degree. Typically, these programs take around 30 or 33 months of full-time study to complete. During the program, students will gain an in-depth understanding into all areas of health care both through in-classroom course work and clinical experience which they will typically begin in the second half of the program. During the final months of the program, they have the opportunity to select a specialization, like dermatology or women's health. We will look at a few of the most common courses in PA programs below.
A human anatomy course in a PA program may be somewhat of a review, as all students will have likely taken a similar course before. However, this course provides a more detailed and in-depth understanding of human anatomy as well as the functional aspects of the human body. Students may attend lectures in conjunction with laboratory sessions offering cadaver dissection experience.
Students in PA programs generally take several clinical medicine courses, all of which focus of recognizing and diagnosing diseases that affect the human body. This is a classroom based course which will involve reviewing cases studies and analyzing various treatment and therapy approaches. Course topics may also include women's health, lifespan development, and nutrition.
An introductory course in clinical pharmacology, this class focuses on understanding the impact that pharmaceutical drugs can have on humans and how they can be best used as an option for treating disease and injury. Students utilize knowledge of physiology to understand how pharmaceuticals function in the human body. Course topics range from kidney function to the central nervous system.
In a women's health course, students will gain an understanding of obstetrics and gynecology with an emphasis in pregnancy, family planning, infertility, and disorders common to the fields of obstetrics and gynecology. This course generally also includes a clinical component.
In a pediatrics course, students learn about the development of children from birth until adolescence and focus on medical problems that children may face. This course covers issues like immunization, typically childhood illnesses, and infant care. Students will generally work directly with children in a clinical rotation.
Physician Assistant Graduate Program Admission Requirements
While some programs may have slight variations, physician assistant programs generally have similar admission requirements. Students will need to have completed a bachelor's degree, usually in a biology or science related field or by following a pre-med track. However, any degree will be considered as long as students have taken courses in general biology with lab, general chemistry with lab, human anatomy and physiology with lab, and general microbiology. Many programs have slight differences in their prerequisite coursework requirements, so it is best to check with specific programs.
In addition, physician assistant programs generally have a minimum GPA requirement of a 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. Programs also usually require you to submit GRE scores, though some programs may also allow you to submit MCAT results. Programs are often competitive and require applicants to possess high test scores. It is strongly encouraged, and sometimes required, for applicants to have completed a significant number of hands-on clinical hours in a medical facility. Finally, accepted applicants then meet with faculty on-campus for an interview.
Physician assistant programs share many similarities and offer students the opportunity to study comprehensive medical knowledge through a variety of course topics. Each school and program will likely offer students something different, so it is wise to do research on programs that interest you.