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PA Overview

What is a PA?
According to the American Academy of PA’s (AAPA): “PAs are medical professionals who diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications, and often serve as a patient’s principal healthcare provider. With thousands of hours of medical training, PAs are versatile and collaborative. PAs practice in every medical setting and specialty, improving healthcare access and quality.”

How many PA Programs are out there?
As of 2021, there are currently 254 Accredited Programs in the United States.
Programs are extremely competitive, so it is necessary to take advantage of SCU’s resources and opportunities during your time here!

Here are some basic components that will help you on your Pre-PA journey! This is just a snapshot, so make sure to look at all the categories offered in CASPA(the general application for PA Programs) online.

Before we get started, it should be noted that many PA programs assess the applicants through a holistic view. This means that PA Programs will look at everything offered in your application, and aren’t solely focused on GPA.

Since there is such a large applicant pool, GPA can be used to cut down on the number of applications reviewed. Many programs have minimums around 3.0 or 3.2, and these could be applied to cumulative, science, or pre-requisite(required to apply) GPAs. Make sure that you take all required courses to apply(check individual program websites)!

Note*: Many schools have averaged accepted GPAs much higher than their minimums. In the 2020 Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) report, the average overall GPA of students who were accepted to PA school was 3.6. Other averages include a 3.53 science GPA, 3.67 non-science GPA, and 3.5 BCP GPA.

Patient care experience is an extremely important component of any application. Many PA schools set a minimum number of healthcare hours. For example, Pacific University requires a minimum of 1,000 hours of Patient Care Experience. A few schools don’t formally require any hours or prefer hours, but typically accept applicants with Patient Care Experience. Examples of PCE include but are not limited to: EMT/Paramedic, CNA, Physical Therapy Aide and Back-Office Medical Assistant. Applying for SCU’s Foothill-SCU EMT Program and joining the EMT team on campus is a great way to get started!

Volunteer and Leadership:
Depending on individual PA Program’s and their mission statement, volunteer and leadership experience can be very beneficial in making yourself a more competitive applicant. SCU has many opportunities for both, with a myriad of clubs and organizations on campus that are available.

Depending on the specific PA Programs, the GRE and PA-CAT could be required. While historically these tests haven’t held heavy influence over an application(relative to other components), a high GRE score may help ease concerns over GPA’s(depending on the program).

Shadowing is extremely important! This shows PA programs that you have taken the time to fully understand the profession, and that you know what you’re getting yourself into. SCU is lucky to be close to multiple hospitals, medical centers, and private practices. Try to shadow at least 3 different specialties and build meaningful relationships with those in the career field.

Letter of Recommendation:
Typically 3-5 Letters of Recommendations are required, and there may be other requirements as well(such as having one LoR being a PA). At SCU take advantage of the small class sizes and office hours to build relationships with your professors!

Gap Year:
While the term “Gap Year” may sound scary, it is very common for the PA profession. To further support this idea, it can be noted in the latest PAEA admissions report that the median number of Patient Care Hours amongst matriculants was about 2600. That’s a little over a year of full-time work! While working during college can work for some individuals, keep in mind that it’s easier to gain PCE hours compared to doing GPA recovery. Just make sure to use your time wisely and choose what’s best for your situation!

Additional Supportive Programs SCU offers:
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but will help you get started with the many opportunities on campus!

Pre-PA Club (email Orlando Caballero: to join the email list!)
Delta Epsilon Mu (Pre-Health Fraternity)
The Health Care Ethics Internship
The Valeriote-Goldman Public Health Leadership Program

Every department also has their own research labs. If interested, email the professors and discuss the possibility of joining their respective labs!

If there are any additional questions, feel free to reach out to Dr. Fedder(our Pre-Health Advisor) or myself Orlando Caballero ( with any questions!