Here you can find answers to general questions about being a physician assistant, program questions, application questions and preceptor and employer questions. If after reviewing our website and these frequently asked questions you still have questions, please contact us at 757.446.7158 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A physician assistant (PA) is a medical professional who works as part of a team with a doctor. A PA is a graduate of an accredited PA educational program who is nationally certified and state-licensed to practice medicine with the collaboration of a physician.
PAs perform physical examinations, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret lab tests, perform procedures, assist in surgery, provide patient education and counseling and make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes. All 50 states and the District of Columbia allow PAs to practice and prescribe medications.
The PA educational program is modeled on the medical school curriculum: a combination of classroom and clinical instruction. The PA course of study is rigorous and intense. The average length of a PA education program is 27 months.
Admission to PA school is highly competitive. Applicants to PA programs must complete at least two years of college courses in basic science and behavioral science as prerequisites to PA school (comparable to premedical studies required of medical students). The majority of PA programs have the following prerequisites: chemistry, physiology, anatomy, microbiology and biology. Additionally, most PA programs require or prefer that applicants have prior healthcare experience.
PA education includes instruction in core sciences: anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, physical diagnosis, pathophysiology, microbiology, clinical laboratory science, behavioral science and medical ethics.
PAs also complete more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations, with an emphasis on primary care in ambulatory clinics, physician offices and acute or long-term care facilities. Rotations include family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, general surgery, emergency medicine and psychiatry.
Practicing PAs participate in lifelong learning. In order to maintain national certification, a PA must complete 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years.
There are currently 210 accredited PA programs in the United States. The vast majority award master’s degrees. PA education programs are represented by the Physician Assistant Education Association and accredited through the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA).
PAs are educated in the medical model of health and are certified by successfully passing the Physician Assistant National Certification Exam (PANCE) upon completion of their training. This exam is modeled after the NCCPA Blueprint, which outlines the knowledge content and skills required to be a PA. This certification is different than the medical “boards” that physicians take to certify their competency in a particular discipline or specialty of medicine.
Certified PAs practice medicine and improve the health of their patients in every specialty and clinical setting. They perform routine medical services and intricate procedures. PAs treat 7.7 million patients every week. Check out this overview by NCCPA of what certified PAs are able to do for more information.
By design, physicians and PAs work together as a team, and all PAs practice medicine with physician collaboration.
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." Physicians delegate duties to PAs, and within those range of duties, PAs use autonomous decision-making for patient care. This team model is an efficient way to provide high-quality medical care. In rural areas, the PA may be the only healthcare provider on-site, collaborating with a physician elsewhere through telecommunication.
PAs are authorized to practice medicine in every state, the District of Columbia, and other U.S. territories (Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico).
PAs can practice internationally, but the options are limited. Because the PA profession is still young in other countries, there may be lack of regulation or definition of PA practice. The most common ways to practice internationally are to work for the U.S. Department of State or to volunteer with a relief organization that serves developing countries.
There are few PA programs and PAs working in other countries:
- Canada has the most established and fastest-growing network of PAs. PAs are authorized to practice in almost all Canadian provinces, and Canadian PAs are working to ensure adequate legislation for full PA practice.
- The Netherlands has a growing cohort of PAs, with five PA programs and about 400 PAs, according to the Netherlands Association of Physician Assistants.
- India has a growing and promising community of PAs. According to the Indian Association of Physician Assistants, there are 300 PAs practicing in India.
- South Africa has a few programs that are similar to PA programs. Instead of “physician assistants,” program graduates are called “clinical associates.”
- Saudi Arabia recently opened its first PA program.
PAs have prescribing privileges in 50 states, the District of Columbia and most territories. The Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico do not currently have statutes allowing PAs to prescribe. The type or schedule of controlled medicines that a PA may prescribe can vary from state to state.
This depends on how you define the term “surgery.” Regardless of the definition, PAs are valuable assets to surgical teams because of their versatility. PAs are medically and surgically trained health professionals who can provide a wide range of services with a surgeon’s direction. Adding a PA to the surgical team not only helps to streamline procedures, but also supports ongoing case management.
There are currently 101,000 nationally certified PAs, according to the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants.
In 2014, there were 7,335 first-year PA students and 7,556 graduating PA students.
The PA program is divided into 7 semesters (16 weeks each), spanning 28 consecutive calendar months.
A new cohort of students is admitted once per calendar year in January.
A new class enters each January because that allows us to most effectively share EVMS faculty and other resources. It also allows our students to graduate in May with the other programs in the School of Health Professions and the School of Medicine.
Yes, each entering class progresses through the program as a single cohort. There is no option for a part-time or decelerated/extended curriculum.
Working while in a full-time, master’s program is not encouraged. The rigorous class and study schedule necessary for successful completion of the program makes working at an outside job ill-advised at any point in the program.
At various times throughout the program -- both in the pre-clinical and clinical semesters -- students from our program will have opportunities to train alongside students from other programs. This typically occurs in the first-semester anatomy course and to a larger extent in the clinical rotations. Over the last few years, a school-wide Interprofessional Collaborative Education course has been implemented, which has allowed for more formal interaction and will continue to be developed.
Financial aid is available in the form of institutional and federal loans to cover educational and living expense. EVMS has a limited number of institutional awards, and there are a number of federal loan repayment programs available. More information can be found through EVMS Financial Aid, the PA Foundation or on the tuition and fees page.
Completion of the CASPA application, EVMS supplemental application and all 8 prerequisite courses is required by the March 1 application deadline. A bachelor’s degree may be outstanding at the time of application to the program, but must be completed by July 1. Learn more about the application process.
As a student in the PA program, you will be required to maintain a 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale) to be in good academic standing. For this reason, we require a 3.0 as the minimum GPA to be eligible to apply to our program. With the increasing popularity of the profession, meeting the minimum 3.0 GPA does not mean an application is competitive. Higher GPAs are more competitive. See historical averages of the matriculants in our program. Learn more about admissions for the PA program.
These exams are not required to apply to the EVMS PA program and do not influence the applicant’s acceptability or standing.
No, we only accept applicants who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents with a green card as the Physician Assistant concept is primarily a U.S. healthcare system phenomenon.
Applicants who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents with a foreign degree are considered on a case-by-case basis. An official evaluation of the foreign transcript (to include credential equivalency, course translation, grade, U.S. credit equivalency and overall GPA) must be submitted to the admissions director. In addition, all 8 prerequisite courses must be taken in the U.S. to establish a track record of successful academic performance in the U.S. educational system.
There is no accelerated curriculum or advanced standing offered to any matriculant, regardless of previous educational or healthcare work experience. The curriculum must be completed in its entirety at EVMS, and no course waivers are offered.
Any applicant with English as a second language who entered the United States after the age of 12 will be required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) to complete their application. Please review the admissions requirements for more information.
All material provided to CASPA will be forwarded to the PA program. Access to the EVMS supplemental application will be granted upon completion of the CASPA application. In the event that your CASPA application is completed with any outstanding prerequisite courses, satisfactory completion of the course (e.g., official transcript from the school) should be sent to EVMS directly to complete your application file. You will also need to update your CASPA application transcript as detailed in the admissions guidebook.
CASPA opens their admissions cycle in late April. In order to accommodate applicants who may be completing applications for programs that start earlier than EVMS, applications may be submitted at any time after the cycle opens. However, there should be no assumption that EVMS will review the application until later in the cycle. Our typical review period is from January to May.
Application files will not be considered complete until all the application requirements are met, including satisfactory completion of all 8 prerequisites. Only complete application files are eligible to be reviewed by the Application Screening Committee. Regardless of when submitted, your application will be considered incomplete until proof of prerequisite completion (i.e. official transcript) is submitted directly to CASPA or EVMS.
The prerequisite courses are fairly universal. However, there are a wide variety of names for courses among undergraduate programs. In general, if the name of the course is titled similar to the prerequisite requirements, it will be acceptable. If you have specific questions regarding the acceptability of the course, please submit a course description from the institution catalog to the admissions director for review. Additional information (e.g., course syllabus) may be requested in cases of continued uncertainty.
Additionally, higher level courses may substitute for the general prerequisites (e.g., a second organic chemistry to fulfill the general chemistry requirement).
Below is the minimal expected content for the prerequisite courses:
- Human Anatomy – Covers the structure and function of the major human body organ systems, including the musculoskeletal, nervous, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, urinary, endocrine and reproductive systems. Integrates anatomy and physiology of cells, tissues, organs and systems of the human body. Integrates concepts of chemistry, physics and pathology
- Human Physiology – Discusses basic biochemical principles, such as cytology, histology, immunology and the function and interaction of the major organ systems of the human body.
- General Chemistry – Explores the fundamental laws, theories and mathematical concepts of chemistry.
- Organic Chemistry – Discusses the theories, structures, and reactions of organic molecules, the properties of various functional organic chemical groups, the bonding and structure of organic molecules and the reactions of aromatic and aliphatic hydrocarbons. Includes study of structure, nomenclature, properties and reactions of alcohols and phenols, aldehydes and ketones, carboxylic acids and their derivatives, amines, polymers and biomolecules. Introduces fundamental chemistry of carbon compounds, including structures, physical properties, syntheses and typical reactions. Emphasizes reaction mechanism.
- Biochemistry – Discusses the relation of molecular structures to the processes found in living organisms such as kinetics, enzymatic reactions, metabolic pathway functions and the genetic code. Includes the structure of amino acids, nucleotides, lipids and sugars, and their corresponding macromolecular structures, such as proteins, nucleic acids, cell membranes and polysaccharides.
- Microbiology – Covers the biology of microorganisms -- bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses -- that impact human health. Content covers the metabolism, genetics, identification, control, physiology, host defense and the relationship of microorganisms to health and disease. Studies the general characteristics of microorganisms and emphasizes their relationships to individual and community health.
- Introductory Psychology – Covers the scientific study of behavior, behavioral research methods and analysis and theoretical interpretations. Includes topics that cover physiological mechanisms, sensation/perception, motivation, learning, personality, psychopathology, therapy and social psychology. Examines human and animal behavior, relating experimental studies to practical problems. Includes topics such as sensation/perception, learning, memory, motivation, emotion, stress, development, intelligence, personality, psychopathology, therapy and social psychology.
- College Math, Statistics or Physics – Presents scientific notation, precision and accuracy, decimals and percents, ratio and proportion, variation, simple equations, techniques of graphing, use of charts and tables, logarithms and the metric system. Covers concepts of numbers, fundamental operations with numbers, formulas and equations, graphical analysis, binary numbers, Boolean and matrix algebra, linear programming and elementary concepts of statistics.
- Note: A wide range of courses that discusses statistical methodologies and mathematical concepts are acceptable towards meeting this course requirement.
Yes. Courses can be taken at an accredited 2- or 4-year college or university of higher education in the U.S., including online courses offered through such programs, without any penalty or discrimination in the application review process.
Up to 2 prerequisite courses may be completed without a letter grade (e.g. AP, CLEP, Pass).
CASPA calculates overall GPA calculations based on every course taken, including repeated courses. Our policy is to replace the poorer grade in a given prerequisite with the better grade. In addition, our replacement GPA calculation only includes the last 40 semester credit hours on your CASPA application.
Due to the volume of applications, EVMS Admissions will not accept new coursework for GPA calculations once your CASPA application is complete. Replacement grades for prerequisite courses are not accepted once your application has been processed by the Application Screening Committee. Therefore, it is best to apply to our program after you have completed your prerequisites with your best performance, and have that recorded on the transcript you submit to CASPA for verification to complete you application.
No. The PA program curriculum must be completed in its entirety at EVMS. We do not offer advanced standing or transfer credits into the program, regardless of prior educational or work experience.
The higher level prerequisites must be completed within 10 years of the application deadline (e.g., since January 2007 for application deadline of March 2017). The general prerequisites (chemistry, psychology and math) have no time frame.
Science and healthcare fields are rapidly changing on a regular basis. The 10-year rule for prerequisite courses is intended to help ensure incoming students are current in the knowledge within those disciplines and have a solid foundation of that knowledge for the first semester didactic instruction. Applicants with prerequisites older than 10 years are encouraged to review the information in the admissions guidebook.
EVMS does not require any healthcare experience to apply to our program; however, it is considered and rewarded in the application review process because it provides a student with a framework to help them understand what they are learning didactically in a healthcare context. With a short time frame to get students ready to practice clinically, we rely on previous healthcare experience to prepare the student.
Although both volunteer and paid experience is acceptable, experience from a paid position is preferred. Hands-on, direct patient care experience is preferred to “peri-clinical” (secretarial or non-patient care) experience. More information can be found in the admissions requirements.
Experience that exposes you directly to patients and caring for their health in a clinical setting is the intent of the phrase. If you are caring for patients in a healthcare environment and are responsible for aspects of their health, it is likely that it will count.
- Examples of acceptable types of direct patient care include:
- Registered nurse
- Certified nursing assistant
- Emergency medical technician
- Emergency room technician
- Certified medical assistant
- Examples of peri-clinical patient care experience include:
- Pharmacy technician
- Unit secretary
- Please note the following experiences do not count toward patient care experience:
- Experiences providing supportive care only (i.e., feeding, comforting)
- Experiences required for a clinical training program/degree
- PA shadowing and student/intern hours
- Paid internships associated with a training program may be considered peri-clinical experience depending on the duties and responsibilities.
The Admissions Screening Committee relies on the description of your job duties and responsibilities and not merely the title of your position to determine the eligibility of the experience listed.
No. We cannot offer such assistance to students seeking to gain pre-program clinical experience. It is recommended that applicants contact local hospitals, other health agencies or medical practices to obtain information on how to gain experience as a volunteer or in an entry-level position.
No. Due to various regulations and logistical challenges, formal shadowing is not required for application to the PA program. However, information gathered from such experience and talking with currently-practicing PAs is encouraged in preparation for interviews and to develop a personal understanding of the role and function of a PA.
No. While we think these experiences are valuable, we do not have any resources to facilitate these opportunities. Contacting the Virginia Academy of Physician Assistants can help if you do not know any working PAs.
Applicants are expected to carefully review all admissions requirements to determine their admissions eligibility before applying to the program. Candidates with specific questions are encouraged to communicate with the admissions staff via email. Additional opportunities via on-site and virtual information sessions are offered throughout the year. Face-to-face consultations are discouraged and will be limited to specific situations.
Eastern Virginia Medical School does not discriminate in the recruitment and admission of students on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, age, sexual orientation, citizenship, religion, political affiliation or handicap as required by Title VI, Title IX and Section 504.
The PA profession is a great second career opportunity for many individuals who have become interested in a job in healthcare later in life. Students must meet the technical standards in order to successfully complete the curriculum. All applicants are encouraged to review these and consult the Student Disability Guide to discuss any questions related to accommodations.
Being a private institution, we are not under any obligation to train Virginia residents. However, being founded by the community and striving to be the most community-oriented school in the U.S., we do want to train students that are interested in contributing to the health of our community after graduation. Our process does highlight (but does not give preference to) residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia in the application review process.
EVMS does not have a model candidate. Successful applicants generally exceed minimum requirements in more than one area, and their interview demonstrates excellent interpersonal and communication skills, a high level of professionalism and an in-depth knowledge regarding the EVMS PA program and the PA profession.
You can review descriptive statistical information on the successful applicants admitted to the EVMS PA program for the past 3 years are available; however, variations in the ranges and means can be expected from year-to-year, and no guarantee is implied or should be inferred regarding future admission cycles.
This depends on when you apply. Completed applications are available to the program starting in mid-July. The admissions staff typically start processing applications during the fall and work to get the information processed in a timely manner. However, during peak admission season (December through May) such updates may be delayed. Any questions can be directed to EVMS Admissions for the School of Health Professions.
Questions about deferment of admission are only entertained before matriculation and in such cases where unpredicted life circumstance may interfere with expected matriculation or success in the program. The EVMS PA program reserves the right to determine if the request warrants deferment or if the candidate will need to reapply in a future admission cycle.
Yes. Candidates who are not activated off the wait list and are not offered a seat in the current cycle must reapply through CASPA in order to be considered for a subsequent admissions cycle. Consultations with EVMS Admissions and Enrollment are recommended before reapplying and can be scheduled by contacting them directly.
Note: If reapplying, it is the applicant's responsibility to ensure that the new submission accurately reflects the most recent preparation and status. Applicants are encouraged to update transcripts, certifications, healthcare experience and personal statements as appropriate.
Providers must have a minimum of two years’ experience prior to precepting PA students. Clinical preceptors may be a PA, NP, MD or DO. You will need to fill out an affiliation agreement, preceptor availability and preceptor profile. These forms can be found here.
Please contact one of the Clinical Education faculty below if you have additional questions:
For those providers who show continued commitment to the PA program by hosting our PA students, we offer Community Faculty status, which grants providers access to the EVMS Brickell Medical Sciences Library and to continuing medical education (CME) lectures offered on campus. To request additional information or to start the application process, please contact one of the Clinical Education faculty: