Pre-Physician Assistant

Interested in a Career as a Physician Assistant?

The School of Science office for Pre-Professional & Career Preparation (PREPs) will support you throughout the process of preparing for a physician assistant program.

From advising you on pre-requisite courses and professional development activities to helping you through the application process, PREPs can assist you in every step.

Admission into a physician assistant program is very competitive. You need to plan thoroughly from the start to be successful. The links below include detailed information on everything from the courses to the application process.

If you are an IUPUI School of Science student, we strongly encourage you to make an appointment to meet with a pre-professional advisor. Use the link on the right.

Join the PREPs Pre-Professional Advising Canvas Site

Academics

Admission to the IU Masters of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) program requires successful completion of a baccalaureate degree, prerequisite courses (which can be worked into most undergraduate degrees), and other admission criteria.

You may choose almost any undergraduate major as long as you also complete the PA prerequisite courses. The IU PA program shows no preference for one degree or major over another.

The IU MPAS professional coursework will begin in May of each year.  The IU PA program consists of 7 consecutive semesters spanning 27 months, including 75 credit hours of didactic courses (i.e., classroom and lab instruction) and 36 hours of clinical rotations, for a total of 111 credit hours. The program requires courses or clinicals during all three summers - at the start of the program, in the middle, and at the end.

Important: Each PA program has its own set of admission requirements and policies. It is recommended that you research other schools in order to plan your prerequisites and other admission requirements, and to determine the timing of your courses and the application itself.

Admission to the IU Physician Assistant Program is very competitive. Admission requirements include significant direct patient care experience, successful completion of prerequisite coursework, admission exam scores, a directed essay (i.e., a brief essay focused on a particular question, as explained on the IU PA program site), letters of recommendation, and an admission interview (for those who qualify). Admission requirements are not weighted by percentage in terms of their importance during the admission process. They will be considered together as a complete application portfolio. Nonetheless, as with all PA programs, GPA is of central importance to the competitive admission process.

Indiana residents from certain Indiana counties will be given some preference as part of the program's commitment to producing PAs to work in under-served communities.

Admission Requirements and Prerequisite courses for Indiana PA Programs

Download a PA Timeline

Entrance Exams

The GRE

As part of the application process, most physician assistant graduate programs require that you take the GRE revised General Test.

Indiana University Physician Assistant Program admission exam requirement

The IU PA program requires GRE or MCAT scores taken within the past 5 years. No minimum score has been set (obviously the higher your scores the better), nor is there a set value in terms of how significant a role the exam will play during the admission process. Scores will be considered as part of your total application portfolio.

As of Fall 2012, the IU program indicted that only the verbal section would be considered. Other programs, however, may consider other sections as well.

MCAT scores and PA programs

Some PA programs will accept scores from the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) in place of GRE scores. (Program websites should indicate if this is the case.) The MCAT option sometimes arises when a premed student who has already taken the MCAT switches to pre-PA, or wants to apply to both medical school and PA programs.  If you are not thinking of applying to medical school and have not yet taken the MCAT, then opt for the GRE instead (assuming you are applying to PA programs which require the GRE).

Gaining Relevant Experience

Professional Shadowing

Professional shadowing, or job shadowing, is another means of career exploration in which you observe a professional at work. With a professional shadow, you can learn more about a profession before you invest too much time preparing for a career that may not be right for you.

For more information on job shadowing, visit our Job Shadowing Page. There you can download a free copy of our Professional Development Directory for a list of professional shadowing contacts. 

Direct Patient Care Experience

What "direct patient care experience" is, and why you need it

"Patient care" is not the same thing as shadowing or clinical observation. "Direct patient care" is exactly what it sounds like: You are literally providing healthcare of some kind to patients or clients in a healthcare setting, in either a paid or volunteer capacity.

  • The amount and type of patient care necessary for admission varies greatly from one program to another!
  • All physician assistant programs either require or strongly recommend that applicants garner patient care experience.
  • Direct patient care experience is important to developing skills necessary for success in PA school. Applicants without adequate direct patient care experience are not likely to be competitive for admission, nor likely to have developed the level of comfort and skill necessary to thrive in a PA program's clinical settings.
  • Patient care experiences can help you build your credibility with program admission committees by demonstrating that you are committed to a career in healthcare, and are comfortable working in a healthcare setting.
  • Along the same lines, extensive patient care experience can greatly strengthen your personal statement, letters of recommendation, and admission interview.
  • Patient care experiences can help you determine whether a career in healthcare and the PA profession is a good fit for you.

Amount and type of patient care

  • Requirements vary dramatically across programs!
  • The only way to confirm a program's patient care requirement or preference is to check their webpage, and call them if you need clarification.
  • Some programs express no preference as to whether the work is paid or voluntary, but some do have a preference. Still others may express a preference for paid work, but might still consider applicants with extensive volunteer direct patient care experience (especially if the work stems from some kind of certification; for example, CNA,  Medical Scribe, EMT, or hospice certification). Check websites and call programs if you need clarification.
  • The required number of direct patient care hours varies widely among programs that require patient care, ranging literally from 0 to 3000. What these numbers mean in practical terms can also vary, so if a program's website does not make it quite clear how you should tally patient care hours, and what kind of experiences will meet the requirement or recommendation, we suggest you contact them and politely inquire.

The Application Process

CASPA and non-CASPA programs

Some professional programs require that you apply through a central application service, e.g., the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA); whereas others require that you apply directly to the program itself instead of through the central application service. Therefore, if you are applying to both CASPA and non-CASPA programs, you will need to meticulously follow two or more application processes. Attention to detail is critically important.

About 80% of all US PA programs require applicants to submit an application, letters of reference, and other materials through CASPA.

When to Apply

Application cycles vary considerably; some PA programs begin during the summer, some in the fall, and others in the spring. Thus, application cycles occur roughly 8 to 11 months prior to when admitted applicants will begin the PA program itself.

  • PA program application cycles and deadlines are different from the CASPA application cycle!
  • The "CASPA application cycle" consists of the 11 months out of each year during which the CASPA application is available. The CASPA cycle opens in mid-April of each year, and closes in mid-March of the next year. In the year you plan to apply, it is recommended that you open a CASPA account once CASPA announces that the new application cycle has opened (i.e., mid-April).
  • Within the CASPA application cycle, each CASPA program will have its own application cycle, i.e., its own opening and closing date.

Essay

Indiana University MPAS Program essay requirement: Most PA programs require applicants to submit a personal essay. The Indiana University MPAS program requires that applicants submit a "directed essay," a response to a specific question posed by the program. In the past the question has usually centered on the applicant's reasons for pursuing the PA profession, plus rationale for applying to the IU program in particular.

Letters of recommendation & CASPA

Indiana University Physician Assistant Program recommendation requirements: The IU PA program requires that applicants submit letters of reference through the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA).  In addition, it is important that in the year leading up to your application, you read the HPPLC guidelines related to the PA application process, including information about when to apply, common mistakes to avoid, and so on.

Admission interviews

Indiana University Physician Assistant Program admission interview: The IU MPAS program interviews approximately 3 applicants for every 1 applicant admitted. Interviews are held on the IUPUI campus, normally November through December, with admission decisions normally occurring in December.

As with many program interview processes, you should plan to arrive early and spend the entire day on campus, unless you learn otherwise from the given program.

Certification in Basic Life Support (BLS) for Health Care Providers

Prior to beginning professional coursework, many programs require that you become certified for adult, child, and infant CPR, commonly referred to as BLS certification, Health Care Provider CPR, or CPR for the Professional Rescuer. Training courses are offered for a fee through the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross.