If you’re interested in becoming a physician assistant (PA), you’re probably wondering what you should major in. While there are no specific majors required to become a PA, there are certain fields of study that can help prepare you for this career path.
Most PA programs require applicants to have an undergraduate degree, and many students choose to major in fields such as biology, health sciences, or pre-medicine. However, other majors such as psychology, microbiology, and sports science can also provide a strong foundation for a career as a PA.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the best majors for aspiring PAs, as well as the coursework and other requirements you’ll need to complete in order to become a licensed and certified physician assistant.
What is a Physician Assistant?
A Physician Assistant (PA) is a medical professional who practices medicine under the supervision of a licensed physician. PAs are trained to diagnose and treat illnesses, prescribe medications, and perform minor procedures. They work in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, and private practices, and are an essential part of the healthcare team.
PAs work alongside physicians, and their duties include taking medical histories, performing physical exams, ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, and developing treatment plans. They also provide patient education and counseling, and may assist in surgeries and other medical procedures.
One of the benefits of becoming a PA is the flexibility in choosing a specialty. PAs can work in various medical specialties, including family medicine, emergency medicine, surgery, and pediatrics, among others. This allows PAs to pursue their interests and passions while still making a significant impact on patient care.
Prerequisites for Physician Assistant Programs
To become a physician assistant, you will need to complete a physician assistant program, which typically takes two years to complete. However, before you can enroll in a program, you must first meet certain academic requirements. These requirements vary depending on the program, but they generally include:
- A bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution
- Completion of specific prerequisite courses, such as anatomy, biology, chemistry, healthcare ethics, mathematics, medical terminology, microbiology, and physiology.
- A minimum GPA of 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale)
- GRE scores (some programs may require the MCAT instead)
It is important to note that meeting the minimum requirements does not guarantee acceptance into a physician assistant program. These programs are highly competitive, and many applicants have GPAs and test scores that exceed the minimum requirements.
Clinical Experience Requirements
In addition to the academic requirements, most physician assistant programs require applicants to have some clinical experience. This experience can come in many forms, such as:
- Working as a nurse or medical assistant
- Volunteering in a hospital or other healthcare setting
- Shadowing a physician assistant or physician
The amount of clinical experience required varies by program, but most programs require at least 1,000 hours of direct patient care experience. Some programs may also require specific types of clinical experience, such as experience in emergency medicine or pediatrics. It is important to check the specific requirements of the programs you are interested in to ensure that you meet all of the academic and clinical experience requirements. Meeting these requirements will increase your chances of being accepted into a physician assistant program and starting your career as a physician assistant.
Recommended Majors for Physician Assistant Programs
Biology and Related Sciences
If you are considering a career as a physician assistant, then majoring in biology, biochemistry, or other related sciences is a great way to prepare yourself for PA school. These majors provide you with a solid foundation in the natural sciences, which is essential for understanding the human body and the various medical conditions that affect it.
Some of the specific courses that you should take include anatomy, physiology, microbiology, and medical terminology. These courses will help you to develop a strong understanding of the human body and its various systems, which is essential for success in PA school.
Another great major for aspiring physician assistants is health sciences. This major is designed to prepare students for careers in healthcare and provides a broad overview of the healthcare industry.
Some of the courses that you should take include healthcare ethics, healthcare management, and healthcare policy. These courses will help you to develop a strong understanding of the healthcare system and the various ethical and legal issues that affect it.
Psychology and Social Sciences
While it may not seem obvious, psychology and social sciences can also be great majors for aspiring physician assistants. These majors provide you with a strong understanding of human behavior and the various social and cultural factors that can affect health outcomes.
Some of the specific courses that you should take include abnormal psychology, social psychology, and cultural anthropology. These courses will help you to develop a strong understanding of the various social and cultural factors that can affect health outcomes and how to work with patients from diverse backgrounds.
Other Majors to Consider
While biology, health sciences, and psychology are the most common majors for aspiring physician assistants, there are many other majors that can also be beneficial. For example, majors in chemistry, physics, and mathematics can provide you with a strong foundation in the natural sciences, which is essential for success in PA school.
Other majors to consider include nursing, public health, and exercise science. These majors can provide you with a strong understanding of healthcare and the various factors that can affect health outcomes.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Major
Personal Interests and Strengths
When choosing a major for a career as a physician assistant, it is important to consider your personal interests and strengths. A major that aligns with your interests and strengths can help you stay motivated and engaged throughout your academic journey. For example, if you enjoy working with people and have strong communication skills, a major in psychology or sociology may be a good fit for you. On the other hand, if you have a strong aptitude for science and enjoy conducting research, a major in biology or chemistry may be a better fit.
Your career goals are another important factor to consider when choosing a major. As a physician assistant, you will work in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, and private practices. Depending on your career goals, you may want to consider a major that aligns with a specific healthcare field, such as pediatrics or emergency medicine. Additionally, you may want to consider a major that will prepare you for advanced practice roles, such as a master’s degree in physician assistant studies.
Admission Requirements for Physician Assistant Programs
Most physician assistant programs have specific admission requirements that applicants must meet in order to be considered for admission. These requirements may include completing specific prerequisite courses, such as anatomy, physiology, and microbiology. When choosing a major, it is important to consider whether your major will fulfill these requirements. For example, a major in biology or health sciences may fulfill many of the prerequisite course requirements for physician assistant programs.
Employment Opportunities and Earnings
Another factor to consider when choosing a major for a career as a physician assistant is employment opportunities and earnings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of physician assistants is projected to grow 31 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Additionally, the median annual wage for physician assistants was $115,390 in May 2020. When choosing a major, it is important to consider which majors may lead to higher-paying jobs and greater employment opportunities within the field of physician assistant studies.
Choosing a major is an important step towards becoming a physician assistant. While there is no specific major required for admission to PA programs, it is advisable to choose a major that provides a strong foundation in the sciences. Biology, health sciences, pre-medicine, sports science, genetics, and nursing are all majors that can prepare you for a career as a PA.
It is also important to consider the prerequisites required for admission to PA programs. Most programs require applicants to have completed courses in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, and other sciences. Therefore, it is advisable to choose a major that includes these courses in its curriculum.
Ultimately, the most important factor in becoming a successful physician assistant is a passion for the field and a desire to help others. While a strong academic background is important, it is equally important to have the interpersonal skills necessary to work with patients and healthcare professionals.