Pre-PA Coursework and Experience

In general, the following coursework satisfies the required and recommended courses for admission to physician assistant school. Note this represents general guidelines and requirements vary from one school to the next.

The prerequisites for the MEDEX Northwest program, which is part of the University of Washington School of Medicine, can be found here.

Here’s also a full list of PA programs and their requirements.

Biology Courses

Take the following two introductory courses:

  • BIOL 225: Molecules, Cells and Organisms
  • BIOL 226: Genes, Evolution, Diversity and Ecology

You might also consider taking some of the following upper division courses:

  • BIOL 330: Genetics
  • BIOL 342: Microbiology
  • BIOL 352: Comparative Anatomy
  • BIOL 448: Immunology
  • BIOL 453: Mammalian Physiology

Often PA schools require you to take a course in microbiology, anatomy and/or physiology. Please make sure you look at the requirements of individual schools, particularly whether they require a two-course sequence in Human Anatomy and Physiology, which is offered at PLU.

Mathematics Courses

Most PA schools require one semester of math and/or statistics.

Chemistry Courses

Take the following two-course sequence in general chemistry:

  • CHEM 115 (General Chemistry I)
  • CHEM 116 (General Chemistry II)

Take the following two-course sequence in organic chemistry:

  • CHEM 331/333 (Organic Chemistry I + laboratory)
  • CHEM 332/334 or 346 (Organic Chemistry II + laboratory)

Most physician assistant schools require a semester of biochemistry.

Note that MATH 140 is a prerequisite or co-requisite for CHEM 115.

Courses in the Behavioral and Social Sciences

Most PA schools require you to take a course in either Developmental Psychology or Abnormal Psychology. Other health-related courses from departments such as Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, Health Education, and Women & Gender Studies are recommended.



Almost all PA programs require a significant amount of clinical experience before admission, and the number of total hours varies from one institution to the next.  Two thousand hours is the common standard set by top tier PA schools nationally for required direct, hands-on patient care experience prior to enrollment.  Although the MEDEX Program associated with the University of Washington will now consider applicants with 2,000 hours of experience, it is a minimum requirement. Their most competitive applicants will meet and exceed 4,000 hours of clinical experience.

The necessary hours of direct health care experience can be obtained from the following clinical positions:

  • nurses (at any level)
  • medical assistants
  • emergency medical technicians
  • paramedics
  • military corpsmen or medics

If you are considering a type of clinical experience not explicitly listed here, be sure to check with the programs you are interested in to see if they consider it to be patient care. For example, the following examples are not acceptable: student nurse,  student athletic trainer, candy striper or junior volunteer positions, CPR or ACLS instructor, wilderness medicine instructor, patient transporter, pharmaceutical representative, life guard, aerobics instructor, unit clerk, medical secretary or other clerical positions.

Although research experience may be considered by the Admissions Committee in evaluating an application, it is not a substitute for direct patient care. Experience in laboratory research studies is not regarded as direct patient care unless it involves actual hands-on contact with patients who are subjects of a research study. Laboratory assistant positions in basic science laboratories are also not regarded as patient care.

Although shadowing a physician assistant is a wonderful way to learn more about the profession, it is not considered clinical experience by most PA programs.