Skip to main content
Sign In

University of Colorado Denver College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


Health Careers

Physician Assistant (PA) FAQ

The following questions pertain strictly to physician assistant programs. If you have questions about traditional medical schools or osteopathic programs, you need to go to the pages that deal specifically with those disciplines.

Exactly what is a PA and how are they different from a physician?

PA's or Physician Assistants do just as the name implies; they assist physicians by seeing patients, assisting with procedures and in general being an extension of the physician. Often times this is done without the physician being directly present. HOWEVER, there are differences between a PA and a physician. The primary difference between a PA and a physician is the question of autonomy. As a PA you will ALWAYS be under the supervision of a physician in some form. You will not be able to open and run your own private practice. You will work under a limited license which will prohibit you from doing some procedures and will limit you on what you can do with respect to prescriptions. You will not be a doctor. That is very important to remember.

Questions about the program at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center

The easiest thing to do is to go straight to the link at the Health Sciences Center. Then you can follow the links to all aspects of the PA program at their institution. Some things in general to keep in mind about this program. It is a graduate program and requires that you have a bachelor's degree prior to starting. You must have an upper division Human Physiology course with lab as a pre-requisite. You cannot take a combined anatomy/physiology course to satisfy the above pre-requisite CU does NOT have a minimum number of volunteer hours needed for application. CU does NOT participate in CASPA

Questions about the program at Red Rocks Community College

The easiest thing to do is to go straight to the link at the Red Rocks Community College. Then you can follow the links to all aspects of the PA program at their institution. Some things in general to keep in mind about this program.

  • It is not a graduate program but still requires that you have a bachelors degree prior to starting.

  • Unlike CU RRCC does require that you have a minimum of 2000 documentable hours of experience prior to applying.

  • You will come out of this program with a PA-C but not a graduate degree.

  • Red Rocks Community College DOES participate in CASPA.

Here is the link to the program at the Red Rocks Community College:

Questions about CASPA (Central Application Service for Physician Assistant)

Below you will find a LARGE number of questions about CASPA. I would strongly recommend you read them all.

What is CASPA?
The Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) is a clerical service for applicants to PA programs. It will collect one set of materials from each applicant: an on-line or optional paper application, any available standardized test scores, transcripts, and recommendations/evaluations and authenticate them. CASPA will then photocopy and distribute the application to each member school an applicant designates. CASPA will also send individual applicant and summary data, including several GPAs, in both paper and an electronic format convenient to each designated school. Programs will then conduct their admission processes as usual and continue to make all selection decisions. CASPA's role is solely to collect, authenticate, organize, and distribute applicant materials, freeing up program and institution staff and resources.

Who can participate?
CASPA participation is open to any accredited PA program.

Who is running CASPA?
CASPA was created by APAP as a service to applicants and member programs. APAP has contracted with its sister organization, the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), to run CASPA on a day-to-day basis.

Some of the major reasons APAP selected AACOM were their experience and success running their own central application service for nearly 25 years, their warm, positive, and pragmatic relationships with applicants and member schools, and their essentially service-oriented mission, in contrast to some of the other potential vendors.

What is the CASPA timeline?
Applicant processing will begin April 17, 2001 for classes entering the following academic year (2002-2003).

Does it cost anything for a program to join CASPA?
No. The cost of the service is supported by applicant fees.

What will CASPA cost applicants?
Applicant fees will be roughly consistent with those of other central application services. There will be no additional fee for the validation and authentication service for applicants' transcripts and recommendations/evaluations.

The fee for applicants' materials to be sent to one program will be $80, for two $120, three $160, four $195, five $225. . . . For applicants with limited means, there will be a fee waiver program, similar to those in other professions' services. In addition, APAP is currently seeking grant support for this program.

There will be an annual review of costs and fees. Every effort will be made to keep fees reasonable.

What are some of the advantages to applicants applying to one school?
CASPA is an investment for applicants in a level playing field. CASPA's screening and authentication service for transcripts and recommendations/evaluations decreases the chances that another applicant may get an unfair advantage through fraud. This service protects applicants equally, whether they apply to one school or ten.

In addition, if applicants choose to apply to only one school early in the cycle and do not get in, having an active CASPA application will allow them to select additional schools without having to scramble at the last minute to pull together several complete applications from scratch.

Where do PA students stand on CASPA?
The Student Academy of the AAPA (SAAAPA) was the first PA body to propose a central application service. Subsequent surveys of applicants and students over several years by APAP and the University of Florida consistently show strong support for a central service. Frequent survey comments asked why it has taken so long and why PAs lag behind the other major health professions.

How will each program maintain its unique identity in CASPA?
One effect of CASPA will be to foster the missions and identities of individual programs by providing applicants with a convenient forum to connect program recruiting with their application:

There will be a direct link to CASPA schools' own Web pages from the CASPA Web site. In addition, when applicants select a CASPA school for application, that school is free to send applicants additional recruiting materials, as well as a supplemental or secondary application asking any additional questions, or for other materials specifically needed by their school.

All the usual recruiting relationships between an applicant and a program will remain undisturbed. Schools will continue to recruit applicants and build relationships with them as they do now, but with the additional access to the larger pool of potential applicants that CASPA will provide.

Who makes the admissions decisions?
Each individual PA program continues to make all decisions on its applicants. CASPA does not screen applicants or make any selection decisions. All decisions remain in program hands.

Are there opportunities for program input to CASPA?
CASPA began with program input and continues to need it. The first major step by the task force was to survey all programs about what they would like included in CASPA. The results of this survey guided the first stages of development.

Will there be problems? How will they be solved?
As with any new program, course change, or faculty member, there will be bumps and some things that just don't go right at first, but everyone involved with CASPA will be working hard to help things go smoothly. This is one of the benefits of having a service run by people with more than 20 years' experience with a central application service and who have a good history of being sensitive to applicant problems and responsive to member schools. Because of their experience, many potential problems will be anticipated and avoided. Also, the feedback we get and the involvement of CASPA member schools will help us spot issues and address them early.

Once processing is underway, both APAP and CASPA will be quick to respond to any school's problem. The goal is to have a service that will be useful for schools. Although there may be some changes that can't be made for some schools, CASPA will work with programs to be as flexible as possible with individual needs. Given the success of central services over the years with the major health professions, CASPA is certain that most schools' problems can be either anticipated or resolved when they crop up.

There will always be an APAP staff person as a direct contact for any program with a problem.

Will there be CASPA training for programs?
While CASPA will require some modified procedures for all of us, most of the changes will involve changing habits and packaging. The core content will remain essentially the same as what we all deal with every year applicant demographics, academics, and clinical experience. It will be old wine in new bottles. CASPA will provide guidance to programs for utilizing electronic data, augmented by conference calls as needed, using on-line examples.

How will applicants find out information about individual PA programs?
All the usual routes to program information will remain the same. Potential applicants will contact schools directly for information and view their Web sites, continue to use both the on-line and paper versions of the PA Programs Directory, as well as consult graduate and professional guides and counselors.

In addition to these existing pathways to individual programs, CASPA's Web site will also link applicants directly to the Web pages of CASPA schools. CASPA program web pages will also link directly to CASPA to enable applicants to apply on-line.

How will the application work?
CASPA will begin service with an on-line application. Applicants will be able to complete it from any computer with a Web connection in their home, at a friend's, or at a school or library. For most applicants, this will provide a convenient medium that will also significantly reduce the time needed for processing.

Applicants unable to apply on-line can use a traditional paper application that can be downloaded from the CASPA Web site in a PDF format. Applicants can secure this themselves or through a friend's or public institution's computer or they could contact CASPA or a PA program for a PDF copy, to which the program would be free to add their recruiting materials, if they wish.

Applications will be submitted to CASPA along with original transcripts directly from the colleges' registrars and evaluation/recommendation forms. Processing is anticipated to take a few weeks for electronic applications and 6-8 weeks for paper. Experience from other services indicates that nearly all applicants will complete on-line applications.

In what form will programs see information on an applicant's courses, prerequisites, etc.?
Applicants will complete a CASPA form listing each college course they have taken in chronological order. They will list the term and year, course number and title, credits and grade, including failures, withdrawals, incompletes, and repeats. CASPA auditors will verify this information course by course from a set of authenticated transcripts. From these entries several GPAs will be calculated, including a cumulative undergraduate GPA, one for more recent work, etc.

Schools will be able to review applicants' complete academic records in order, integrated from all the schools they attended. This will facilitate identifying relevant prerequisites, the extent and age of science background, etc.

What kind of data will programs get from CASPA and how often?
Member schools will receive updated applicant materials from CASPA every week or two, depending on the intensity of the application cycle. These will include individual file folders for applicants with complete photocopies of their applications - including authenticated recommendations/evaluations and an integrated listing of all college coursework, grades, dates, schools, etc. - compiled from authenticated transcripts that have been validated for accuracy and completeness. At the same time, programs will also receive, in an electronic format convenient to them, the demographic data on individual applicants and several GPAs.

What form will CASPA electronic data take and how should schools prepare?
Based on their years of experience with the D.O. schools around the country, the CASPA vendor assures us that they will work with individual schools to ensure convenient electronic data sharing.

For programs using PCs or local networks of PCs, data will be available on disk in the most commonly used database programs or in a comma-delimited format.

For those schools using larger institution systems with unique software, a one-time bridge program will need to be written to match CASPA data to the local program's characteristics. The specifications will be available from the CASPA vendor when the design of the reports is complete.

What will CASPA's approach be to the growing issue of fraud on transcripts and recommendations/evaluations?
Because a national recommendation service discovered a 5% fraud rate on PA recommendations/evaluations, and several schools including Yale were detecting transcript fraud, CASPA includes screening programs in both areas. Lists of applicants with irregularities will be shared with all schools. Schools may then act on this information as they individually deem appropriate.

How would a supplemental/secondary application work?
While many programs will probably find that the CASPA application collects information similar to that collected on their current forms and is sufficient for their needs, some schools may decide that they need specific additional information. Schools are free to send out their own secondary application at any point in the process to applicants who designate their school. Some may wish to send it to all their applicants; others may choose to limit it to applicants whom they have already screened or to those invited for interviews, etc.

Schools are also free to collect a supplemental fee, if they wish, and to develop their own fee waiver program for this fee.

May applicants add more school choices after they have submitted their application?
Yes. Applicants may add to their initial selection of programs as schools' recruiting or students' own investigation brings other programs to their attention.

Will programs get to see late or incomplete applications if they wish?
Yes. Programs may ask to receive CASPA applications that are completed after their program's deadline from applicants who have designated their school.

Likewise, programs may also ask to receive files from their applicants that are still incomplete at the end of the cycle. Some schools use this information to follow up with applicants selectively and work with them for a later year.

How will applicants' questions get answered?
CASPA will answer questions about completing the CASPA application. Applicants will continue to talk directly with programs about program requirements and the progress of the application after it arrives at that school.

CASPA will send postcards to applicants acknowledging receipt of applicant materials. Inquiry service dedicated phone lines will also be open during business hours Monday through Friday so that applicants can speak directly to live human beings who will answer students' questions about completing their CASPA applications or about the status of their applications. E-mail contact will also be available.

The CASPA vendor has nearly 25 years' experience working with D.O. applicants through their central service and takes pride in their personalized service. As they describe their approach, "We extend to applicants the same courtesy and cooperation that a school admissions officer would."

Individual program personnel will continue to work directly with applicants on recruiting, advising on specific requirements, and school deadlines. Once their CASPA application is complete and has been forwarded to their designated programs, applicants' direct relationship will be with their selected schools, exactly as it is now.

What are the major benefits of CASPA for applicants?

  • One-stop application. - Applicants will have to submit only one basic application and one set of transcripts for however many member schools they select. The cost of their fee will be offset in part by savings from not having to order multiple sets of transcripts. Busy applicants will be able to expand the number of their school choices without having to repeat the lengthy and highly duplicative task of filling out more forms. CASPA will also reduce the imposition applicants face when they have to ask busy evaluators to complete multiple forms on them.
  • The efficiencies of on-line application. - As students have become increasingly immersed in a Web-based educational environment, CASPA's application will offer them the convenience of applying on-line and the associated reduction in application processing time. (Applicants unable to apply on-line may download a PDF paper application from the CASPA Web site or request a downloaded version from a program).
  • Leveling the playing field. - Another major advantage of CASPA for applicants is reducing the chances that other competing applicants could gain unfair advantage over them by transcript or recommendation/evaluation fraud. CASPA's screening system is an investment applicants make in leveling the playing field for themselves.

How important is experience for a PA?

As was noted above, experience is critical. The way things are going in the health care industry, experience is going to play a bigger and bigger role as time goes on. You MUST be able to show admissions committees that you know what you are getting into. You need to be able to demonstrate a knowledge of today's health care delivery system. This includes not only the technical and professional aspects of health care, but the social and political aspects as well.

The most important thing you should get out of your experiences is not simply that this procedure is done for this disease or how an IV is started, but rather how today's health care providers have to work within a very complex system that involves many other health care professions and providers, as well as many business aspects. You must be able to talk about and delineate how your personal value system and ethics integrates into the current health care delivery system. If you aren't able to do this in your personal statement and/or during an interview, you will most likely not be successful at getting into medical school.

There is no good answer to whether you should have tremendous experience at one place or a breadth of experience at many places with less time at each. The bottom line I think is this. You need consistent experience. If you can only commit 2 hours per week, but you do that over a year, that will be much better than 40 hours per week for a month. Time teaches. The more time you have, the better.

In addition, as a PA applicant, you MUST show an admissions committee that you want to be a PA. You must show them you have a passion for this. It does no good to shadow a physician and then try to convince an admissions committee you want to be a PA. They are going to politely tell you to apply to medical school because that is what you have shown a passion for. If you want to be a PA, shadow a PA. The more the better. The longer the better.