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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?
Questions about the program at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center
Questions about the program at Red Rocks Community College
Questions about CASPA (Central Application Service for Physician Assistant)
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.