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Pre-Physician Assistant

Preparing for a Career as a Physician Assistant

Physician Assistants (Pas) are medical providers who diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications, and often serve as a patient’s principal healthcare professional. With thousands of hours of medical training, PAs are versatile and collaborative.

PAs practice in every state and in every medical setting and specialty, improving healthcare access and quality (www.aapa.org).

The path to becoming a medical practitioner begins with a genuine desire and interest in helping other people. The strong foundation built as an undergraduate student at Westminster College includes demonstrating the knowledge, skills and personal growth attributes that contribute to a strong medical school application and future success as a medical professional.

Students can choose different paths to PA school, but must be mindful of the core requirements for competitive applications, preparing for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) exam that is required as part of an application to some programs, gaining appropriate experiences in the field and completing their respective majors. While it is possible for a pre-PA student to do virtually any academic major, it is imperative for all pre-PA students to work closely with both academic and health professions advisors to ensure completion of all requirements for PA schools and for their undergraduate degree. Most often, a student on a pre-PA track will choose a biology major since the curriculum includes most, if not all, required and recommended courses for PA schools. Students will typically apply to PA programs between their junior and senior years, allowing for a direct transition following graduation, but some wait until after they graduate to apply in order to further their education and gain more relevant experience.

Pre Physician Assistant Track at Westminster College - Pennsylvania

The academic and extracurricular experience at Westminster College, ranging from coursework to on- and off-campus service and experiential activities to international study and/or travel, contribute strongly to the appeal of the well-trained and well-rounded individuals who graduate from our school.

Core Requirements for PA School (and for GRE Exam Preparation) generally are:

  • General Biology (with lab) – Cell Biology and Genetics (BIO 201), Organismal Biology (BIO 202)
  • General Chemistry (with labs) – Principles of Chemistry (CHE 117) and CHE180/230/231
  • Organic Chemistry (with labs) – Organic Chemistry I (CHE 261), Organic Chemistry II (CHE 262)
  • Physics (with labs) – Foundations of Physics I (PHY 141), Foundations of Physics II (PHY 142)
  • English – Writing (WRI 111) and an additional course (ENG ---) that requires extensive reading, writing and discussion in the English language

The following courses should also be completed prior to taking the GRE exam:

  • Sociology – Principles of Sociology (SOC 101)
  • Psychology – Introduction to Psychology (PSY 101)
  • Biochemistry – Biochemistry Principles (CHE 381)
  • Statistics – Biostatistics (BIO 206)

Additional course requirements may vary from one professional program to another, so it is the responsibility of the student to be aware of specifics regarding their schools of interest. Good planning and working closely with academic and health professions advisors are essential to maximize chances of success in the highly competitive medical school application environment.

What would a typical Pre-PA schedule look like?


A sample schedule for a biology major preparing to take the GRE exam between their junior and senior year and matriculating to veterinary school following graduation is below.

First Year (Fall)
First Year (Spring)
Cell Biology and Genetics (BIO 201) SD IP
Principles of Chemistry (CHE 117)
Inquiry (INQ 101)
Speech or Writing (SPE 111 or WRI 111)
Westminster 101 (WST 101)
Organismal Biology (BIO 202)
Calculus I (MTH 150) QR IP
Speech or Writing (SPE 111 or WRI 111)
Elective _________(--- ----) FL IP

Sophomore Year (Fall)
Sophomore Year (Spring)
Biostatistics (BIO 206)
Cell and Molecular Biology (BIO 302)
Organic Chemistry I (CHE 261)
Elective __________ (--- ---) VP IP
Ecology (BIO 360)
Organic Chemistry II (CHE 262)
Elective ________(--- ---) HC IP
Elective ________(--- ---) RP IP

Junior Year (Fall)
Junior Year (Spring)
Physiology (BIO 334)
Foundations of Physics I (PHY 141)
Biochemistry (CHE 381)
Introduction to Psychology (PSY 101) ST IP
Microbiology (BIO 301)
Foundations of Physics II (PHY 142)
Biology Capstone I (BIO 601)
Principles of Sociology (SOC 101)

Senior Year (Fall)
Senior Year (Spring)
Anatomy and Physiology I (BIO 335)
Biology Capstone II (BIO 602)
Elective __________ (--- ---) Cluster
Elective __________ (--- ---) Cluster
Anatomy and Physiology II (BIO 336)
Chemistry Elective (CHE ---)
Elective____________(--- ---)
Elective____________(--- ---)

With the exception of the core requirements and courses strongly recommended ahead of the GRE exam, there is curricular flexibility within any chosen major and among the elective courses that are part of the liberal arts curriculum at Westminster College. Students planning to study abroad for a semester must also plan accordingly to meet all requirements and timelines. It is also advisable for students to budget time during the spring semester of their junior year to prepare for the GRE exam that will test knowledge in Biology, Organic Chemistry, General Chemistry as well as Reading Comprehension, Perceptual Ability and Quantitative Reasoning.

Extracurricular and Off-Campus Experiences

  • Shadowing physicians (DO and MD) and other medical professionals in both office and hospital settings
  • Clinical internships
  • Volunteer experience with direct patient contact
  • Emergency medical technician (EMT)
  • Any experience working with children (e.g. day camp, Science camp)
  • Any experience working with disabled people or individuals with special needs

Where have Westminster students matriculated recently?

  • Duquesne University

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