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Academics: Pre-Professional Programs

Pre-Physician Assistant

If you are interested in medicine but not set on a specific career path, you might want to consider working as a physician assistant (PA). Employment opportunities are excellent, and the demand for PA services is expected to increase.

As a physician assistant, you will be trained and licensed to practice medicine under the supervision of a licensed physician. Job duties include recording medical histories, performing physical examinations, performing diagnoses, counseling patients, ordering and interpreting laboratory tests, assisting in surgery, setting fractures, and writing orders for prescription drugs.

Anatomy lab

  • Clinical training programs are typically two years in duration (if they include summer courses). Some accredited programs offer baccalaureate degrees, most offer a master of science degree. For a complete listing of the educational programs, visit American Academy of Physician Assistants.
  • Upon graduation from a training program, you will take the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) examination to become a "Physician Assistant - Certified."
  • Once certified, ongoing training is required. You must earn and log 100 continuing medical education hours every two years and sit for a re-certifying exam every six years to retain your credentials.
  • COURSES: The prerequisite courses differ somewhat from program to program, but some courses are common to many programs. 
Common prerequisites
  • two semesters of general chemistry (Chemistry 103 and 104)
  • organic chemistry (Chemistry 253 or 261 and 262)
  • one semester introductory biology (Biology 141)
  • anatomy (Biology 205 or 323)
  • physiology (Biology 206 or 331, some programs specifying a 300 or higher level course)
  • microbiology (Biology 207 or 336)
  • biochemistry (Chemistry 303 or 323)
  • introductory psychology (Psychology 151)
  • statistics (Math 143, Math 145 or Psychology 255)
  • GRE General Test

Since prerequisites vary among different programs, it’s best to contact Professor Richard Nyhof, or Professor Amy Wilstermann soon to ensure that the appropriate courses are taken.

Admission requirements include considerable health care experience, sometimes requiring at least 1,000 hours of direct patient care experience. You can gain this experience as an employee or a volunteer. Volunteer experience can be arranged through the Service-Learning Center at Calvin College.


Over 120 PA programs now accept a generalized application. Some programs, however, require a supplemental application form to be sent directly to the program. You can find information about a school’s specific application requirements at each program’s web site.

You should begin the generalized application at least four weeks prior to your first deadline. Programs beginning in May often have application deadlines in October, so plan well in advance of deadlines.