Pre-Physician Assistant at UH Mānoa

Text compiled from the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) website, Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) website, Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. (ARC-PA) website, NAAHP’s Health Professions Admissions guide, and the UHM 2015-2016 Catalog.

Physician Assistant Programs in Hawai`i: None

Field Description

Physician Assistants (PAs, also called RPAs for Registered, or PA-Cs for Certified, or RPA-Cs) are licensed health professionals who practice medicine as members of a team under the supervision of a physician. PAs see many of the same types of patients as physicians and deliver a broad range of medical and surgical services. PAs conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel patients on preventive care, assist in surgery, and (in all states except Indiana) prescribe medication.

The scope of a PA’s practice is determined by training, experience, state law, and the supervising physician’s practice. Essentially, PAs work wherever physicians work, whether in family practice, surgery, a specialty area, or research. A PA’s duties and autonomy depend upon the PA’s clinical experience and his/her relationship with the supervising physician.

Work Setting:

Although PAs work under supervision, the supervision can be remote, which means the physician is not necessarily present. PAs may be the principal health care providers in rural or inner city clinics, where the physician is present for limited times or only for consultation via telephone or other media. PAs may also make house calls, check on patients at nursing care facilities, and conduct hospital rounds on their own.

The PA profession began in the 1960s and remains one of the fastest growing occupations. Like physicians, PAs serve in all types of communities, from rural to urban, and in a wide variety of settings, from private practice to clinics and hospitals. PAs also work in specialized settings such as nursing homes, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), and the armed forces.

For more information on job outlook, click here.

Related Careers: nursing (RN or APRN) and medicine (MD or DO).

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Physician Assistant Programs

Years of Schooling Required to Become a Physician Assistant:

7-8  years of education:

  • Undergraduate Preparation (~4 years);
  • Physician Assistant Program (~3  years);
  • Residency (~1 year, optional).

Although not all schools list a bachelor’s degree as a requirement for admission, few students are admitted without one. Completing a bachelor’s degree is highly recommended. Admission to physician assistant programs is highly competitive, and a bachelor’s degree significantly strengthens a student’s application and provides students with greater options for advancement and career opportunities. For help choosing a major, please see the “Choosing a Major for Professional Schools in Health” webpage.

Pacific University’s Hawaii Outreach Initiative

Although Hawaiʻi does not have a PA program, Pacific University (PU) has a long standing history with students from Hawai‘i and would like to extend that relationship. PU’s Hawai‘i Outreach Initiative is both an admissions advantage as well as a clinical rotation advantage in the state of Hawai’i. PU will extend invitations to interview to the top five scoring Hawai’i Outreach applicants each year. While this does not guarantee admission, it is an acknowledgment of their dedication to applicants from Hawai‘i and their needs.

In order to qualify for the Hawai’i Outreach Initiative, a prospective student must have a strong connection to Hawai’i and have active plans to return to the islands to practice as a PA. The strong connection may be shown by one or more of the following: current address, permanent address, high school diploma, college diploma, driver’s license, or Native Hawaiian ancestry.

If students from Hawai‘i are admitted to the program they will complete their didactic phase in Hillsboro, Oregon, with the rest of the incoming class. Students in the Hawai‘i Outreach Initiative will have preference for the available clinical rotations in Hawai‘i. Pacific University continually seeks out rotation sites in Hawai‘i which will provide students with quality experiences and networking opportunities.

There is no separate application for the Hawai‘i Outreach Initiative. Students are initially identified through their application materials and their stated commitment, on the Supplemental Application, to return to Hawai‘i following graduation to work as a PA. Please contact PU Graduate Admissions if you have any questions.

Gap Year

Students may choose to take a gap year after they graduate with their undergraduate degree. A “gap year” is the period of time between the end of your undergraduate education and the start of your professional school. A gap year might be a year or more depending on each person’s particular circumstances. Students may choose to participate in longer term engagement activities during their gap year. Taking a gap year would change when to apply to professional school, please see a PAC peer advisor to help you plan in when to apply and fit in a gap year experience. When deciding to take a gap year, see our Taking a Gap Year page.

Degree Conferred:

Upon graduation from a physician assistant program, students are awarded a master’s degree such as the Master of Science (MS), Master of Physical Assistant Studies (MPAS), or Master of Medical Science (MMS), among others. Some PA programs offer bachelor’s degrees and certificates, although the master’s is the most common degree awarded. All master’s-level physician assistant degrees are equivalent with respect to licensure and professional practice.

Matriculation statistics for the 2015-2016 admission cycle.

Applicants Matriculants Percentage of Applicants
that Matriculate
National Applicants 26,000 7,800 30%
UH Mānoa Applicants N/A* N/A* 16.40%

Based on Data Acquired by the National Association of Academic Advisors for Health Professions (NAAHP).

* The number of UH Mānoa applicants and matriculants are omitted for confidentiality reasons.


Combined Degree Program:

Many physician assistant programs offer combined degree programs: MS/MBA to combine medicine with business administration; MS/MPH to combine medicine with public health; and so on. Combined degrees can be offered concurrently, sequentially, or in combination, and often extend the number of years in PA school.

What to Expect in PA School:

The first two years of PA programs usually consists of courses in basic medical sciences: anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, biochemistry, microbiology, medical diagnosis, and disease prevention. The third year usually consists of rotations through a variety of specialties, including obstetrics and gynecology, surgery, orthopedics, emergency medicine, psychiatry, pediatrics, and geriatrics, among others. Upon graduation, PAs who desire advanced training or specialization can choose to complete a residency.

The Licensing Examination(s):

Graduation from a program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education of the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) qualifies PAs to sit for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) in cooperation with the National Board of Medical Examiners. All PAs must be licensed to practice!

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Most importantly, remember that requirements vary from school to school! You must research to create a list of all the prerequisites you will need to apply to the programs you are interested in attending.

More than 25% of the programs in this field require the following UHM courses for admission:

BIOL 171/171L and 172/172LIntroduction to Biology I and II8 cr.
CHEM 161/161L and 162/162LGeneral Chemistry I and II8 cr.
MICR 130/140L**
(or MICR 351/351L*)
General Microbiology
(or Biology of Microorganisms)
5 cr.
PHYL 141/141L and 142/142L**
(or PHYL 301/301L and 302/302L)
Human Anatomy and Physiology I and II8 or 10 cr.
PSY/SOCS 225 or ECON 321Statistics3 cr.
ENG 100 and higherComposition I and higher6 cr.
MATH 134 or higherPrecalculus or higher (highly recommended for GRE preparation)3 cr.

It is recommended that non-science majors take additional upper-division or advanced science electives beyond the prerequisites listed above.

CHEM 171/171L might not be accepted by PA programs in place of CHEM 161/161L and 162/162L. Students should double check with the programs they are interested in if the programs would accept CHEM 171/171L in place of CHEM 161/161L and 162/162L.

*Please note that the prerequisites for MICR 351/L are BIOL 171 and CHEM 272/L. BIOL 275/L are recommended for MICR 351.

**Please contact the specific schools that you are interested in applying to concerning these courses. Some schools may require the higher level course to apply to their Physician Assistant program.

Hands-On Experience:

Most programs also require substantial health care experience: 6-12 months of full-time, clinical, “hands on,” direct patient care* (1000-2000 hours). Consequently, the majority of applicants to PA programs come from those already in health care.

Experience can be divided into two categories:

  • *Direct patient contact (as a nurse aide, certified nursing assistant, medical assistant, emergency medical technician, medic, military corpsman, etc.). Browse the different health programs offered by Kapiolani Community College.
  • Health care related experience (as a lifeguard, ski patrol personnel, first aid personnel, laboratory or research staff, etc.). Browse the different volunteer opportunities available at hospitals, nursing homes, senior centers, shelters, rehabilitation facilities, etc.

Successful applicants log their health care experience in terms of months or years, not hours.

Click here for a four-year sample plan.

Click here to see a sample general timeline.


GPA Statistics for Physician Assistant School Matriculants from UH Mānoa:
3.18 – 3.9
Undergrad GPA
3.12 – 3.82

*BCPM GPA is your GPA only pertaining to any Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics courses taken.

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Experience and Personal Development

Gaining experience in the health professional field in which you are interested is a huge benefit in figuring out if that is the field you want to work in and provides you with a deeper understanding of the field. Some professional schools want to see that you have experience in their field and some schools may require a large amount of particular experience such as hands-on, patient contact experience or experience shadowing a professional in that field. Schools need to be certain that the students they accept are capable of completing the curriculum and are likely to become strong professionals in the field. Schools may see this through the experiences students had.

Admissions committees seek students who have completed the pre-requisites, have high overall and science/math GPAs, performed well on the entrance exam, and have balanced course loads which are challenging yet realistic. These are indications that students are capable of completing the curriculum. Opportunities for exam preparation can be found here: Entrance Exam Preparation Opportunities.

Experiences can provide proof that students will likely be strong practitioners. Admission committees seek students who demonstrated empathy, compassion, and a commitment to public service which can be shown through community service or volunteer work. Committees also want to see high ethical and moral standards and a conscientious work ethic as well as demonstrated maturity through judgement, responsibility, and dependability. Work ethics can be shown through employment opportunities.

Committees seek students who understand the field and what it entails. Different experiences that could provide exposure to the field include enrichment opportunitiesinternshipsshadowing, or volunteering. Through experiences students may show that they have excellent communication skills and a high degree of professionalism in all aspects of life, and potentially gain strong letters of recommendation from supervisors.

Students should aim to have a well-rounded life that balances academics which include a broad liberal arts education with the humanities and social sciences, research, social activities, and personal interests (hobbies, skills, sports, etc.) through Clubs and Organizations.

Students may choose to take a gap year after they graduate with their undergraduate degree to gain more experience. When deciding to take a gap year, see our Taking a Gap Year page.

When applying for professional school, you will be asked to list and describe the experiences you have gained in preparation for the profession of your interest. Rather than having to recall from memory all your experiences, having an experience log will allow you to fill out your application with more ease. Students can use their C.V. as a record of these experiences. However, an experience log can include additional beneficial information, such as your employer’s contact information and a reflection portion of what you learned. You may choose to make a personalized experience log or use our sample by clicking here.

Please click on the following links to explore the different opportunities.

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Researching Schools

There are currently about 195 accredited PA programs in the US, each unique in its mission, philosophy, criteria, and strengths. Applicants can research schools using the PA Programs Directory on the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) website.

Although there are resources that “rank” schools, the rankings are rarely pertinent for individual applicants. More important is whether there is a good match between applicant and school.

To find schools that are good a fit for you (PAC peer advisors can help with this process):

  1. Assess your individual strengths and weaknesses, your professional interests, learning style, and personality;
  2. Start by considering all schools, which usually includes all 181 schools;
  3. Create your “Long List” by omitting the schools that do not match your professional interests, learning style, and personality;
  4. Once you have your MCAT or GRE scores, create your “Short List” by categorizing the schools into ‘Reach’, ‘Match’, and ‘Safety’, ranking the schools by preference, and finally choosing how many schools to apply to. Be sure to apply to schools in all 3 categories (“Reach,” “Match,” and “Safety.”) and to select schools that you would really want to attend if/when accepted.

Here is more information on researching and selecting schools to apply for. If possible, visit the schools to see their facilities, talk to Admissions Directors, and chat with students.

2015-2016 UH Manoa Matriculants – Schools Matriculated Into

  • Bryant University
  • Emory University
  • Midwestern University (Glendale)
  • Oregon Health & Science University
  • Tufts University
  • University of North Dakota
  • University of Washington

Application statistics for the 2015-2016 admission cycle.

Applicants Applications Average Number of
Applications per Applicant
Range of Number of
Schools Applied to
National Applicants 26,000 100,000 3.85 N/A
UH Mānoa Applicants N/A* N/A* 6.22 1-21
UH Mānoa Matriculants N/A* N/A* 11.44 1-21

Based on Data Acquired by the National Association of Academic Advisors for Health Professions (NAAHP).

* The number of UH Mānoa applicants and matriculants are omitted for confidentiality reasons.

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Entrance Exam

Most PA programs require applicants to take a standardized test called the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). However, some schools also accept the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) in place of the GRE.


Preparation: Your most important preparation for the GRE or MCAT is your undergraduate courses, many of which sharpen your writing and verbal reasoning skills.  Remember that the verbal sections are not only the most accurate predictor of how well you will do in PA school, but also the most difficult scores to improve.

GRE Summary: The GRE assesses your knowledge and skills in Verbal Reasoning, Analytical Writing, and Quantitative Reasoning. The test requires approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete. The GRE is offered in computer-based and paper-based formats, and is offered year-round for computer-based administrations and up to three times per year for paper-based administrations.

GRE Scoring: The Verbal and Quantitative sections each receive a score between 130 and 170, in 1-point increments.  The Analytical Writing section is scored on a scale of 0 to 6, in half-point increments. GRE scores are often reported as percentiles, with the median score (50th percentile) among examinees being 150 for the Verbal and Quantitative sections and 3.5  for the Analytical Writing section. Scores at around the 50th percentile or higher are considered competitive for physician assistant programs.

Official Test Preparation Material:

GRE Statistics for Physician Assistant School Matriculants from UH Mānoa:

GRE SectionAverageRangePercentile AveragePercentile Range

Commercial Test Preparation Companies: 


Preparation:  Your most important preparation for the MCAT is your undergraduate courses (not only the prerequisites for medical school), many of which sharpen your writing and verbal reasoning skills. Remember that your Verbal Reasoning score is not only the most accurate predictor of how well you will do in medical school, but also the most difficult score to improve. Click here for more information on creating an MCAT study plan. Click here to see when you should consider taking the MCAT.

MCAT Summary:  The MCAT assesses your knowledge and skills in Biological Sciences, Physical Sciences, Psychological/Sociological Sciences, and Verbal Reasoning. There is also an optional trial section, which examinees can complete to receive a $30 Amazon gift card. The test requires ~7.5 hours to complete, and entails ~230 multiple choice questions. The MCAT is administered in a computer-based format, and is offered in the months of January and April through September. Registration for January, April and May test days begin late-October and registration for June to September test days begin mid-February.

MCAT Scoring:  Each of the four scored sections receives a score from a low of 118 and a high of 132, with a midpoint of 125. Scores for the four sections will be combined to create a total score, ranging from 472 to 528, with a midpoint of 500. The trial section is unscored. The mean or competitive score among examinees is yet to be determined.

The 2018 MCAT Testing Calendar is now posted online! All MCAT exams begin at 8 am. Registration starts in late October 2017.  For a complete list of the dates, please visit this link.

Official Test Preparation Material:

Here is more information on how to prepare for an entrance exam.

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Application Process

There are three general steps in applying to physician assistant programs: the primary application, the secondary application, and the interview. The process follows a standard timeline.

1. Primary applications for most schools must be filed with the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA). It includes a personal statement (5000 characters)Once your application is complete, CASPA forwards it to whichever schools you have designated. The CASPA application fee is about $175 for the first program and $50 each additional program designation. For schools with rolling admission, submit your primary application as early as possible.

2. Secondary applications or supplementary forms are specific to individual physician assistant programs; schools send these to applicants after they have received the CASPA application. Both frequently request additional information, essays, and letters of recommendation.  Some schools may screen applicants before the applications or forms are sent out.  However, secondary applications and supplementary forms differ in that the latter is not a formal application.

Note: Most PA schools participate in CASPA. Students interested in applying to other schools must complete each of their prospective schools’ individual applications. For these schools, the application process consist only of steps 2 and 3.

Note: For a list of specific letters of recommendation types for Physician Assistant Schools can be found here.

3. Interviews: After reviewing the primary and secondary applications (or supplementary forms), physician assistant programs invite promising applicants to interview. Applicants are responsible for all costs of interviewing, including airfare, lodging, professional attire, and meals. To learn more about interviews, attend our upcoming interview-related orientations and workshops here. For sample interview questions click here.

CASPA’s Admissions Code of Cooperation: Although the application process varies from school to school, CASPA has established “traffic rules” to ensure fairness for all concerned. The rules are available online and stipulate both schools’ and applicants’ rights and responsibilities in the application process. All applicants should be familiar with these rules before applying.

Re-applying Students: Many applicants may not be admitted to the professional school that they desire on their first try. However, if an when you choose to re-apply, there are many things to consider before re-submitting another application the following cycle. For more information on how to improve your application, click here.


  • The more you know about a school, the better your chances of being accepted.
  • Most application questions can be answered by reading the PA Programs Directory.
  • Contact individual schools’ admissions offices to find out how they handle:
    • Advanced Placement (AP) credits
    • International Baccalaureate (IB) credits
    • College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) credits
    • military credits
    • courses taken at a community college
    • non-U.S. coursework
    • courses taken for credit/no credit instead of a grade
    • residency issues
    • time limits on prerequisite science courses

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Financial Aid

Financial Planning is a crucial step in applying to physician assistant programs. It is important for students to create a plan and make decisions in their educational expenses. Students are highly encouraged to budget their finances before, during, and after a physician assistant program. To learn more about financial planning, click here.

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Additional Information

UH Mānoa’s Pre-Health/Pre-Law Advising Center (PAC) has reference books, lists of volunteer opportunities, academic planning worksheets, and one-on-one advising by peers who can help you prepare for and apply to PA programs.

Associations American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA)
Entrance Exams Graduate Record Examimation (GRE)

Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
Researching Schools Physician Assistant Education Association
(Linked to the P.A. Programs Directory)

Applications Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA)
Current OpportunitiesHealth – Current Opportunities
EngagementHealth – Experience and Opportunities

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