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Health Sciences Careers: Physician Assistant

Health Sciences Designation: Pre-Physician Assistant (PRPA)
Career: Physician Assistant
Job Outlook: 37% from 2016-2026
Median Pay: $108,610 annually in 2018 (approximately $52.22 per hour)
Entry-level Education: Master's degree



Physician assistants, or PAs, are health care professionals who provide services in collaboration with a licensed physician. They can conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventative health care, assist in surgery, and prescribe medications. Duties of a PA differ from state to state and physician to physician. While they work in collaboration with a physician they do not need direct supervision of a physician. Many PAs work independently and deliver services determined by state law. PAs are a key health care provider in rural areas where physician shortages are more prominent.


Work Settings:

PAs provide care in many settings including hospitals, physicians’ offices, outpatient centers, and nursing homes. PAs can also work for federal government agencies or in the nation’s uniformed services. In rural settings where physician shortages are common, PAs can serve as the patient’s principal healthcare provider. Some PAs can also focus on clinical research, health care administration, and higher education. Because PAs practice medicine in a variety of settings, their duties and schedules are highly variable but they play a valuable role in the health care team.


Academic Requirements:

Most professional programs require an applicant to have obtained a bachelor’s degree with a focus in science. Drake’s Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences degree is an excellent preparation for PA school!  Once you’ve earned your Drake degree you’ll complete two years of studies in an accredited physician assistant program. These programs are modeled on the medical school curriculum. PA students receive both didactic and clinical education training. Their clinical rotations focus on both medical and surgical disciplines.


Additional Information:

Following graduation from an accredited program, candidates need to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination or PANCE. Like most health care providers, PAs take a recertification exam every 10 years and participate in continuing education every 2 years. American Academy of PAs or AAPA partner with 26 specialty organizations that strengthen the knowledge of the field and allow PAs to specialize in a field if they choose to do so. Some specialties include:

  • Addiction Medicine
  • Cardiology
  • Family medicine
  • Hospice and Palliative Medicine
  • Nephrology
  • Neurology
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Pediatrics
  • Rheumatology
  • Surgery


Why is Health Sciences a great major for Pre-PA?

As a student in our Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences degree, you’ll get the best of both worlds: a rigorous science curriculum that will prepare you for the academic challenges in PA school and an education in healthcare that will help you succeed in your professional career.  All Health Sciences students take core courses in the sciences that you can customize based on the required prerequisite coursework you’ll need to get into your top choice graduate program.  But beyond that, you’ll also complete our Health Sciences Core Curriculum, which teaches you about every aspect of healthcare and how to be a successful professional once you graduate.  The Health Sciences Core Curriculum includes coursework in professionalism, innovation and problem solving, cultural sensitivity, healthcare ethics, and an overview of what to expect when you enter the workforce.  This unique curriculum is only offered to Health Sciences majors at Drake and is one thing that will make you stand out when you apply for medical school.

In addition to the coursework you take, the Health Sciences Core Curriculum also includes a full year of internship and research for every Health Sciences student.  In your senior year, you will be paired with a healthcare professional in a career that relates to your own interests and complete a full year internship with that person at their practice site or office.  We have numerous placements that relate to PA school, including several partnerships with the local medical school at Des Moines University. You will also do an original research project along with your internship, which is something graduate schools value in the admission process.  100% of our Health Sciences students do an internship and research, which is why our graduates are so successful at getting into many of their top choice PA schools!



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