PA Student FAQs and Tips

Your 15 Most Pressing PA School FAQs Answered for 2022

Whether you are considering a career as a Physician Assistant (PA), or you were recently accepted into a PA program, you are bound to have a few questions. We are all about helping you find answers, so our PA experts put together our most Frequently Asked Questions about PA School.

We are breaking it down into two sections:

  1. Before PA school
  2. During PA school

Before PA School

Q. Is being a PA the right career for me?

A: If you are interested in this career, try shadowing an experienced PA. It will be a great way to have a real-world look into this life and work. There are a few key personality traits, goals and motivators that will make you happy with your career choice. First, being collaborative. You will work as part of a team, so make sure you like that dynamic. Next, someone who is outgoing and friendly will do well in this field because you will be working with a lot of people from a lot of diverse backgrounds. Finally, being someone who loves the patient aspect of medicine. In this field, you work closely with your patients and really get to know them.

Q. What GRE score do I need to get into PA school?

A. This answer depends on where you are applying. Not every school requires the GRE. If the school does require it, most don’t have a minimum for being considered. Overall, the consensus is that your GRE score is just one part of your overall application. Your GPA is going to weigh heavily in your application too. For schools that do require the GRE, a higher score will help and a lower score will hurt your acceptance, but it isn’t the only factor.

Q. What prerequisites and experiences are required for PA school?

A. There are some consistencies with PA school requirements, but they vary slightly when it comes to your application and what admissions wants. Typically, prerequisites for admission include: Physiology, Anatomy, Chemistry, Biology, Microbiology and Social/Behavioral Sciences. And, yes, often your prerequisites will expire after 10 years, however, some prerequisites are valid for only five years, and others don’t expire. Many programs also want prior healthcare experience, which can include:

  • EMT or Paramedic
  • Emergency Room Technician
  • Registered Nurse (RN)
  • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
  • Certified Nurse Aide (CNA)
  • Medical Assistant (MA)
  • Respiratory Therapist
  • Dietician
  • Phlebotomist
  • Medical Technologist
  • X-Ray Technologist
  • Physical/Occupational Therapist
  • Medical Social Worker Mental
  • Health Care Counselor

Q. Are there any ways to increase my chances of being accepted to PA school?

A. Absolutely! As we mentioned above, each school is going to look at you through a variety of factors. So, if you don’t have the highest GPA currently, you can still get accepted to PA school and do well in your career. A few tips:

  • Think about your weaknesses. If you are still in school, work on that GPA, especially in the prerequisite classes. Retake a course or the GRE if that’s possible. If you can do something about the areas that worry you, do it.
  • Apply early. Many PA programs have rolling admissions. Waiting until later in the process means slots could be taken. Plus, how great would it feel to get that acceptance early? 
  • Shadow an experienced PA. Some PA schools may require shadowing, but as we mentioned earlier, this is a very valuable experience regardless. It will give you great insight into the field so that both you and the school you’re attending know that this is the right career for you. Shadowing will also be helpful for your personal statement or essay and the PA you shadow could be someone to write a letter of recommendation.
  • Make your personal statement count. This is your chance to showcase your talent, passion and why you deserve a spot.

Hopefully this has you excited about applying for and finishing PA school. It is just one part of this phase in your life and career, though. The next part is getting through your program. Here are our most frequently asked questions about PA school, the PANCE and everything in-between.

During PA School

Q. How should I prepare for PA school?

A. You really shouldn’t do anything to prepare! Some people recommend a gap year, traveling, or spending time with friends and family. But as far as getting ahead of the program, don’t worry. Whatever PA school you attend will teach you what you need to know. They are invested in seeing you succeed. It’s going to be a busy two years, but you got here because you are a qualified student. Take this time to celebrate your accomplishments and enjoy whatever time you have before you start your program.

Q. How do I do well in PA school?

A. Manage your time well, ask questions and find (and use) the most effective learning resources for you. PA school requires a lot of your time and focus, so manage your time well. Say goodbye to endless social media scrolling, binge-watching Netflix or whatever steals your free time. Next, ask questions. If you don’t understand something, ask. If you want to know why a specific course of action or lab test was recommended, ask. Finally, use study tools from the first day of your first class to reinforce and retain what you’re learning as you go. Using Picmonic’s visual learning system means being able to recall valuable material throughout PA school. This makes preparing for and passing exams much easier and less stressful. PAs from all over trust Picmonic’s study guides, videos and infographics to help them retain – a proven 331% more – course material.

Q. Can I have a job while in PA school?

A. We believe you that you are great at juggling multiple responsibilities, but working while in PA school is not going to be one of those things. Think about your PA program as your full time job, because it kind of is. Many PA schools strongly discourage it, and you will thank us for this advice.

Q. Will I have time for a personal life during PA school?

A. Of course! Your personal life may not be as exciting or social as before PA school started, but if you scroll back up and remember how we mentioned time management was important, you’ll know what to do. You may have to say “no” to a few things during school, but it won’t always be this way. The good news is that you will build relationships with your classmates and they often become lifelong friends.

Q. What should I expect during my didactic curriculum year?

A. Your first year is going to be a lot of information, classrooms, textbooks and lectures. This year isn’t only about learning facts, but also how to use your knowledge in clinical situations. You should plan to spend around eight hours (some programs more, some less) at school Monday through Friday, followed by several hours of studying and review each day and on weekends. Enhancing your studying with Picmonic’s study guides and proven PA mnemonic study videos and graphics will not only make studying more enjoyable, but you will also retain significantly more information.

Q. What should I expect during the clinical year?

A. After you move from lectures in the classrooms into the clinic, the pace will definitely change and your life and schooling will look different. You should expect diverse experiences during your clinical rotations, possibly in different cities or even states, working in different practice areas. Knowing your clinical environment can help you be prepared (standing all day during a surgical rotation can hurt!). Also, bring snacks! You’re going to get hungry during these long, busy days.

Q. How will PA school prepare me for the PANCE?

A. Let’s start by addressing graduation. Most programs require you maintain a certain GPA. This is common with most graduate school programs. Getting you ready for the PANCE is part of what your program will do, but PA school is also preparing you for a lifelong career as a Physician Assistant. Your PA program, professors and preceptors, not to mention all of us here at Picmonic, want you to excel so remember we are here to help. Picmonic has more than 500 creative, memorable tools specifically for PANCE study prep.

Q. How long should I study for the PANCE?

A. Start today! The best way to do well on the PANCE is to do well in PA school from the start. Be productive with whatever time you have. However, most students find (and we agree) that using a dedicated study plan a few months before the exam is enough time. 

Q. How do I prepare for the PANCE?

A. You get prepared with Picmonic! Seriously, we offer a lot of Do’s and Don’ts here about preparing for the PANCE. You need to have a plan, make studying a priority, maximize how you learn best, and use the tools available, like Picmonic. Check out a few of our PA Picmonics on our YouTube channel to get in the PANCE mindset.

Q. What score do I need to pass the PANCE?

A. To pass the PANCE, you will need to score 350 or above out of a maximum score of 800. To learn a little more about the scoring and blueprint of the PANCE, visit the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).  

Q. How many times can you take the PANCE?

A. Around 90 percent of people pass the PANCE. If you don’t pass the PANCE the first time, you have to wait 90 days before retaking it. You can only take the PANCE once every 90 days, or three times per year. You have six years after completing your PA program to be certified by the NCCPA, and can take the PANCE up to six times in that six-year period. We guarantee you will pass the PANCE. It’s true! The Picmonic Guarantee means if you don’t pass the PANCE within one year of your Picmonic subscription expiration, we refund your subscription or extend it. 

Whether you are an undergrad considering a PA career, or you are scheduling your PANCE in 2021, you should feel good knowing Picmonic is your PA school support system. We want you to do well and feel confident going into this field from your first day through passing the PANCE.

Let’s get started!


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Brent Hawkins
Brent Hawkins, MPAS, PA

His career as a physician assistant began in the clinic but has taken him places he never would have imagined. He worked as a PA in family medicine for two years after graduating from the University of North Texas Health Science Center PA Program in Fort Worth, Texas. Over the past ten years, he’s had the unique opportunity to help health professional students in their training through writing, editing, and creating educational content. His time in health-professional student education has allowed him to be involved in video production, medical illustration, and curriculum development. His specific focus is on developing test preparation for PANCE and USMLE.

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