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Physician Assistant

Physician Assistants (PAs) practice medicine on healthcare teams with physicians and other providers. They practice under a supervising physician. A PA earns a master’s degree through a Physician Assistant program.

The University of Houston does not offer a Physician Assistant degree program.

Pre-PA is not a major nor formal program at the University of Houston. There is no single "best" major for pre-PA students nor are there any majors that will make you stand out. Instead, you should consider the pre-requisite courses required for admission by PA programs as well as the types of classes or majors that you would be most interested in pursuing.  As long as you show proficiency in the sciences and a general pattern of challenging yourself, your major is largely unimportant to admission committees.

That said, the more common majors for pre-PA students include: Health, Nutrition Sciences, Exercise Science, Biology, and Psychology.

The basic course requirements for PA school are as follows:

(*course names/numbers effective Fall 2021)

  • Anatomy & Physiology: BIOL 1334/1134 & BIOL 1344/1144 (*BIOL 2301/2101 & BIOL 2302/2102)
  • Biology: BIOL 1361/1161 & BIOL 1362/1162 (*BIOL 1306/1106 & BIOL 1307/1107)
  • English: ENGL 1303 & ENGL 1304 (*ENGL 1301 & ENGL 1302)
  • General Chemistry: CHEM 1331/1111 & CHEM 1332/1112 (*CHEM 1311/1111 & CHEM 1312/1112)
  • Genetics: BIOL 3301
  • Immunology: BIOL 4323 (only for UTMB)
  • Medical Terminology: HLT 3325
  • Microbiology: BIOL 3332/3132 (*BIOL 2321/2121)
  • Organic Chemistry: CHEM 3331/3221 (*CHEM 2323/2123)
  • Psychology: PSYC 1300 (*PSYC 2301)
  • Sociology: SOCI 1300 (*SOCI 1301)
  • Statistics: MATH 3339 or PSYC 3301(*PSYC 2317)
    • Note: MATH 2311 (*MATH 1342) is not universally accepted by PA programs in fulfillment of the statistics admission requirement due the absence of ANOVA in its course content.

Texas Physician Assistant Pre-requisite Course Guide (updated Fall 2021)

NOTE: Some Texas PA programs (e.g., UT-Health San Antonio) may require pre-requisites to be completed for a grade prior to submitting an application. Please confirm the specific admission requirements of each PA program in which you are most interested prior to applying. You may visit individual schools’ admission office’s webpages to learn about their specific admissions requirements and to confirm the UH courses they will accept in fulfillment of these requirements.

If you encounter issues with your application to a Texas PA program due to the Anatomy & Physiology requirements, please contact our office: prehealth@uh.edu.

Can I take prerequisite courses at another institution, such as a community college?

Yes, to a certain extent, you may complete prerequisite courses outside of the University of Houston. However, our general advice is that if you are enrolled at the University of Houston, you should only take courses that fulfill prerequisites or coursework for your major at the University of Houston. Taking 1-2 courses at an institution other than UH (e.g., community college) is not a big deal, but avoid making it a habit.

That said, if you are a transfer student bringing in credits from another institution (or dual-enrollment), then you do not need to retake prerequisites for your professional school application at UH. That includes transfer students who are transferring from community college as well as four-year institutions.

PA programs via the CASPA application compute several different GPAs for each applicant:

Year-Level GPAs/Academic Status
• Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior, Post-Baccalaureate, Cumulative Undergraduate, Graduate, Overall

Course Subject Category GPAs 
• Biochemistry, Biology & Other Life Sciences, Inorganic Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physics, Other Science, Math,  English, Social & Behavioral Science, and Other Non-Science

Click here for more information on the course subjects categorized as science vs. non-science.

Science, Non-Science, and Total GPAs
• CASPA divides each Year-level GPA into Science, Non-Science, and Total

College/University GPA
• Separate GPA for college/university attended based on CASPA GPA calculation rules.

CASPA GPA Calcuator

Yes, depending on the PA programs in which you plan to apply, you may be required to complete the GRE, PA-CAT, or both.

Graduate Record Exam (GRE)

The GRE is the standardized exam that the majority of PA programs require for admission and is offered monthly via University Testing Services. You should plan to take the GRE in your junior or senior year depending on when you plan to apply. Most applicants take the GRE between January-May as they head into the application cycle.

Cost:$205

The GRE consists of three sections:

  • Quantitative
  • Verbal
  • Essay
You should not plan to take the GRE more than 1-2 times.

Physician Assistant College Admissions Test (PA-CAT)

The PA-CAT is a new exam that was recently developed specifically for the use by PA programs. It is a specialized test that is designed to measure applicant knowledge and application in key prerequisite science subjects typically required for PA school. The PA-CAT measures general academic ability and scientific knowledge necessary for success in the demanding Physician Assistant curriculum. We recommend taking the PA-CAT at least 2-months prior to the beginning of the PA application cycle.

List of PA programs are currently recommending or requiring the PA-CAT.

Cost: $228

Scoring Range: 200-800 (scores are valid for 2-years)

The PA-CAT 4.5 hours in length and consists of 240 multiple-choice questions covering the following topics:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • General Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • General and Organic Chemistry
  • Microbiology
  • Behavioral Sciences
  • Genetics
  • Statistics

As in any career choice, applicants should confirm their decision to become a PA through personal experience. Such experience ranges from shadowing a PA, working in a clinic or hospital alongside physicians, nurses, and PAs.

Keep track of all experience (date, location, description) because some schools request log of your experience and employment when you apply. Further, many schools  require a letter of evaluation from a PA with whom you have interacted.

Unlike shadowing, many PA programs have set requirements for the number of hours in which you have participated in "direct patient care." This usually means being hands-on involvement in the treatment of patients, rather than simply observing. Common routes for gaining this experience is to work as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Medical Assistant (MA), or Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Medical scribing, while counted as healthcare experience, is sometimes not viewed as direct patient care.

PA programs vary in terms of the amount of experience required for admission, with some programs requiring as many as 1000 hours. In Texas, most PA programs do not have minimum requirements but instead wish for applicants to have worked, volunteered, and/or shadowed within healthcare settings to a sufficient degree that they are certain of their choice to pursue PA school and have a solid understanding of the field.

It is not uncommon for many pre-PA applicants to take a gap-year following their graduation from college to gain the requisite experience. Please review the individual PA schools in which you hope to apply for their specific requirements.

There are no hard and fast rules for gaining admission into PA school. That said, a competitive applicant has:

  • Strong GPA (>3.5)
  • Strong GRE (>300 combined)
  • Pattern of taking challenging coursework and credit-load (>12/semester)
  • Extra-curricular involvement (leadership in student organizations, research, employment, etc.)
  • Significant experience or exposure in healthcare settings (shadowing and/or employment)
  • Personal essay that conveys clear interest in medicine and specific reasons for pursuing a career as a physician assistant. [Tips for writing personal statements]

The key is to perform well in your science classes, do well on the GRE, and immerse yourself within various healthcare settings, including shadowing PAs and physicians or finding employment as a CNA, Medical Assistant, or EMT. It also important that you follow your interests as well, even if they are not directly related to healthcare. Sports, literature, film, music, acting, dancing, hobbies, and any sort of competition all fall in this category. Admissions committees value applicants that well-rounded and have interests outside of medicine. 

If you do not feel that you are competitive, you may consider taking a gap-year to address any weaknesses in your application. [Tips for planning a gap-year]

Most PA schools utilize the CASPA application. Non-participating PA schools will use their own individual application. 

The CASPA application usually opens in April each application cycle, however, PA programs differ in terms of their individual application deadlines. That said, most PA programs in Texas have Fall deadlines (August-October) for Summer starts (May-August).

You should apply to multiple PA schools. Further, it is important that you research the requirements and mission of each school to which you hope to apply.

After submitting your CASPA application, you will need to complete the supplemental applications for each school that requires one . These applications often include additional short-essay prompts and are specific to each school. You should plan to complete the supplemental applications as soon as possible after you submit the CASPA application.

If you do not feel that you are competitive, you may consider taking a gap-year to address any weaknesses in your application. [Tips for planning a gap-year]

Yes, PA schools will require applicants to submit 2-3 individual Letters of Evaluation as a part of their application.

These letters should typically consist of:

  • One letter from licensed PA practicing in the US
  • One letter from a science faculty member
  • One additional letter from another healthcare professional, faculty member, or teaching assistant, advisor, employer, or supervisor.

Note: Always waive your right to view your letters of evaluation.

Yes, although most applicants focus mainly on GPA and GRE scores, the personal statement is a very important component of your application and should be carefully written. This is your opportunity to highlight things about you that are not mentioned in other sections of your application and to distinguish yourself from other applicants.

The CASPA essay is limited to 1-page, 5000 characters.

Your Personal Statement should address what your motivations are for pursuing a career as a physician assistant and why you feel are a strong candidate. Do not personalize your essay for one particular program, as the same statement will be provided to all schools selected in the CASPA application.

Many PA schools now require applicants to complete the Altus Suite of assessments as part of the application process.altus-suite-handout-image.jpg

The Altus Suite consists of three separate tests: Casper, Snapshot, and Duet.

Importantly, some PA schools may only require the Casper, while others may require completion of the entire Altus Suite.

The Casper is a situational judgement test involving a series of realistic, hypothetical scenarios and asks applicants to indicate how they would respond if they were to be in that particular situation.

PA schools purportedly use the Casper to assess an applicant's non-academic, personality and interpersonal competencies, such as professionalism, communication, ethics, empathy, and motivation.

Casper results are not released to applicants, so be wary of companies/test-preparation services that claim to offer guaranteed techniques for obtaining a high score. 

Which schools require the Casper?

Currently, the CASPer is required by the following TX PA schools:

  • UT Health – San Antonio
  • The University of North Texas – Health Science Center
  • The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston

What is the structure of the Casper?

Please review the Casper FAQ

The Casper consists of 12 sections to be completed in 60-90 minutes, with an optional 15-minute break after six sections.

Each section is comprised of either a video-based or word-based scenario and a set of three associated questions. You are asked to type out your response to each question in the designated text box. You have 5 minutes to respond to all three questions.

When the timer is up, you are automatically directed to the next section where you are presented with a new scenario.

How do I prepare for the Casper?

Technically, the Casper is not designed to be “studied” for in a traditional sense, as it is supposed to evaluate your in-the-moment decision making and problem-solving skills. Responses are not categorized as right or wrong, but instead should be viewed as appropriate vs. inappropriate. That is, evaluators consider how comprehensive and thoughtful your response is to any given scenario.

As the Casper is similar in nature to a Multi-Mini Interview (MMI), our office recommends using example MMI prompts to simulate and practice a Casper scenario (including keeping to the strict 5-min time constraints). After outlining your responses, discuss your answers with a friend for feedback and to brainstorm any variables you may have overlooked. It may also be useful to familiarize yourself with the stance/position that the primary medical organizations (e.g., AMA, etc.) have on current medical issues and hot-topics, as this could help you formulate your own opinion and how you would respond to specific scenarios.

Our office also recommends approaching each scenario in a similar fashion:

  • What are the facts? What information is provided in the prompt? What information is not provided or do you wish you had?
  • What is the primary issue or question being asked?
  • Who would be affected by your response? These individuals may not have been included or mentioned in the scenario
  • Does your response produce the greatest good/least amount of harm?
  • As you write your response, are you including your thought process/reasoning behind the decisions and assumptions you have made?
Additionally, given the the limited time allotted to write your reponses, it is also important that you practice your typing skills. Our office suggests "warming-up" just prior to beginning your Casper exam. Casper raters are trained to disregard spelling mistakes when evaluating responses, so do not worry about correcting any minor mis-types as you are writing. Focus on getting your point across. Raters will also will accept any typed answer, whether it be in summarized, bullet-point form or complete sentences.

What is the structure of Snapshot?

Snapshot is a one-way video interview tool that takes 10-15 minutes to complete. It is used to help programs get to know their applicants better by assessing verbal and non-verbal communication skills, as well as motivation for the profession.

Snapshot includes 2 mandatory practice questions to allow applicants to get familiar with the format and to test their audio and video capabilities. After you complete the practice portion, you will move on to record responses to 3 standardized interview-style questions. You will have 2 minutes to record each response. You will have time to read and consider each question during a 30-second reflection period before they begin recording. All recorded responses will be submitted to the program for review. 

What is the structure of Duet?

Duet is a 15-minute value-alignment assessment that compares what you value in a program with what the program has to offer.

You will be shown a pair of characteristics within a given category and prompted to quickly select the one that is more important to you. After completing the comparisons within all categories, you’ll be asked to compare each of the categories in pairs. As you did for the characteristics, choose the category that is most important to you.

Physican Assistant Admissions Data for EY2020*

  • UH Applicants: 73
  • UH Accepted: 24
  • UH Acceptance Rate: 33% / National Average Acceptance Rate: 38%
University of Houston (EY2020)
Overall GPA Science GPA GRE Quantitative GRE Verbal
Applied 3.39 3.27 151 150
Accepted 3.57 3.51 152 150
Total CASPA Applicants (EY2020)
Overall GPA Science GPA GRE Quantative GRE Verbal
Applied 3.41 3.31 150 151
Accepted 3.6 3.53 152 152

*Note: Includes only those applicants who designated the University of Houston as their primary institution in CASPA and authorized release of their application data to the Pre-Health Advising Center.