Some physician assistant (PA) programs offer a pre-professional (or undergraduate) phase prior to the professional (or graduate) phase of their PA programs. Pre-professional programs:
- Are intended for recent high school graduates or students who have some college credit, but not a degree.
- Allow students to complete the core required courses for the professional phase.
- Vary in length from four to six years — combined time for the pre-professional and professional phases.
- Require enrolled students to successfully complete all academic course work in order to advance to the professional phase to complete their PA education.
In order to practice as a PA, you must graduate from an accredited PA program and pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE). The PANCE is administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants.
As of March 2020, there are 268 accredited physician assistant programs. PA programs in the United States are located at medical schools, hospitals, two- and four-year colleges and universities, and in the military.
PAs and PA students can pursue additional education through postgraduate PA programs. A postgraduate program may choose to seek accreditation from the ARC-PA, although not all do.
Many postgraduate programs belong to the Association of Postgraduate Physician Assistant Programs (APPAP). All APPAP members are formal programs that offer structured curricula, including didactic and clinical components. They are designed to educate PAs for a defined period of time (usually 12 months) in a medical specialty, such as surgery or dermatology.