Dec 01, 2023  
2023-24 Western Washington University Catalog 
2023-24 Western Washington University Catalog

Pre-Physician Assistant


A Physician Assistant/Associate (PA) practices and prescribes medicine under the license of a physician, and can work in a variety of healthcare settings. PAs are trained as generalists (but may work in specialty areas) and are formally trained through a master’s degree program to provide diagnostic, preventative and therapeutic services. PAs are not required to complete a residency and work under the authority of a supervising physician. Students prepare for entry to a PA program by obtaining a baccalaureate degree, completing the prerequisite course work for entry into specific programs, and by obtaining a broad variety of volunteer or paid clinical experience.

There is no one “right” major for gaining admission to a Physician Assistant program. Your undergraduate years offer you the opportunity to explore many academic fields, to develop basic skills and knowledge, and to demonstrate expertise and experience a field of study (major) of your choice. Pick one in which you excel and enjoy. Popular majors for Pre-PA students are Biology and Chemistry, but students have majored in a diverse range of academic disciplines including anthropology, behavioral neuroscience, public health, psychology, history, philosophy, communication studies, Spanish, and Fairhaven self-designed majors. Some pursue combined majors such as Anthropology/Biology, Biochemistry, and Behavioral Neuroscience.

 Contact Information

Pre-Physician Assistant Advisor
Anna Tognazzini
Assistant Director
Career Services Center
Old Main 280

Pre-Physician Assistant Advisor
Erika Wiescher
Health Professions Advisor
Career Services Center
Old Main 280

 Pre-Med Resources

How to Indicate you are Pre-Physician Assistant:

Although Pre-Physician Assistant is not a major, the university maintains a record of students who have indicated their intention to pursue healthcare careers. In order to gain access to our Health Professions Advising Canvas site and advising that is relevant to your intended area, send an email to with your name, W number, Western email address with “Pre-PA” as the subject line.

Course Requirements

Regardless of major, certain prerequisite courses expected by most schools include:



Other (non-science)

Exposure and Experience

Advanced Placement

Check with individual schools whether they recognize Advanced Placement (AP) as college-earned credit. Not all do. It is better to view any earned credits as qualifying to enroll in upper division courses rather than as “testing out” of prerequisites.

Access to Classes

Upper-division courses, particularly in the sciences, tend to be in high demand. Many departments give priority to students declared in specific majors over those needing prerequisites for healthcare programs. Keep in mind that registration policies and procedures for impacted courses can change, so check the department’s website or contact the program coordinator to ask about course enrollment processes.

Repeating/Dropping Courses

When you repeat a course, only your most recent grade is used when Western calculates your GPA. However, the class still shows up on your transcript. Although some students think that repeating a course will help them get into professional schools, this is almost always untrue. Professional schools will take into account all college-level coursework when performing their own calculation of your GPA, and this will include any courses you have repeated at Western. Still, in some circumstances it may be appropriate to repeat a course so talk to an advisor to be sure. Also, dropping a course can have an impact on eligibility for financial aid, scholarships, and athletic participation so consider your options carefully and speak with an advisor before making a decision.


Students should gain shadowing experience with both a PA and a physician. Finding shadowing opportunities can be challenging but is essential for determining whether a healthcare career is a good fit. For their first shadowing experience, students often ask a family friend, their own physician, or someone with a personal connection to shadow. Discuss your shadowing options with Health Professions Advisors.

Clinical Hours

Most PA programs require that applicants obtain a certain number of paid clinical hours (UW requires at least 2000) before applying. Some examples are work as a CNA, Medical Assistant, ER Scribe, or EMT. Check with individual schools if you have questions about certain jobs will meet the clinical hours requirement.

Graduate Record Examination

Many PA programs have done away with the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) but some still require it. Be sure to check with programs you’re interested in to know for sure. The GRE is offered monthly at the WWU Testing Center, and assesses your verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing skills. Information is available at


Research experience is not required to develop a strong application for professional school, but can be a great way to enhance your application if you are interested. Many opportunities exist both on campus through individual departments and programs, and off campus. Contact your major department, or speak with a faculty member about participating in undergraduate research.

Letters of Recommendation

Western does not participate in a committee letter process for professional programs, so it is important for students to develop a good relationship with faculty members, supervisors and volunteer coordinators throughout their time as an undergraduate in order to have strong letters of recommendation. 

Note: The above information is for preliminary advising purposes only. We encourage students to meet with a Health Professions Advisor on a regular basis to develop an individualized plan.