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Frequently Asked Questions for Physicians Assistant and Nurse Practitioner Programs

What are Physician Assistant and BSN/Nurse Practitioner programs looking for?

Physician Assistant and Nurse Practitioner programs are looking for candidates who have a strong academic background and intellectual potential as evidenced by strong grades; qualities of leadership, character and who are motivated to play a vital role as front-line healthcare providers. 

What are the course requirements? 

Physician Assistant and Nurse Practitioner programs are less uniform in their requirements than medical schools.  Therefore, you should take a modified version of the premedical courses listed in the Guide to Premedical Studies at Swarthmore College, i.e., 2 semesters of chemistry, and 2 semesters of biology, math, and English. The physics sequence is not required for either program. They also have additional course requirements in the sciences.  All schools require the two term anatomy and physiology sequence, with many schools requiring one course in microbiology and genetics.  Anatomy and Physiology are sometimes available at Bryn Mawr, and occasionally, students have been able to take the courses at UPenn School of Nursing, if there are seats available. Most commonly, students take these courses at community college, either in the summer or after graduation.

Many schools also require one course in psychology, statistics, nutrition and some require one course in health care ethics.  It is best to review the list of prerequisites and admission criteria for each school that you are applying to. 

How can I obtain clinical experience? 

Physician Assistant programs are known for requiring applicants to have hundreds of both patient care (hands-on care with patients) and health care (time spent in a health care setting without interacting with a patient) experience hours.  Applicants are able to secure these hours in a variety of ways. Many have become medical scribes, EMT/paramedics, phlebotomists, Certified Nursing Assistants, or athletic trainers. Be sure to set up a mechanism that will track your shadowing/work hours as you will be asked to submit documentation of your activities as part of your application. You can also search for alumni PA’s/NP’s through the on-line Alumni Directory which you can access through Career Services website.

Which standardized tests are required? 

There is no standardized test that is required by all NP and PA schools.  Some PA, along with a handful of NP schools will require the GRE.  The GRE is offered all year in multiple sites. You should only take the test when you feel prepared.

How do I apply to NP/PA school?

The majority of PA programs participate in the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA).  For those programs that participate in CASPA you have to use their secure on-line service to apply to PA school. Programs that do not participate in CASPA post applications on their individual websites.  

There is no centralized application site for NP programs.  You will find the applications posted on the individual websites. 

In both cases, pay attention to deadlines and complete the application process early, as a large number of programs consider applications on a rolling basis. 

When entering information on the applications, how do I handle my course units? 

You must convert your course units to semester hours. Please use the following conversion table. 

  • .5 unit equals 2 semester hours
  • 1 course unit equals 4 semester hours
  • 2 course units equals 8 semester hours

What is the difference between a Nurse Practitioner and a Physician Assistant?

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants work in similar settings. However, their training is different. Nurse practitioners are educated in a nursing school and can specialize in several areas, including gerontology/geriatrics, mental health, pediatrics, and women’s health. Physician assistants attend a medical school or center of medicine and their curriculum is based on the medical school curriculum. PA’s and NP’s practice in every state.