An education in neuroscience can provide students with an excellent background for a career in medicine as a Physican's Assistant. Sample 4-year plans for pre-PA neuroscience majors can be found on our Curriculum page. PA programs have a number of pre-requisites that can vary from school to school. Note that several courses in the neuroscience major overlap with pre-PA requirements including data analysis and biochemistry.
Requirements for PA school, including pre-requisite coursework, can vary tremendously. It is recommended that those interested in entering a PA program research the requirements for every school to which they are considering applying. The following list of courses are commonly required:
- Psychology 1100
- Biology 1113 and 1114
- Chemistry 1210 and 1220
- Organic Chemistry 2510 and 2540
- Psychology 3331
- Psychology 3340
- Biochemistry 4511
- Microbiology 4000
- Anatomy 2300 or 3300
- Physiology 3200
- Psychology 2220, Statistics 2450 or 2480, or Molecular Genetics 5650
- Allied Medicine 2500 (Medical Terminology)
Becoming a Competitive Candidate
There are many things that you can do besides academics that will make you an excellent candidate for PA school:
- Quality volunteer experience is crucial! Professional programs want to see that you are well-prepared for your intended career. These experiences should demonstrate:
- An ability to work with a variety of people
- Extensive direct patient care hours
- Clinician shadowing
- Extracurricular activities
- Personal letters of recommendation from faculty and/or professionals who know you well and can vouch for your strength of character and academic potential. Get to know potential letter writers early by standing out in class, attending office hours, and communicating regularly.
- Strong essays that demonstrate your individuality and indicate a passion for the profession.
- Research experience is helpful but volunteer experience is more important
Frequently Asked Questions
What does my GPA need to be?
It depends on the program; their website should have admissions statistics. That being said, anything less than a 3.0, particularly in pre-requisite classes, will make it difficult to find a school that will seriously consider your application.
What do my test scores need to be?
It depends on the program; their website should have admissions statistics. Most PA schools just require the GRE but some may accept the MCAT instead.
What classes count toward my science GPA?
Some programs ask for you to calculate your science GPA. Of course, general science courses like chemistry, physics, and biology are included in this as are most of your neuroscience classes. However, be sure to contact individual programs to confirm eligibility.
When should I take the MCAT/GRE?
Whichever exam you take should be completed at least 3 months before you apply.
What is the GRE like?
The GRE tests your verbal, quantitative and analytical writing abilities. See the ETS site for more information.
What is the new MCAT like?
The 2015 MCAT added a social and behavioral sciences section, Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior, which recognizes the importance of socio-cultural and behavioral determinants of health and health outcomes. There is also a new Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section. See the AAMC site for more information.
How do I shadow a PA? Is there some kind of program for which I can register?
Unfortunately, OSU does not have any set program for clinician shadowing. It is up to you to find a willing clinician. You can do so by contacting your own healthcare provider (such as your primary care physician) or a local clinic or hospital. It may be easier to find someone if you are already a volunteer at their place of work. See the AAMC guide for more information.
What do you mean by 'quality' volunteer experience?
Quality volunteer experience puts you into direct, personal contact with a variety of people. Not all of your volunteer experience needs to be strictly medical- for example, working at a homeless shelter where you interact daily with disadvantaged individuals would be far more valuable of an experience than directing visitors to different hospital departments. Click here for some additional ideas.
How many direct patient care hours do I need?
PA programs generally require extensive patient care experience prior to application but the exact number of hours varies by program. The average is about 1000 hours. Many students choose to accumulate hours by working as a nurse’s assistant (often called a patient care associate). These are paid positions in hospitals and other care facilities that usually require the completion of a training course and sometimes a state licensure exam. Other options include EMT, paramedic, military medic, phlebotomist, etc.
What kinds of extracurricular activities are best?
Anything that you are passionate about! Professional schools are interested in recruiting a diverse group of people with a variety of interests. OSU Medical School actually advertises the unique interests of their students- for example, their entering class of 2014 included a murder mystery play actress, Starbuck's barista, opera singer, and medieval combat re-enactor!
I'm not sure if neuroscience is the right major for me. Would it look bad if I majored in [any major]?
No. Professional schools generally do not care what your undergraduate major is. OSU Medical School's entering class of 2014 included students majoring in neuroscience, finance, theology, and history.
Which specialization is best for pre-PA?
It doesn't matter which specialization you choose- just pick the one that you like the best and that will inspire you to do well.
I have AP/EM/community college credit for [program prerequisite]. Is that ok?
Many professional programs prefer that their pre-requisite courses are completed at a 4-year institution. Additionally, by using AP credit rather than taking the course at the college level, you are removing a course that could potentially boost your science GPA. Thus, we generally advise students with AP credit to re-take the course. You may choose to contact the admissions offices of some schools to ask about their policy. Of course, credit for GE's like history is perfectly acceptable and it is unnecessary to re-take them.
Would it look bad if I took time off?
Absolutely not! Many professional schools look favorably on older applicants because they are generally more mature and have more extensive life and work experience. Furthermore, since PA programs require extensive patient care experience, it may be best to take at least a year off in order to accumulate an adequate number of hours.
I don't think I want to pursue a career in healthcare anymore. What else can I do?
A degree in neuroscience provides you with broad scientific literacy that will prepare you for a variety of careers. Visit our Careers page for a list of other options.