How Long is PA School? A Complete Overview

Physician assistants (PAs) play a crucial role in the healthcare system by supporting doctors in diagnosing and treating patients. Their medical training equips them to conduct physical exams, order tests, assist in surgery and prescribe medication.

PA school provides aspiring PAs with the advanced medical knowledge needed for certification and practice But how long exactly does it take to complete PA training?

In this article, we’ll give a complete overview of the PA school timeline – from start to finish. We’ll cover:

  • Prerequisites
  • PA program length
  • Clinical rotations
  • Licensing exam


The first step is completing prerequisite courses for PA school admission. Prereqs typically include classes like:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Microbiology

You’ll usually complete these science-heavy prerequisites during a 4-year bachelor’s degree Some common undergraduate majors for aspiring PAs are biology, health science, and exercise science

Besides hard science classes, PA programs also want applicants to have healthcare experience like EMT work, medical assisting or nursing aide. Gaining this hands-on patient care helps strengthen your application.

So in total, you can expect to spend around 4-5 years on undergrad prerequisites and healthcare experience before applying to PA programs.

PA Program Length

The next step is the PA program itself. Most are around 24-27 months long or about 2 to 2.5 years.

PA curriculums are intensive and include coursework like:

  • Advanced anatomy and physiology
  • Clinical medicine
  • Medical ethics
  • Pharmacology

Programs also integrate supervised clinical experience through rotations in various medical specialities. Students get hands-on practice conducting patient exams, developing treatment plans, writing prescriptions, assisting in surgery, and presenting cases.

The first year of PA school focuses on classroom learning. The second year shifts to clinical rotations and preparing for the national licensing exam.

Clinical Rotations

Clinical rotations allow PA students to apply their knowledge by working directly with patients. Programs require rotations in core areas like family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, OB/GYN, emergency medicine and surgery.

The length of rotations varies by program but is generally around 5-6 weeks per specialty. Students can also complete elective rotations in their desired practice area like sports medicine, geriatrics or psychiatry.

In total, PA students complete at least 2,000 hours of supervised clinical rotations. This hands-on training is key preparation for professional practice after graduation.

Licensing Exam

After finishing PA school, graduates must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) to become certified. The PANCE is a 5-hour, computerized test with 300 multiple choice questions on medical knowledge and patient treatment.

To be eligible for the PANCE, students must graduate from an accredited PA program. The exam can be taken no sooner than 7 days after completing school.

Passing this rigorous test is required for state licensure across the country. It’s a vital final milestone on the path to becoming a practicing PA. Failing candidates must wait at least 90 days before retaking.

Total Timeline

So what’s the total timeline for becoming a certified PA?

You can expect the full journey to take 7-8 years including:

  • 4 years for undergrad prerequisites
  • 2-2.5 years for a PA degree
  • 1 year for healthcare experience

This extended timeline reflects the demanding medical training PAs must complete before they can start diagnosing and treating patients. It’s a major time commitment but opens doors to an advanced and rewarding healthcare career.

Understanding the multi-year roadmap ahead is important for prospective PAs. Being prepared for the intensive education empowers students to become fully licensed and make a difference in patients’ lives.

how long is pa school

How Long Does It Take To Become a Physician Assistant? | The Posh PA

How long does it take to become a PA?

You can expect to spend four years in your undergraduate program, one year gaining healthcare experience and two years completing a PA program. The path to becoming a PA may take longer if you spend more time gaining experience between undergrad and grad school or if you need extra time to study for and pass the PANCE.

How long does PA school last?

While PA school lasts 2-3 years, the overall timeline is closer to 7 or 8 years. That’s if you’re including undergraduate college education, healthcare experience, and taking some time to apply to PA school. So realistically, you’ll be about a decade out of high school before you finish PA school and potentially start working as a PA.

How long does a physician assistant school last?

Depending on the school, physician assistant school usually lasts between 2 and 3 years. Sometimes they state it in months, so that’s somewhere between 24 and 36 months . For example, when I attended PA school it was 28 months long. We started in July of 2011, and finished at the end of October, 2013.

How many hours does it take to go to PA school?

While the exact number of hours varies from school to school, the more high-quality experience you have working directly with patients, the stronger your application to PA school will be. Most successful applicants to PA school have more than 1,000 hours of HCE or PCE.

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