Physician Assistant Program Healthcare Experience Requirements

As you prepare to apply to physician assistant school, it is important to consider the fact that many physician assistant programs may prefer or even require that applicants have had some amount of experience working or volunteering in a healthcare setting. The type of work that qualifies may be broad and will vary by program – examples ranging from emergency medical technician (EMT) to Peace Corps volunteer are listed by the American Academy of Physician Assistants

Last Updated: 5/26/2021

Some schools may recommend or require thousands of hours of experience – since your list of schools you wish to apply to may change over time, you may want to consider getting in a number of hours that meets the steepest of requirements, so that you don’t fall short.

The Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) has a list of requirements by program so that you can get an idea of what experience you need as you prepare to apply. Keep in mind that hours requirements are subject to change in the future. As requirements change, the program itself may be first to have that information, so always double check with the universities you are applying to to make sure you have the latest information on requirements.

What Kind Experience Might Qualify as Healthcare Experience?

Qualifying healthcare experiences for your physician assistant school application may vary by program. Programs may or may not be specific about kinds of positions that qualify. Here are some examples given by the PAEA and what you need to do to qualify for those roles:

Certified Nursing Assistant

Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) work under the supervision of either a registered nurse or a licensed practical nurse, offering basic care to patients. Requirements to become a CNA vary by state but often an education program approved by the state and competency exam are required.

Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and Paramedic

EMTs go to the site of emergencies to perform medical services and get patients to hospitals or other appropriate facilities. All states require that EMTs be licensed but requirements for licensure vary by state. A postsecondary program may take less than a year or as long as two years. Sometimes, a high school diploma and or CPR certification may be required in order to enter an EMT program.

Paramedics are EMT certified and take additional training at a university and community college that may result in an associates or bachelors degree. This additional training allows for an expanded role that may include tasks such as administering IVs or stitching wounds.


Phlebotomists draw patients’ blood in a variety of healthcare settings for a variety of reasons – from testing to research to donation. Usually, to become a phlebotomist you complete a non degree program that takes under a year to complete and leads to a certification.

Registered Nurse (RN)

To practice as a nurse at the RN level, you need a diploma from a nursing program, an associate’s degree, or a bachelor’s degree. However, many hospitals and other workplaces may only hire those with a bachelor’s degree. Certification in your state is required to practice.

Peace Corps Volunteer

Volunteering in the Peace Corps may qualify as healthcare experience, depending on the experience and depending on the program. You can learn how to apply to the Peace Corps on their website.

Hospital Corpsman

A hospital corpsman assists in providing medical services for the United States Navy. You may be assigned anywhere from an aircraft carrier to a treatment facility anywhere in the world. You may be an emergency first responder, an analyst of lab samples, or do a variety of other tasks to keep the men and women in our navy healthy. A high school diploma is required.

Surgical Technologist

A surgical tech helps surgeons during operations. To become a surgical tech one needs an associates or other postsecondary certificate or diploma. Programs may take up to two years to complete.

Medical Assistant

Medical assistants work in healthcare facilities and hospitals, completing clinical and administrative tasks. Sometimes, all that is needed to become a medical assistant is a high school degree. Other jobs may require a certificate.


These are just some of the many healthcare experiences that may qualify for your application. If you are thinking of choosing another path, do your research and make sure it will qualify at many of the schools you want to apply to.


Does My Healthcare Experience Need to Be Paid?

Whether or not you need paid healthcare experience depends on the program, if the program requires experience at all. Some programs may take either volunteer or paid experience. Other programs may only take specific kinds of experience. The earlier you can get a sense of what you might need for the programs you may want to apply to, the better you can prepare yourself to meet more schools’ requirements.

How Much Healthcare Experience Do I Need to Apply to Physician Assistant School?

This also depends! Some programs may not look at healthcare experience or may only “recommend” it. Even if experience is not required, having experience may help round out your application, particularly if you are less competitive in other areas. Some programs may require two thousand hours of paid experience or more. Some may require just a few dozen hours.