Physician Assistant Program Curriculum

As you prepare to start a physician assistant (PA) degree, you may be wondering what the curriculum will entail. While specific subject matter will vary based on a program’s objectives and specialization, there is naturally a lot of subject matter that is crucial to a PA’s preparedness for entering the field. The curriculum information below is summarized from the accreditation standards of physician assistant programs from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for Physician Assistants, Inc. (ARC-PA).This guide will give you an idea as to what you can expect out of your PA program curriculum, although not an exhaustive list.

Alignment of Curriculum and Learning Objectives

Every physician assistant program has its own learning objectives, goals, and competencies. Whatever those may be, the curriculum must be consistent with them. Learning objectives and outcomes are required to be published as a condition of accreditation, so you will be clear on what those are. If your institution of choice has several locations or delivery formats, you can be assured that the curriculum will be the same throughout those locations.

Medical Sciences

Several areas of medical science will be a part of your physician assistant curriculum, including the application of these sciences in clinical practice. These sciences include:

  • Anatomy
  • Health and disease mechanisms (genetic and molecular)
  • Physiology and pathophysiology
  • Pharmacology and pharmacotherapeutics

Additionally, all organ systems will be covered in the curriculum

Social and Behavioral Sciences

A knowledge of social and behavioral sciences will help you better understand and serve your patients. Topics that will certainly be part of your curriculum include:

  • Human sexuality
  • Death and loss
  • Typical and atypical development
  • Patient response to stress, illness, and injury
  • Substance abuse
  • Identification and prevention of violence

Professional Skills

Working in healthcare requires the development of various professional skills, to help you in ways ranging from properly using research to elevate your practice to understanding the business side of healthcare (depending on your role this may be a large part of your job). PA curriculums are designed to develop your clinical reasoning and problem solving skills and will teach you how to frame research questions, how to interpret biostatistical methods, what sampling methods to use, what the limitations of medical research are, and how to access literature from common medical databases.

In terms of the business side of healthcare, your education will include information on:

  • Coding, billing, and documentation
  • Policy
  • Healthcare delivery systems

Patient Care

Your PA program’s curriculum will help you be the best caregiver possible to your patients. Training to consider ethnicity, disability status, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, and social determinants of health will help you provide the right sort of care to each patient and be sensitive to their unique needs. You will be taught how to take these factors into account when getting patients to adhere to treatment plans, modify behaviors, and develop coping mechanisms. Meeting the unique needs of patients also includes consideration of the patient lifespan, so you will be trained to treat patients of all life stages – from prenatal to end of life/palliative care.

You will also be taken through the process of patient care and management, including obtaining medical history, diagnosis, patient management and care plans, and educating and referring patients. You will learn how to provide acute, chronic, preventive, emergent, and rehabilitative care, as well as pre through post operative care and psychiatric care.

Finally, curriculums will include education on patient safety, quality improvement and medical error prevention, and risk management.


Learning to work with different kinds of healthcare professionals in order to maximize patient outcomes is a very important part of many kinds of healthcare degree curriculums these days, including for PA programs. Programs will teach you how to work better and more efficiently as a healthcare team and how to learn from the other professionals that you work with.

Public Health

Public health will also be a part of any accredited PA curriculum including disease prevention, population health maintenance, patient advocacy, and the public health system.

Professional Information

Any PA program must also educate you on the journey to becoming a licensed professional. This includes information on the history of the profession, laws that affect professional practice, how to become certified, how PAs relate to other members of the healthcare team, and professional organizations and policy within the field. Ethics must also be taught in addition to academic integrity, intellectual honesty, and professional conduct. You will be taught how to prevent impairment and burnout as they practice in the field.

Looking for information on curriculums for PA postgraduate programs? Check out our article on what to expect out of a postgraduate physician assistant program.