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Information about PA Programs in California

All of the PA programs in California are not created equally. In fact, you might just as likely say that not all of the PA programs anywhere are really created equally. That is why students who wish to become physician assistants have to make sure that they carefully research every program that they have their eyes on before they apply to it. For example, some PA programs feature a focus on surgery while others instead focus on primary care. However, a lot of PA programs, regardless of their focus, are going to be offering students associate’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees and graduate certifications. A lot of these programs can average approximately 2 years in length, yet some can even be a little bit longer.

Tuition is another factor to consider when evaluating the various PA programs in California. Tuition is not the same at these programs. For instance, the tuition at certain programs can cost students merely a few thousand dollars; however, at some other PA programs, the tuition may well be up to $20,000! Of course, the difference in pricing has a lot to do with the prestige of the program or school that students attend. Some PA programs can enjoy an affiliation with an actual med school, but others do not. Still other programs look with great favoritism on applicants from their home state, while other programs do not put that much weight on this factor. As a result, students are advised to scrutinize each program and school very carefully before they waste or squander their valuable time in applying to a program that in the end might turn out not to be consistent with their aims.


Prior to applying to any PA programs in California, students must first check out the programs’ accreditation status. This is because it is more desirable to be accepted into a PA program that possesses accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. If students should somehow graduate from a PA program that does not enjoy this all-valued accreditation, they are not going to be eligible to, unfortunately, take the national certifying exam for physician assistants. This national certifying exam is administered through the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. In turn, students who do not have a certification as a result of passing this exam are not going to be eligible to obtain state licensing and, thus, are not going to be capable of working in the vast majority of places.

Program Focus

A lot of the admissions committees of the various PA programs in California choose applicants based upon a review of different criteria. Some of these criteria are test scores, academics, familiarity with the PA concept and profession, experience in the healthcare field, volunteer work, interviews, community service, the essay of the applicant and the professional or personal references. Other PA programs in California specifically disclose a certain focus for their selections as part of their criteria. This means that they specifically will select those applicants who have focused on a particular area such as surgery, primary care or in-state residency.

Things to Consider

For some physician assistants, it is enough to be prepared by a good PA program to pass the national boards, which will then allow them to legitimately work as a physician assistant. Still, the quality of each PA program might be a decisive factor in students’ decisions to apply to one program over another. For instance, some programs might teach its students anatomy by using actual cadavers while other programs just use plastic models. Some programs are connected to med schools, but others are just associated with a 4-year college or even just a community college.

Bachelor’s Degree or Master’s Degree?

In the past, it actually did not matter whether students got a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree, yet this is changing in recent years. The trend is headed more towards the master’s degree level. As an example of this exact trend, consider the following stats: In 1997, only less than 8 percent of all physician assistant grads had gotten a master’s degree from their respective PA programs. However, only 11 years later in 2008, the number of physician assistant grads that had obtained a master’s degree from their respective programs was a staggering 43 percent! Having a master’s degree comes in handy a lot if students have aspirations beyond just being a mere physician assistant. For example, if they later on want to start teaching or become a member of a faculty, they will most definitively require a master’s degree.

Pass-Fail Rates

Students who are applying to different PA programs in California should ask about the exact first-time pass-fail rates on the national boards of said PA programs. It is important that students inquire about and get answers to only the FIRST-TIME pass-fail rates since some programs may be evasive and only provide the overall pass-fail rates of their graduates. This stat will be useless because at some point, a good number of graduates will end up passing the boards if they try enough. It is also imperative that students obtain answers pertaining only to the first-time pass-fail rates because it will give them a reliable idea of how well a given program actually prepares its graduates. Since students who fail the boards during their first time suffer a lower probability of passing the boards on successive tries, a PA program with a bad first-time pass-fail rate should be avoided.

In conclusion, the PA programs in California are quite varied. Students who want to be prospective physician assistants now know that they have to look at a lot of factors before deciding on the PA program of their choice. Some factors include the cost, the location and whether the program allows them to get a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree. Thus, students who want to become physician assistants should not rush their decision when deciding on a PA program, but evaluate it carefully.

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