What type of clinical experience is best before applying to physician assistant school?

July 17, 2014

Gap Medics students get the chance to observe a surgical procedure inside the operating room. Although admission requirements may vary by school, many physician assistant programs require some medical experience before applying. For example, some schools require applicants to have completed at least 1000 hours of direct patient care experience. In general, most physician assistant programs require between 300 and 3000 hours of direct patient care experience.

Direct patient care experience involves delivery of healthcare to patients. An example of direct patient care is the work of an EMT. Indirect patient care does not involve any hands-on patient treatment. Indirect patient care may include working in dispatch or medical records.

If you are wondering what type of experience may be used and what is best, there are several factors to consider. In addition to your interests and goals, you should also consider the experience you will gain that may help you as a practicing physician assistant. For instance, clinical experience in which you will perform patient assessments, provide treatment and use clinical judgment may be the most helpful in preparing you for a career as a physician assistant. Consider some of the healthcare jobs below to meet the requirements for clinical experience.


Paramedics treat patients outside of a hospital setting and may perform a variety of treatments including airway management, administering medications and bandaging and treating wounds. Being a paramedic is great preparation for a career as a physician assistant. Paramedics perform patient assessments and use their clinical judgment when determining appropriate treatment.   

Licensed practical nurse

A licensed practical nurse (LPN) may not have the same training as a registered nurse, but the job can provide good experience for someone planning on becoming a physician assistant. An LPN may administer medication, change dressings, assess patients and check blood sugar levels. Working as an LPN provides direct patient care experience.

Respiratory therapist

A respiratory therapist is an excellent starting point for someone interested in becoming a physician assistant. A respiratory therapist assesses and develops treatment plans for patients with a variety of breathing conditions. Therapists work with equipment, such as ventilators, and may perform procedures like inserting a breathing tube into a person’s airway. Since respiratory therapists use clinical judgment to determine the best treatment, it provides excellent clinical experience for a future physician assistant.

Medical assistant

The duties of a medical assistant may vary depending on where they work. A large number of medical assistants work in doctors’ offices. A medical assistant often measures vital signs, takes patient histories, administers vaccinations and assists the physician with procedures. Medical assistants do provide direct patient care, but they do not provide treatments and use clinical judgment to the same extent as the other professions listed.

Lab technician

A lab technician may collect samples, such as blood, and analyze the samples using special equipment. Although you will have some interaction with patients, you will not be performing assessments or treating patients. It may not provide the same type of clinical experience as other jobs in healthcare, but it may still fulfill the requirements for admission into a PA program.