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Shadowing requirements for PA school

November 6, 2020

Before you can apply to physician assistant school, there are several requirements pre-PAs have to fulfill if they want to be a competitive applicant.

According to the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA), there were over 25,000 applicants to PA schools in the U.S. from 2016 to 2017. However, less than a third of those applicants matriculated.

All physician assistant schools recommend or even require shadowing hours before you can apply. This is to ensure that you understand what kind of work and lifestyle you are committing to. Observing a day in the life of a physician can help you decide if PA school is right for you.

But as there are many qualifications, you may be asking: what are the shadowing requirements for PA school?

While each physician assistant program is unique, we have identified the types of healthcare and patient care experience that most pre-PA students need to get into school.

We want to help you succeed on your path to physician assistant. At Global Pre-Meds, we provide doctor shadowing and global health experience for high school, university, or gap year students.

If you are interested in medicine or becoming a physician assistant, we can help you gain valuable experience on hospital frontlines.

What counts as shadowing hours for PA school?

There are different ways you can get your doctor or physician assistant shadowing hours.

According to the Central Application for Physician Assistants, pre-PA students can divide their experience into two categories – healthcare experience and patient care experience.

Shadowing hours fall under healthcare experience because they are usually more focused on observational learning, rather than direct patient care. It’s important for most programs that you have both types of experiences before you submit an application. 

You can shadow a physician, rather than a PA, for at least some of those hours. Although it is usually a good idea to spend a day or two shadowing a PA just to get a better understanding of the differences. 

At Global Pre-Meds we cater to students who are interested in becoming a nurse, doctor, midwife, or physician assistant. Our doctor shadowing and global health programs are curated to fit your needs and interests in healthcare. If there is a certain specialty you are interested in, we match you with peers and mentors so that you can shadow the types of cases that will teach you the most.

Our programs put you on the frontlines of international hospitals and clinics, with mentors to guide you every step of the way.

How many hours of shadowing are required?

Every university or physician assistant program has prerequisites, so it’s important that you check with the ones you are interested in. Shadowing hours – even when not required – are usually recommended by all programs. 

According to the PAEA report from 2019-2020, students who were accepted to PA school had an average of 94 hours of healthcare shadowing experience.

Our Global Pre-Meds program in the Dominican Republic guarantees a minimum of 40 hours of shadowing on hospital frontlines. You shadow a medical doctor, building a relationship with that mentor for two weeks, and then you receive a personal letter of recommendation that speaks to your future as a healthcare professional.

Make sure to record the date, name of the doctor or physician you shadowed, and number of hours you spent shadowing them. Additionally, it can be helpful to make notes of the cases you observe and any medical knowledge you gain. 

If you are going to shadow for PA school, you should shadow a physician assistant for at least some of the hours you are required to complete.

Remember that PA schools ask for healthcare experience and patient care experience, and you can’t double dip! Hours can only count for one of the categories on your application. 

How do I find shadowing opportunities for PA school?

You should always start with people you know. If you know someone who is a doctor or physician assistant, you can ask to shadow them. Be prepared to be flexible and accommodate their schedule.

Physician assistants can be in so many specialties, so it’s a good idea to diversify your shadowing experience. In most cases, if a physician can specialize in it, then so can a physician assistant. Try to find opportunities where you can observe a variety of medical procedures and cases. 

It can sometimes be difficult to find shadowing opportunities locally. Some hospitals and clinics are eliminating shadowing due to HIPAA violations. This is a good reminder that when you look for shadowing opportunities, you want to make sure you are following all safety and ethical guidelines, especially those set by the AAMC.

We can help you with a stand out experience abroad. Not only will you be getting shadowing hours to complete your minimum, but you’ll be observing cases many physician assistants don’t get to see because they are unique to that country. 

In our Tanzania program, you will see three levels of healthcare, exploring how culture impacts medicine. You will start in a rural community observing a traditional healer in their village. Then you will move on to a smaller clinic, before following your mentor to a larger general hospital. This global health perspective will give you an edge over the other applicants to physician assistant school

We also make the process easy for you – all you have to do is apply. We find mentors and partnering hospitals that will create an incredible learning experience for you. We help you prepare for your departure, and as soon as you step off the plane we’ve got everything under control. Check out our program dates and apply now!