Surviving Your Physician Assistant Graduate Program

Interview with Whitney Kastelic Herter, Graduate Physician Assistant Studies Student, by Stephanie Small, June 13, 2012


A physician assistant is a healthcare professional eligible to practice medicine under the supervision of a licensed doctor. They are qualified to diagnose and treat patients, assist in surgery, conduct examinations and prescribe medications. Physician assistants are required to be licensed in all fifty states.

Physician Assistant Graduate Programs provide a thorough foundation in health care delivery, focusing on evidence-based medical education. Graduates are qualified to serve in a wide variety of settings, from hospitals to private practices, and the inner-city to under-served rural areas. The master’s level curriculum at physician assistant schools generally lasts two to three years and blends academic training with hands-on clinical experience at teaching hospitals.

Whitney Kastelic Herter is currently pursuing her master’s degree in physician assistant studies at Duke University. Here, she shares her experience obtaining this degree, and offers advice for prospective students.

advice for physician assistant students

GradSchools: In your opinion, who's an ideal candidate for a grad program in PA?

The ideal applicant is compassionate, hardworking, loves to be with people and is able to take care of their own health and wellness. He or she should also be willing to work as part of a health care team and ask questions when he or she is unsure. Applicants should be grounded, with good coping skills, a strong sense of altruism, and a passion for medical sciences.

GradSchools: What advice would you offer prospective physician assistant grad students?

Be patient with the process. All the work is worth it – you will be taking care of people's lives. Our profession is at a really interesting place right now; it is a great time to get involved and continue to help it grow. In terms of patients, it’s crucial to take time to sit down and listen to their needs. Keep your altruism, appreciate the practical skills you will learn, and enjoy the process of school because it goes really fast. The good news is you will be a lifelong learner.

GradSchools: What were the admissions requirements for your program?

While every program has different requirements, it’s always helpful to get a range for what some programs expect. Everything is of course subject to change.

GPA Standards:

  • Overall GPA: 3.3 – 3.7
  • Natural science GPA: 3.2 – 3.6
  • Total natural science credits: 46 – 68

GRE General Test Scores

  • Verbal: 487 – 572
  • Quantitative: 607 – 700
  • Analytical Writing: 4.0 – 4.5

GradSchools: What did your program entail in terms of number of years, coursework and internships?

Twenty four months of school – twelve months of didactic, classroom work and twelve months of clinical rotations.

GradSchools: What was the best thing about your program? What was the worst?

I feel incredibly lucky to be attending Duke – this is where the PA profession started. There are strong historical roots, and many resources that allow us to have some of the most expert lecturers and experiences. Seeing patients at Duke Hospital is an amazing clinical experience – Durham is called the city of medicine. I am grateful to have my career training at such an institution.

The issue with the Duke program is that during the first year, we spend nine hours a day in the in the classroom being lectured to on power points. In my opinion, this is not the most optimal way to learn and to teach.

GradSchools: Would you pursue this degree again? Why or why not?

I would pursue this degree again. I look forward to the opportunities I will have when I graduate and as my career continues. As I said above, this profession is in a really interesting place – I look forward to contributing to the progression of the profession and getting involved as much as possible. I think PAs are often the face of the doctor, or you could think of us as an "old school" doctor, since we get to spend time with the patients. This is why I chose to be a PA and I cannot wait to see how it manifests. And you can't beat getting a medical training in two years’ time!

fine physician assistant programs


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