Extracurricular Preparation Overview

Preparation for PA school involves engaging in experiences that develop and demonstrate skills in communication, leadership, community service, research, and familiarity with the profession. What you do with your time helps define who you are on your application. PA schools will learn what you care about and who you are through experiences that align with your interests and goals. Keep in mind that activities complement your coursework, but will not compensate for low grades. Both are important!

  • Keep a detailed record of all hours and experiences — document contact information and reflections on each activity.  Most students track hours and experiences on an Excel spreadsheet. 
  • All activities should be completed during your undergraduate study.
  • Try to complete activities consistently throughout the school year.
  • Be intentional and deliberate in planning your experiences, so you are prepared to apply when the time comes.

Shadowing Hours

Shadowing hours should be one of your first experiences as a pre-PA student. Observing physician assistants in action will help you gather the information you need to commit to the profession fully. Shadowing requires professional dress and conduct.

Competitive applicants shadow at least 2-3 different PAs and accumulate 100 hours of shadowing

Community Service

Because you are preparing for a humanitarian profession, it is important to have volunteer experiences that demonstrate a consistent and long-term commitment to serving others in your community. Look for service opportunities with an underserved population, in your community, on campus, or in a humanitarian setting. Volunteer activities need not be medically related but should be meaningful to you.  Quality of the experience is more important than quantity.

Competitive applicants complete at least 3 different experiences and gain 200-300 hours of volunteer experience during their undergraduate study—this is in addition to any church service.

Leadership Experience

As a physician assistant, you will be a leader in many ways. Professional schools admit students who have experience making and recognizing the consequences of their decisions. Leadership involves teamwork and builds solid communication skills. Examples of leadership could be mentoring, tutoring, society presidencies, student government, in a job, coaching, or church callings.

Competitive applicants complete 2-3 different experiences and gain 100-200 hours.  At least half of your hours need to be non-church related.

Research Experience

PA schools desire applicants who understand scientific literature, know how research is performed and can distinguish credible research.  Any research, as long as it hypothesis-based and utilizes the scientific method can build your experience.  As you do research, make sure you understand the hypothesis, the procedure, and your responsibility in the project. You can participate in research on campus through faculty-directed work, Idaho INBRE, the UC-Davis internship, or other research internships nationwide.

Although not required for PA school, research experience makes you a more competitive applicant.

Clinical Experience/Direct Patient Care

Interacting well with patients is one of the key indicators of a successful future provider. PA programs vary widely on their requirements for clinical experience hours.  Some PA programs require up to 2,000 hours of direct patient care.  Paid work as a scribe, CNA, medical assistant, EMT, respiratory therapist, or another setting where you are assisting patients can be counted as clinical experience.  Although you can gain some clinical experience as a volunteer, paid clinical experience makes you more competitive. It is highly recommended that you check individual school requirements.

Competitive applicants will have 1,000-2,000+ of clinical experience.  


While PA schools do not have requirements for hobbies, they are interested in well-rounded students who know how to balance work with recreation. Hobbies and interests can make your application unique to you. 


To be competitive, you should strive to meet the requirements in each individual area. One activity should not be counted in two areas. This is called “double-dipping,” and makes it appear you are not taking the time to develop yourself fully. While an activity may be both volunteer and leadership, or volunteer and patient exposure, you will list the experience as a single experience on your application—recognizing there may be overlap in some experiences.

Helpful Websites and Resources