Undergrad Courses to take for Canadian PA Admissions

Every Canadian Physician Assistant program has different admission requirements to secure a spot at their school. Some schools have required coursework, while others have recommended coursework or no pre-requisite courses at all.

Mandatory vs. Recommended Courses for PA School

Are there Mandatory Pre-Requisites courses to get into PA School?

University of Manitoba Master of PA Studies

PA Consortium and McMaster University DO NOT have mandatory course requirements to apply to their programs. 

Are there recommended courses to get into PA school?

PA Consortium (University of Toronto, Michener Institute and Northern Ontario School of Medicine)

  • One full year course, or two semesters worth is RECOMMENDED (not required) to be completed in:

    • Human Anatomy

    • Chemistry

    • Physiology

  • PA Consortium also lists a few other Preferred Admission Criteria (e.g. current resident off Ontario, have been a resident as an adult in a northern or rural community, and more)

McMaster University DOES NOT list any recommended courses to take for applying to PA school. 

Why are these courses mandatory or recommended?

I can’t speak personally as to why PA program admissions at Manitoba and PA Consortium have opted to include those courses as mandatory / or ‘preferred’, however Taking Anatomy, Physiology and Chemistry/Biochemistry provide a good foundation going into your first didactic year in PA school.

Anatomy and physiology as a background is helpful when learning about the medical foundations, different body systems, pathophysiology, understanding symptoms, clinical reasoning, and rationale for different treatment modalities.

Biochemistry is the “study of chemical processes within living organisms”. It is relevant to the study of medicine, as the human body functions as a result of complex biochemical processes.

This is helpful during your unit on immunology, endocrinology, infectious disease, gastroenterology, the coagulation cascade.. and more. The treatment of many conditions relies on an understanding of the biochemical processes that take place in human physiology.

You DO learn anatomy, physiology and biochemistry in PA school, but it certainly helps to have the background going in.

Students who do not have this background may have a bigger learning curve and require a bit of extra studying, but at the end of the day we all write (and pass!) the PA certification exam.

Picking an Undergraduate Major

There is no undergraduate “major” you must have in order to get into PA school. You can do any undergraduate degree – Bachelor of Sciences, Health Sciences, social work, humanities, arts, music, etc.

You can easily take the mandatory or recommended courses when you have space in your semester to take elective courses.

Remember, as long as you meet the admission requirements, it does not matter what major you come from.

We did a recent poll to determine what undergraduate degrees Pre-PAs possessed in our Canadian Pre-PA Student Networking group on facebook!

Deciding what courses to take

Deciding what courses to take is a combination of:

  • Completing course requirements in order to earn your degree, and/or complete a minor

  • Taking a balance of ‘difficult’ and ‘easier’ in order to maintain a good GPA

  • Learning subjects that are personally interesting to you

  • Completing courses to fulfill admission requirements for professional programs you are interested (e.g. medicine, dentistry, physiotherapy, PA, etc.)

  • Courses that will help prepare you for program admissions tests (e.g. MCAT for medical school, DAT for dentistry school, PCAT for pharmacy, etc.). Remember that PA programs in Canada do not require writing the GRE or MCAT – so there are no preparatory courses you have to take for that.

Tip: If the school(s) you are considering do not list any courses as mandatory or recommended, do not feel compelled to take it – especially if you are concerned it will bring down your GPA.

A Note on GPA

I have taken challenging courses in the summer, where I had no other coursework to compete for my time in order to focus on getting a good grade. This strategy paid off for me and as a result these ‘harder’ courses for me helped improve my cumulative GPA.

You should always be working towards achieving the best GPA you can in all of your courses – regardless of which ones you choose to take.