How to Become a Physician Assistant

Physician assistants care for patients in many different settings in healthcare. They are employed in doctor’s offices, clinics, hospitals, and other settings where they assess, diagnose, and prescribe treatments for their patients. An integral part of the interdisciplinary healthcare team, they work closely with physicians in all areas of medicine including primary care and surgery. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median salary for physician assistants in 2016 was just over $100,000. There were, 94,400 PA jobs and the profession is expected to add 28,700 more PA positions between 2014 and 2024. As the Baby Boomer generation ages and requires more care, there will be an increasing need for providers to care for them. Physician assistants are perfect for this role – they increase patients’ access to healthcare by providing care under the supervision of a physician.

What are the steps to becoming a physician assistant?

In order to become a physician assistant, you must graduate from an accredited physician assistant program. Research online which program is right for you. You must have a strong clinical background – several years of experience as a nurse, medic, or emergency medical technician (among others) will prepare you well for the program. Following successful completion of the PA program, you will sit for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam. Passing the PANCE will qualify you to obtain state licensure, which is required to practice as a physician assistant. In order to maintain your certification, you will have to complete 100 hours of continuing education every two years. Every ten years, you will have to take the PANRE or the Physician Assistant National Recertifying Exam.

What are the requirements for a physician assistant program?

In order to matriculate into a physician assistant program, you must first know they are highly competitive. Be sure to carefully research requirements for the PA program you would like to attend. In general, the prerequisites are focused on the life sciences – biology, anatomy, physiology, microbiology, and chemistry. Additionally, several thousand hours (or roughly three years) of patient care experience are required to apply to a PA program. Applicable experience includes time spent as a nurse, paramedic, EMT, medical assistant, emergency room tech, surgical tech, medical corpsman, or certified nursing assistant. Reach out to your preferred PA program if you have questions about your healthcare experience. A bachelor’s degree and at least three years of experience will make you the most competitive for acceptance into a physician assistant program, per the American Academy of Physician Assistants website.

What is involved in a physician assistant program?

The physician assistant program is generally a master’s degree program and lasts 3 academic years. Didactic coursework includes science courses and courses in physical diagnosis, pathophysiology, laboratory science, behavioral science, and medical ethics. Additionally, you will gain valuable clinical experience during 2000+ clinical hours in hospitals, ambulatory clinics, and physician offices. You may have the opportunity to complete these rotations in internal medicine, OB/GYN, pediatrics, family medicine, psychiatry, and emergency medicine settings. Be sure to maintain close contact with your preceptors and clinical instructors in all your clinical settings – these relationships will be crucial to getting hired in your dream position!

Why should you consider a career as a physician assistant?

If you are a paramedic, registered nurse, or have some other healthcare experience and a bachelor’s degree and are looking to advance your career, consider becoming a physician assistant! The profession is expected to see higher than average growth in the next ten years. Research the scope of practice in your state to determine the physician assistant’s scope of practice and physician collaboration requirements. Regardless, as a physician assistant, you will have a meaningful impact on the lives of the patients for whom you care. Plus, with median salaries hitting six figures, a career as a physician assistant is sure to be a rewarding one both professionally and financially!

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