How to Become a Physician Assistant
Physician assistants often treat minor injuries, instruct and counsel patients, and order or carry out therapy.
Physician assistants typically need a master’s degree from an accredited educational program. Earning that degree usually takes at least 2 years of full-time postgraduate study. Most applicants to physician assistant education programs already have a bachelor’s degree and some healthcare-related work experience. All states require physician assistants to be licensed.
Most applicants to physician assistant education programs already have a bachelor’s degree and some healthcare-related work experience. While admissions requirements vary from program to program, most programs require two to four years of undergraduate coursework with a focus in science.
Many applicants already have experience as registered nurses or as EMTs and paramedics before they apply to a physician assistant program.
Physician assistant education programs usually take at least 2 years of full-time study. In 2012, the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. (ARC-PA) accredited 170 education programs. Most of these accredited programs offer a master’s degree.
Physician assistant education includes classroom and laboratory instruction in subjects such as pathology, human anatomy, physiology, clinical medicine, pharmacology, physical diagnosis, and medical ethics. The programs also include hundreds of hours of supervised clinical training in several areas, including family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine, and pediatrics.
Sometimes students serve in one or more of these areas under the supervision of a physician who is looking to hire a physician assistant. In this way, the rotation may lead to permanent employment.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
All states and the District of Columbia require physician assistants to be licensed. To become licensed, they must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). A physician assistant who passes the exam may use the credential “Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C).”
To keep their certification, physician assistants must complete 100 hours of continuing education every 2 years. Beginning in 2014, the recertification exam will be required every 10 years.
Communication skills. Physician assistants must explain complex medical issues in a way that patients can understand. They must also communicate with doctors and other healthcare workers to ensure that they provide the best possible patient care.
Compassion. Many physician assistants are drawn to the profession by a desire to help people. They should enjoy helping others.
Detail oriented. Physician assistants should be focused and observant to evaluate and treat patients properly.
Emotional stability. Physician assistants, particularly those working in surgery or emergency medicine, should be able to work well under pressure. They must remain calm in stressful situations in order to provide quality care.
Problem-solving skills. Physician assistants need to evaluate patients’ symptoms and administer the appropriate treatments. They must be diligent when investigating complicated medical issues so that they can determine the best course of treatment for each patient.
Some physician assistants pursue additional education in a specialty. Postgraduate educational programs are available in areas such as surgery, emergency medicine, and psychiatry. To enter one of these programs, a physician assistant must be a graduate of an accredited program and be certified by the NCCPA.
As they gain greater clinical knowledge and experience, physician assistants can earn new responsibilities and higher wages. For example, experienced physician assistants may supervise other staff and physician assistant students.