How to Become a Physician’s Assistant in 5 Steps

How to Become a Physician’s Assistant

Physicians supervise physician’s Assistants (PA) and provide support to the front-line healthcare providers.

A candidate needs to get advanced education and extensive training in a medical environment.

Candidates have to undergo hours of coursework and clinical training to be able to assist physicians during surgical procedures, create treatment plans and work in a fast-paced environment.

Let’s take a closer look at the basics of how to become a physician’s assistant.

What Does a Physician’s Assistant Do

A physician assistant is part of a team of healthcare professionals who work under the supervision of physicians to provide frontline medical care.

Physician assistants work more or less like doctors. They are capable of examining patients, diagnosing diseases, prescribing medicines and even referring patients to specialists.

However, they have to do all this under a certified physician’s supervision.

A physician assistant may be trained to assist in specific surgical or medical procedures.

For instance, a PA can train to be an assistant to the anesthesiologist, orthopedic physician’s assistant, pediatric physician’s assistant, surgical physician’s assistant or radiology practitioner’s assistant, among others.

Irrespective of their specialization, a PA is responsible for meeting with patients, communicating important healthcare information, and making critical decisions about the patient’s health management plan.

Why Should You Become a Physician’s Assistant

A physician assistant trains and works alongside doctors, therapists and nurses. Just like a doctor, the PA is trained to examine, diagnose and treat patients.

However, they are required to do all this under the supervision of a certified physician only. This means that physician assistants are practically doctors and have significant respect in society.

As a physician assistant, your duties may vary according to specialty, service area and state. For instance, in rural or underserved areas, a physician assistant works as a primary healthcare provider.

In such a setting, the PA is certified to examine patients, prescribe medicines, set broken bones, etc.

In contrast, you may even have to handle very specific roles, such as helping to close incisions post-surgery or providing vaccines to pediatric patients.

This means that a physician assistant’s work is versatile; therefore, you don’t get stuck in a monotonous routine.

Additionally, the average salary for physician assistants in the US is significant. According to statistics by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a PA can earn as much as US$ 126,010 per year.

A physician assistant working in educational services tends to earn slightly less, while a PA working with outpatients can earn more annually.

Although these figures may vary slightly from state to state, the profession remains immensely lucrative and advancing.

How to Become a Physician’s Assistant

You will need to achieve a Master’s degree and get patient care experience to become a certified physician assistant.

After getting the master’s degree, you will have to pass the PANCE (Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination) and meet any additional state-centric requirements that are needed to earn the license and practice.

The infographic below explains step-by-step guidance for becoming a physician’s assistant.

How to become a Physician’s Assistant - infographic - infographic

How to Become a Physician’s Assistant – infographic

Let’s take a closer look at the steps you need to take to become a certified physician assistant in the US:

1 – Earn a bachelor’s degree

You will first need to earn a bachelor’s degree to get admission into a graduate program. Several graduate schools accept aspiring students if they have a bachelor’s degree in any subject.

However, if you earn a bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject, such as nursing or healthcare, then your admission application will be looked upon favorably.

2 – Earn a master’s degree

A bachelor’s degree is essential for aspiring PAs to get admission into an ARC-PA-accredited physician assistant master of science in medicine program.

You should have an average GPA of 3.25 at least and a minimum 3.25 GPA score in science subjects. Additionally, you will also need to maintain a minimum score of 300 on the GRE.

The master’s degree normally requires 147 credit hours and is seven semesters long. Usually, it takes a student around 15 weeks of instructional science courses on topics like clinical radiology, medical ethics, introduction to gynecology and obstetrics.

Once done with this coursework, you must undergo a six-week clinical rotation for hands-on experience in family medicine, behavioral/mental health, pediatrics and general surgery.

3 – Pass the PANCE

Once you graduate from an ARC-PA-accredited physician assistant master’s program, you will be required to take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE).

This exam tests your knowledge of organ systems, diseases, disorders and their diagnosis. This exam has over 95% medical content.

Regulations allow a candidate to make a maximum of six attempts to pass the PANCE. Once you certify for this, you should secure a state license to practice.

License criteria for physician assistants vary from state to state. Hence, it is highly recommended that you contact your state’s licensing board for specific criteria and information.

4 – Choose additional certification or board certification

After you earn your PA license, you should also earn specialty or board certification. This is great for improving your skills and knowledge and progress toward a fruitful career.

You can choose to specialize in almost any medical field, including thoracic surgery, pediatrics, hospital medicine, orthopedic surgery or psychiatry.

You will need to possess licensure and specialty experience to earn specialty certification. Besides, you will also need to fulfill any educational requirements and must pass a specialty exam.

5 – Maintain certification

After earning specialty certification, you must maintain it by earning at least 100 continuing education credits every 2 years.

After 10 years of being specialty certified, you must re-appear for the PANCE test.

If you fail to pass the PANCE the first time, you can try a maximum of three times to maintain your specialty certification.

What Makes Physician Assistant Career So Attractive

1. Quick License

Physician assistants have to spend less time in classrooms than physicians or doctors. One can become a licensed physician assistant by completing a four-year degree course followed by the Physician Assistant Program.

The Physician Assistant Program’s period may vary from state to state. Generally, the program takes up to 25 months.

Since there is no major salary gap between Physicians and Physician Assistants, one should prefer to choose the Physician Assistant program as it can be completed in less time and gives you a good salary.

2. Continued Growth

If we compare the previous year’s salary data, the Physician Assistant’s salary has continued to grow throughout the year.

The need for physician assistants will increase with new opportunities and high demand. There is no downfall regarding the future of the Physician Assistant.

3. Earns Good

Physician Assistants get paid well compared to other professionals in the medical field. A Physician Assistant can earn between $36,500 and $175,000 depending on their specialization. If they are from the highest-earning specialization, then the average salary of physician assistants will be higher.

If you are eyeing a bright future, then Physician Assistant is your perfect career choice.

4. Flexibility in Job

Doctors must pursue their duty with the skills they developed years before. They have to stick to it. However, things are different for physician assistants. Since physician assistants have to look after several other tasks, they have flexibility in work, unlike physicians and doctors.

You can even switch to a different specialization if required as per your skills. There are no bounds for you to pursue your job as soon as you have obtained a license.

5. Less Working Hours

Physician Assistant’s working hours are different from doctors’. Usually, the average working hours of PAs are lesser than those of doctors.

They can change their working hours shifts as per their needs. On the other hand, doctors and physicians can’t do it more frequently.

These are some of the reasons that clear your doubts about selecting the Physician Assistant Program as your career. If we compare the benefits of PAs with doctors, then PAs have a better life and better earning capabilities than doctors or physicians.


A physician assistant is enormously important in the state and federal healthcare system.

The PA is extremely helpful in relieving the workload of doctors, physicians, surgeons and other specialists.

Apart from excellent pay, a profession as a physician assistant also commands respect in social circles.

See Also

How to Become a Physician

How to Register for NRMP?

Does Medicare Cover Hearing Aids?

What is Medicare? Medicare Parts A, B, C and D

Grants for Small Businesses in the US

Current Version
April 9, 2021
Written By
Shubham Grover
September 17, 2023
Updated By
Andrea Morales G.

Follow us