How to become a Physician’s Assistant?
Physician’s Assistants (PA) are supervised by physicians 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, creating 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 works 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 to meet with patients, communicate important healthcare information and make 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 provide 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$ 108,600 per year. A physician assistant working in educational services tends to earn slightly less, around US$ 102,870 annually while a PA working with outpatients can earn as much as US$ 115,600 annually. Although these figures may vary slightly from state to state the professional 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.
Let’s take a closer look at the steps you need to take to become a certified physician assistant in the US:
1 – Earn 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 for a relevant subject, such as nursing or healthcare, then your admission application will be looked upon favorably.
2 – Earn 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 course work, you will need to 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 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 to improve your skills and knowledge and to progress towards 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 will also need to maintain it by earning a minimum of 100 continuing education credits every 2 years. After 10 years of being specialty certified, you will need to re-appear for the PANCE test. If you are unsuccessful in passing the PANCE the first time, you can try a maximum of three times to maintain your specialty certification.
The infographic below explains step by step guidance for becoming a physician’s assistant.
A physician assistant plays an enormously important role in the state and federal healthcare system. The PA is extremely helpful to relieve 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 too.