How to Become a Physician’s Assistant in 5 Steps

How to Become a Physician’s Assistant

Physician Assistants (PAs) work under physicians’ supervision and support frontline healthcare providers.

A candidate must complete a master’s degree in a Physician Assistant program and obtain clinical training.

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

Let’s look at the basics of becoming 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 perform many of the same functions as doctors but always under a physician’s supervision. They can examine patients, diagnose diseases, prescribe medicines, and even refer patients to specialists.

However, they must 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 an anesthesiologist, orthopedic physician’s assistant, pediatric physician’s assistant, surgical physician’s assistant, or radiology practitioner’s assistant, among other positions.

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. The PA is trained to examine, diagnose, and treat patients like a doctor.

However, they are required to do all this under the supervision of a certified physician only. While not doctors, physician assistants are highly respected healthcare professionals with a critical role in patient care.

As a physician assistant, your duties and scope of practice may vary depending on specialty, geographical location, and state regulations. For instance, a physician assistant works as a primary healthcare provider in rural or underserved areas.

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 the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the mean annual wage of a PA can be $130,490.

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

To become a certified physician assistant, you must earn a Master’s degree from an accredited program and obtain patient care experience.

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 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, your admission application will be considered 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. You will also need to maintain a minimum score of 300 on the GRE.

Master’s programs for physician assistants typically require around 100 credit hours and last about 27 months. A student usually takes around 15 weeks of instructional science courses on topics like clinical radiology, medical ethics, introduction to gynecology, and obstetrics.

The clinical training portion of a physician assistant program typically involves multiple rotations, each several weeks long, across various medical specialties 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 must 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, 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 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.

Certified physician assistants must recertify every ten years, which includes earning continuing medical education credits and passing a recertification exam.

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

Becoming a physician assistant requires less time in educational programs than becoming a physician, which requires medical school and residency. 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 duration may vary from state to state, but it generally 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.

Physician Assistant is your perfect career choice if you are eyeing a bright future.

4. Flexibility in Job

Doctors must pursue their duty with the skills they developed years before and 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 based on your skills if required. As soon as you obtain a license, you can pursue your job without limits.

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 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 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

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What is Medicare

Grants for Small Businesses in the US

Current Version
April 9, 2021
Written By
Shubham Grover
September 17, 2023
Updated By
Andrea Morales G.
April 28, 2024
Updated By
Andrea Morales G.

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