Becoming a physician’s assistant(PA) can be one of the best ways to start your medical career. Just like an MD, they diagnose and treat patients, but unlike an MD, they don’t prescribe medication or perform surgery. We’ve created this guide to show you everything you need to know about the training required and the skills acquired for this profession.
How to Become a Physician’s Assistant?
If you’re motivated by working alongside physicians in a clinical environment while also learning hands-on skills for assisting them in caregiving, then becoming a physician assistant may be right up your alley! Aspiring PAs act as primary healthcare providers under the supervision of doctors including making diagnoses and prescribing treatments.
Becoming a physician assistant requires a strong commitment to studying. The educational requirements for this position are similar to those of most doctors in the US; US students need to have completed at least 60 semester units of coursework (90 quarter units) in order to apply for a Physician Assistant program, and there are typically two steps involved in their application process. Both steps require completing coursework in anatomy, physiology, biological science, chemistry and psychology. Completing the necessary academic requirements will also position you well for taking the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).
Education to Become a PA
Two-year bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry or health professions-related field. Applicants should have extensive knowledge of anatomy, physiology and pharmacology.
Possible career paths for PA
The main focus of physician assistant practice. It is the most common PA role and involves evaluating, diagnosing and treating patients at their work site by providing a full range of medical care not limited to emergency medicine tasks such as emergency room visits. Certified nurse practitioner (CNP)- provides healthcare services to patients according to their personal needs with the supervision and control of a physician. They can work in the hospital setting and under the direct supervision of a physician.
Mental or behavioral health provider (MMHP)
It provides mental health services to patients who require treatment for mental or behavioral health disorders. These include psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, psychiatric social workers, psychiatric nurse specialists and licensed professional counselors.
Step 1: Complete a 2-year degree from an accredited Physician Assistant program located within US borders.
Step 2: Complete a one-year residency in the US supervised by a state approved physician; this is required to practice as a PA independently in most areas across the US. Residencies are available at hospitals, clinics and workplaces nationwide. This varies slightly across state lines.
Step 3: Take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). This test is developed and administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBCME) and is given every two years. The test only covers medical knowledge, not clinical skills. Passing the NCLEX will achieve certification as a Certified medical Assistant/CMA/CMA-CP or Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN). These are then permitted to practice independently across their state lines.
Step 4: Doctor of Medical Science (DMS) or Master’s degree in PA studies.
Many states require physician assistants to be licensed and registered with a professional board. Graduates of accredited Physician Assistant programs are eligible to sit for their state’s licensure examination, the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants’ (NCCPA) Certification Exam, or the American Association of Physician Assistant’s (AAPA) Certification Examinations. Competency as a physician assistant is also gauged by meeting established criteria such as U.S. residency, passing examinations by a credentialing organization, documentation of practice experience, and completion of continuing education requirements.
The typical starting salary for new graduates ranges from $50,000 to $60,000 per year. However, the national average for a capitalization allowance is only about $14,000. Given that PAs can work for lower wages than their physician-supervisor colleagues (medical doctors), it’s typically more cost-effective to become a PA than MDs. And if you’re qualified for insurance reimbursement and your employer offers benefits, being a physician assistant could even save you money in the long run!
However, state laws vary when it comes to whether physician assistants can practice independently or not. Currently, there are 26 states that require physician assistants to work under a licensed doctor’s supervision. The rest of the states permit PAs to practice independently without supervision.
There are also two types of physicians assistants: Those who have met all state requirements (they may either be licensed or certified) and those who meet requirements in only some states (they may be licensed but may not be certified). And then there are those who have met neither state requirements (they may be certified but not licensed).
Employment for physician assistants is anticipated to grow faster than the average for all occupations. The U.S. Department of Labor projects that employment opportunities for physician assistants will increase by 38 percent from 2008 to 2018; it is much faster than the average rate of growth. As the population ages and healthcare costs continue to rise, demand is expected to increase as well.
PAs help reduce costs by lowering overall practitioner expenses and freeing up doctors to work on more complicated cases. The increased use of PAs in hospitals could also reduce admissions due to their ability to provide care in nonemergency situations that a doctor may not have time or expertise for.