How Do You Become a Physician’s Assistant?

Physician's AssistantSince it’s currently considered one of the top jobs in healthcare, you may be wanting to learn how to become a physician’s assistant. Physician assistants work with doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to provide important medical care. They have a wide scope of practice and can provide many of the same type of services that a physician can. Read on if you would like to learn more about the path you can take to become a physician assistant (PA).

Prerequisites and Preparation

The American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) recommends that you begin looking into PA programs as early as your first year of college. PA programs are akin to pre-med studies, so generally you need to have a minimum of two years of college before you can apply. In addition to prerequisite coursework in a number of subjects, including, but not limited to, anatomy, biology and chemistry, some PA programs may also require that you have some actual experience in working with patients in some healthcare setting. This might include work as an EMT, paramedic, lab assistant, medial corpsman, RN, nursing assistant or a variety of other healthcare jobs.

Studies and Certification

It’s important that you find an accredited physician assistant program in which to study. You can find a complete listing of programs that are accredited at the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc (ARC-PA). You will be taking classes and doing clinical work for about three years, at the completion of which you’ll receive a master’s degree. The program is rigorous, including classes in a diverse range of subjects such as biochemistry, medical ethics, pharmacology, anatomy and physical diagnosis. You’ll also do about 2000 hours of clinical work to give you the experience of working in primary care. PAs work in all sorts of settings that doctors work in, including clinics, offices and long-term care homes.

Graduating from an accredited program is not your last step. You will also need to get your certification. All certified PAs must take and pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE). Once you have done that, you will be able to become certified within your particular state. Every state requires that you graduate from an accredited school and also pass the national exam, but the actual licensing requirements may vary from state to state, so you will need to find out what they are and follow them carefully. Some of the processes can be very thorough, so it’s a good idea to read your state’s application all the way through to figure out what information you might need to gather or obtain. For instance, you might need to gather recommendation letters or fingerprint records. Keeping your certification current will require ongoing continuing education and a re-taking of the national exam every decade.

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Although the process is rigorous, the rewards of physician assistant work can be great, both from a practical standpoint of helping to diagnose and treat patients, and from a financial standpoint, according to the American Academy of Physician’s Assistants. Job outlook for PAs is strong, and salaries are on the rise. If you’re looking into the healthcare profession, it’s a good time to consider how to become a physician’s assistant.