What is a Physician’s Assistant?

Physician AssistantA physician's assistant is a medical professional who actively practices medicine by providing patient care under the supervision of a doctor or surgeon. With the increasing demand for quality health care in the United States, these state-licensed professionals play a vital role in the medical community's efforts to make health care readily accessible to those who seek it.

What Does a Physician's Assistant Do?

Physician's assistants work in doctor's offices, clinics, hospitals, nursing homes and other health care settings. They see patients and take on routine medical tasks like taking a patient's medical history, performing physical exams, ordering and interpreting lab work and medical tests, and advising patients about preventative care. Much like a regular doctor, they diagnose ailments and provide treatment, including the prescription of any appropriate medication. Some physician's assistants even assist in surgical procedures and make hospital rounds.

What Qualities Does a Physician's Assistant Need?

Physician's assistants need to be meticulous professionals who can collect and assemble the multitude of small details that form a patient's health situation. A gift for problem-solving is extremely useful in piecing together a patient's symptoms to make a diagnosis and then identifying the appropriate medical treatment. Physician's assistants also need strong communication skills so that they can effectively engage with both their patients and other medical professionals. In addition, they must be able to remain calm under pressure and approach their patients with compassion.

What Training Does a Physician's Assistant Have?

In order to become a physician's assistant, a person must successfully complete an accredited physician's assistant program. Typically resulting in a master's degree, these programs tend to require prerequisites similar to those demanded by medical schools. Applicants are also expected to have already obtained some health care experience; many candidates for physician's assistant programs are paramedics and registered nurses. Once in the program, participants study topics like medical ethics, human anatomy, pharmacology, physiology and medicine. They also devote hundreds of hours to clinical training. They generally choose to specialize in a particular area like internal medicine, pediatrics, emergency medicine, general surgery, or obstetrics and gynecology.

How Does a Physician's Assistant Become Licensed?

Physician's assistants are licensed by the state in which they practice. While the exact requirements for licensure may vary by state, all 50 states stipulate that aspiring physician's assistants must pass the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants' Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam. Passing this test is not the end of the certification process; however, physician assistants must maintain their certifications by completing at least 100 hours of continuing education every two years. They must also pass a recertification exam every 10 years.

What is the Job Outlook for Physician's Assistants?

With the nation's aging population creating an expanding need for health care, experts are predicting that qualified physician's assistants will enjoy fantastic professional prospects. According to the United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment opportunities for physician's assistants are expected to increase by nearly 40 percent in the decade between 2012 and 2022, a rate that is substantially faster than the average job growth rate. Salaries for physician's assistants are attractive as well. In 2012, physician's assistants earned a median annual wage of nearly $91,000; the top 10 percent enjoyed annual earnings in excess of $124,000.

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A physician's assistant is a licensed health care providers who delivers quality patient care as part of a team led by doctors or surgeons; working in hospitals, doctor's offices and other medical settings, these medical professionals play a major role in making health care accessible for patients.

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