What is Involved With a Physician Assistant Program?

A career as a physician assistant is an excellent choice for people who want to work in health care but are not interested in medical school. The work of the physician assistant is complex and challenging. Accordingly, it is vital that anyone wishing to enter this career obtains an education from an accredited institution. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 30 percent growth in physician assistant positions, it seems clear that demand for qualified individuals will remain strong.

Basic Requirements for Admission to an Accredited Program

Most entry level physician assistant positions require a master’s degree. Specific requirements to enter an accredited master’s degree program vary, though a few reasonable generalizations can be drawn. Before being admitted, the student must complete a bachelor’s degree. Many physician assistant degree programs do not require completion of a specified four year program. Nonetheless, they may require certain amounts of credit hours in pertinent coursework. Common prerequisites include biology, chemistry and anatomy. Obtaining a four year science degree can be a tremendous advantage when it comes to applying for competitive master’s degree programs. Nonetheless, even a bachelor’s degree in a liberal arts subject may be accepted as long as the program candidate also completes extra science and mathematics related courses.

Experience in Health Care

Many master’s degree programs also require candidates to have spent at least one year working in the health care field before being admitted. Preference is often shown to those with considerable hands on patient experience. Master’s degree program administrators will consider the type of work performed, the setting, the number of hours worked and the level of supervision under which the candidate worked. People who have worked as EMTs, nurses, medical assistants or phlebotomists would all be considered eligible candidates.

Other Requirements

Most programs will ask candidates for references. These are from either a professional or academic source, and can be particularly helpful if the connection is through the health care field. Candidates are usually also required to complete the Graduate Record Exam before applying for a program.

Degree Coursework

Most physician assistant master’s degree programs require two years of full time study to complete. Often, the experience is broken up into one year of academic study and a second year of clinical experience. During the academic year, students will be introduced to subjects like physical diagnosis, ethics, genetics and physiology.

The clinical year provides students with valuable hands on experience. Programs often allow students to rotate through several weeks each of specialized practice areas. These concentrations may include emergency medicine, general surgery and pediatrics. Many programs require students to complete certain primary care rotations. Students may then complete elective rotations that allow them to explore even more areas of specialization. It is during this year that many students decide the overall course their career will take.

A Promising Future

A physician assistant master’s degree program provides rigorous training that is consistently challenging. Being accepted into an accredited program is a highly competitive process, but high rates of job satisfaction, good salaries and job security make the endeavor worthwhile.

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