A physician assistant is a very important member of the health care team. Physical Assistants (PA) include doctors, surgeons, nurses, and other medical professionals, who provide primary medical services to in and outpatients. Many of us incorrectly referPhysician Assistants as Physician’s assistant, a person who assists the doctor or surgeon in their duty. However, both are completely different, in terms of qualifications, experience, and services offered.
If you choose to become a Physician Assistant, know that you will be responsible for moving the hospital and clinics in the right direction effectively. This guide is for individuals who are interested in pursuing a career in medical discipline and want to know the steps to become a Physician Assistant.
What Exactly a Physician Assistant Does
The role of physician assistants is diverse. They provide varied services, such as perform examinations, order tests, diagnose injuries and diseases, review reports, prescribe medication, monitor progress, and provide treatment. In many hospitals, physician assistants are referred to as medical specialty, for he can be a family practice PA, a general surgery, or a cardiology PA. They play a crucial role in diagnosing and treating patients and may have a variety of skills. They are trained to work with patients of all ages, illnesses and diseases, and all walks of life.
Physician assistants are required to have the advanced educational qualification and intensive training in the medical environment. This is because, apart from diagnosing illnesses and prescribing medications, they have to also provide support during surgical procedures, create treatment plans, and work in a multi-specialty hospital.
Physician assistants need to have a certain number of hours of clinical rotation and experience in different medical and clinical settings.
You must obtain a state license after you graduate before you start practicing.
Before you choose this career, you must know what a PA does and what his job duties entail:
- Physician assistants work in hospitals and doctor’s offices in association with licensed
- They carry complicated and comprehensive physical examinations.
- Work with other teams of doctors to create treatment plans and care plans.
- Study and discriminate different signs and symptoms, analyze normal and abnormal patient findings, and recognize early stages of physical and mental health problems.
- Perform surgeries and procedures under the supervision of senior licensed professionals.
- Review report, prescribe medications, suggest further tests and scans, monitor in-patients, and develop future treatment plans.
- Record relevant patient information and communicate the same when and as needed by other doctors.
- Counsel and educate patients regarding medication, health maintenance, prevention, and future measures.
Difference between Physician Assistant and Doctor’s Assistant
A doctor’s or physician’s assistant is also referred to as a medical assistant. While a medical assistant does not have the authority to administer treatment or provide primary care independently, a physician assistant can work on a patient even if the licensed doctor is not present in the hospital premises.
A physician assistant diagnoses illnesses and injuries, while a medical assistant performs tasks, such as check vital signs, measure BP, or draw blood for tests. He/she may even administer drugs and other medications under direct supervision from a doctor. Medical assistants are not required to have formal training in patient care and treatment. They are neither required to own a license. They are usually provided on-the-job training. However, they should have basic knowledge about medical science, such as biology, chemistry, and zoology, and secure one – two years of the training program (if required by the employer).
Requirements to Become a Physician Assistant
To be a physician assistant, you must be as determined as individuals pursuing medicine. You must possess quick reflexes, know how to manage conflicts, have a sharp cognitive power, be sensible and empathetic, and know to handle difficult patients.
If you do not wish to become a doctor, yet want to be a part of the medical realm, becoming a physician assistant can be a lucrative career option. In fact, the demand for PAs are expected to increase in the next few years and therefore, the salaries will also remain competitive.
If you want to earn well, apply in outpatient care centers, general medical hospitals, and surgical hospitals. Most presume because of the word ‘assistant’ that PAs do not need a lot of education. However, that is completely incorrect. In fact, you must finish at least 5 years of rigorous education to become a PA. The requirement will vary depending on the state or country, and the specialty of the program you choose.
Steps to Become a Physician Assistant
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Medical Science
Though you can graduate and major in any area, a degree in health science will give you required guidance and knowledge to pursue higher studies or entry-level opportunities. Therefore, you must complete a 4-year UG degree in health science before applying for a PA degree program. You will have to look out for the following courses in your degree program:
- Medical Terminology
- Health Science and Ethics
- Quantitative Methods
Step 2: Earn a Master’s Degree
Although a master’s degree is not an obligation for PAs, some students go on to complete a 2-year master’s physician assistant program as it helps them to broaden their knowledge and gain experience. The programs include both classroom and clinical studies in subjects like medical law and ethics, anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathology, and clinical medicine.
Or you can go with the BA-PA, a rigorous physician assistant bachelor’s degree program that allows students to receive a bachelor’s degree as well as an undergraduate level PA certification. However, the course availability is subject to vary in each country.
Step 3: Complete a Physician Assistant Program
You must complete a physician assistant program to attain the mandatory 2000 clinical hours required for prospective PAs before entering the field. The number of clinical hours differs from state to state, however. In case your program does not offer the needed 2000 hours, you can enroll in a shadowing program or internship to fulfill the required clinical rotation hours.
Most physician assistant programs entail two to three years of rigorous classroom training and clinical instruction. Make sure that your physician assistant training program is accredited by the ARC-PA (Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant).
During your first year of program study, you will learn many things under medicine and medical province. Your syllabuses will focus on health information, medication, anatomy, and information about the healthcare industry.
Your courses will cover subjects like emergency medication and treatment, pharmacology, pathology, diagnosis techniques, reporting and analysis, and several other topics.
In the second year, you will learn and experience everything in detail, such as general surgery, medicines and behavior, gynecology, cardiology, and another specialty.
The PA program will comprehensively prepare you for the licensing examination.
General Admission Requirement for PA Program
- 3.0 GPA in previous studies
- Education in chemistry with lab, human anatomy or anatomy, and physiology, general biology with lab, microbiology with lab, biochemistry with lab, statistics, algebra, psychology, medical terminology, sociology, and The requirement varies from country to country
- Existing work experience in patient care. The best way to gain experience is by volunteering or working as CAN, EMT, CMA, medical technician, medical assistant, paramedics, or emergency room technician
- Shadowing of a physician assistant
- Some kind of community service
- Admission essay
- Personal interview
- Mark sheets
- Conduct certification
- Drug screening
- Background check
- Recommendation letters
- List of previous work experience related to medicine
Step 4: Pass the Physician Assistant National Examination
In the US, applicants must clear the PANCE (Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam) that is administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistant.
Only those who graduate from an ARC-PA accredited PA program are eligible to take the examination. To take the test, you have to apply for it well in advance by paying a fee of $500. You will be scheduled for the examination anytime within 180 days after the payment is made.
The exam is 5 hours long consisting of 300 multiple-choice questions. It will have 5 blocks of 60 questions each. You will also have a total of 45 minutes of break time during your testing. The test paper is formed to assess both your clinical and medical knowledge.
You will be eligible to take and clear the examination within 6 years of completing school. Moreover, you will get six attempts to clear this examination during the six years. If you fail to clear the test due to lack of years or over-attempts, you have to study an unbridged ARC-PA program all over again to gain eligibility.
Once you clear the examination, you can apply for a state license and practice as a physician assistant.
Step 5: Sign an Agreement with Physician
In addition to the PANCE examination, you must also hold an agreement with the supervising physician as required by the state for licensing. The agreement will be a valid contract between you (the assistant) and the supervisor (the licensed physician).
Step 6: Prepare for Additional Certifications
You can prepare for additional certifications to advance in your career. This you can do by specializing in fields, such as neurology, nutrition, ambulatory care, diabetic care, vascular health, orthopedic care, psychology, etc. You can look up the web, or consult a senior or career consultant to understand the complementing career paths you could choose in your state.
Step 7: Maintain Your Certification
Your career as a PA can take you to several paths, helping you to build a stronger career line in different paths. Some may require more training and experience but give you a higher income. However, the most obvious career path that most PAs consider is pursuing a doctorate and becoming licensed physicians themselves. You can also branch out your skill into a specific niche as mentioned earlier. The more experience you have the more opportunities will come your way. Vast experience speaks a lot in the medical realm.
To maintain certification, you must complete 100 hours of continuous work or education every two years. And, you must recertify every 10 years.
You have to take the Physician Assistant National Recertifying Exam (PANRE), either during the 10-year certification maintenance cycle or the last two years of the six-year certification maintenance cycle.
You can take practice exams in between to boost your knowledge and prepare for the PANRE. The National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) offers several practice exams for the PANRE with a fee.
Online Physician Assistant Programs
One of the best reasons for becoming physician assistants is getting your education online. Unlike licensed doctors, a licensed physician assistant can study their PA program online via an ARC-PA accredited online institution. In the US, many reputed online programs are available that help students prepare for this rewarding career. The courses are flexible and accommodating, and best suitable for working professionals and single parents.
Admission requirement, fee structure, and courseware will vary depending upon the fee structure. However, you must have at least a 2.75 GPA from your previous studies to become eligible for the program.
Alternative Careers to Physician Assistant
If you are not quite sure if this is what you want to be or if physician assistant job is right for you, but if you have the required qualifications, you can actually look at the career choices that have similar requirement and expectations.
Anything that involves medical science could be a career alternative for you, including pharmacy assistant, medical assistant, physical therapy, nutritionist, and physical trainer. Although these careers are more attractive as they can be entered with a two-year master degree alone, they do not pay as well as physician assistant jobs do.
Alternatively, you could also try to become a registered doctor, nurse practitioner, or registered nurse. These careers offer a similar professional level with higher pay.
If you complete the steps mentioned above, you can expect to earn a strong salary while enjoying a stable and in-demand profession. Becoming a physician assistant takes time, effort, and most importantly, dedication. So, you have to start early to recognize your interest and then work towards it.
If you have any other doubts, please free to ask below in the comments. Good luck!