An aerial view of intersecting political, socioeconomic and medical realities converging in the United States in the last century would have revealed a situation characterized by the following: increased life-expectancies, expanded medical benefits, an influx of patients into the medical system and fewer physicians to do the job. From insurers, to patients to experts in the field; all forces convened in the vortex and demanded the medical field solve the disparity in supply and demand: There simply were not enough primary care physicians to go around.
Unmistakingly, the time had come for the creation and emergence of a new breed of medical professional; someone who could seemingly do it all; employ at a cost-effective rate as well as present as a hybrid of specialized nursing expertise married to the wisdom and capabilities of a medical doctor. Lest no one be dismayed--the Physician Assistant had been born.
According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), a PA is;
A physician assistant (or PA) is a nationally certified and state-licensed medical professional. PAs practice medicine on healthcare teams with physicians and other providers. They practice and prescribe medication in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the majority of the U.S. territories and the uniformed services.
As a specialist in one of the most exciting job fields available to medically-minded individuals today, a Physician Assistant is someone who had been employed in a medical field for 2-4 years and subsequently decided to take their healthcare expertise to a new level. A PA has been trained both academically and clinically to handle medical issues in various settings and environments in preparation for their duties which include: examining patients, ordering tests, assisting in surgeries and prescribing medications.
“Most students have a bachelor’s degree and about three years of healthcare experience before entering a program.” The American Academy of Physician Assistants
Medical Experience: Most, if not all degree-granting programs require the applicant to have 2-4 years of “hands-on” experience in a health related field. PA programs require this experience in order to graduate well-rounded individuals who are able to approach the practice of medicine from a diversified knowledge-base. The following jobs exemplify what is acceptable for meeting the requirement:
Undergraduate Units, Bachelor’s Degree or Both:
Bachelor’s Degree: Many PA programs require an applicant to have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Although a particular major course of study is not requisite, the student will need to have completed a group of core classes much like those taken for a pre-med major. At institutions offering a Physician Assistant Bachelor’s Degree, it is possible to achieve advanced standing with regards to the actual PA degree program.
Undergraduate Units: Colleges which do not require a bachelor’s degree for admission typically require 2 years of courses in classes comprising a pre-med class standing. The following are examples:
Please note, some PA programs do not accept units that were taken on a pass/fail basis.
3. GRE/MCAT: Depending upon the PA program, an applicant may be required to take the GRE or MCAT exams.
4. Become Familiar with CAPSA:
The Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CAPSA) is a service used by PA programs and is an important tool for the PA applicant. Instead of applying to each PA program individually, one application is submitted to CAPSA which will subsequently cover applicant requirements for 90% of the accredited programs.
5. The PA Acceptance Process is Competitive: The AAPA warns prospective students of the marked competition involved in being accepted into a PA program. They suggest honing in on potential programs as an undergraduate (or while taking your pre-med classes) and to begin the networking process with those PA programs to which you aspire. Although it may sound premature, finding the program that suits your needs will be a challenging and lengthy process; the earlier you engage yourself, the greater your chances of being accepted into a program of your choosing.
The Physician Assistant Degree
As of September of 2015, the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) had accredited 222 United States PA programs.
The PA degree is a master’s degree graduate program which upon successful completion allows the graduate to apply for both state licensure and national certification. Examples of conferred degrees are:
Individuals graduating with a PA degree have been prepared by both academically as well as clinically. For example, a PA program might require 40 units of rigorous academic study and 40 units of supervised clinical training.
Academic Education: Abbreviated examples of the courses you might take as part of a PA program are:
Human Anatomy: A wide-ranging survey course which teaches students to be skilled at identifying anatomical structures, understand their arrangements and structural relationships as well correlate clinical problems.
The Profession--An Introduction to PA: This class focuses on the US healthcare system: its delivery and the role of the PA. Also examined are: the legal aspect of federal health programs; health initiatives; reimbursement policies and practices; quantitative risk assessment and management; as well as other roles of the PA in coordinating with team members.
Clinical Medicine: Students are introduced to the study of disease processes, diagnosis in the primary care setting and the integration of anatomical, physiological, pathological, pharmacological and microbiological factors.
Pharmacology: Students learn how drugs are delivered to and eliminated from the body; toxicity and interactions of medicines as well as decision making skills.
Emergency Medicine: The course covers all aspects of critical life-saving measures brought on by sudden illness, disease or accident.
Clinical Training: In order to graduate, the PA candidate will complete over 2,000 hours of clinical rotations in the fields of:
Once you have been granted a degree from an accredited PA program, you will be eligible to apply for certification from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Certification requires sitting for and passing the Physician Assistant National Certification Exam or PANCE. Once you have passed the exam and are certified by the NCCPA you will be able to represent yourself as a PA-C or Physician Assistant Certified.
While each state determines the requirements for PA licensure, all states do require a degree from an accredited PA program and national certification. Be sure to review the particular license requirements of your state.
In its 2016 “Smarter College Guide” Forbes Magazine ranked the PA degree #1 as the “Best Master’s Degree for Jobs.” With employment opportunities expected to grow at 38% by 2022 (according to the US Dept of Labor), Forbes made a good choice. Their rare ranking in front of graduate degrees in computer science, divulged that the average mid-career PA-C can expect to earn just under $100,000, depending on location. The 38% in job growth before 2022 (compared to the average 11% in job growth) translates into 33,300 new jobs between 2012-2022.
|State||Annual median wage|
|District of Columbia||96430|
|(2) Annual wages have been calculated by multiplying the hourly mean wage by 2080 hours.|