Physician assistants are healthcare professionals who provide services to patients under the supervision of physicians and surgeons. The healthcare industry continues to grow as more people are in need of healthcare services. This has led to overcrowding of healthcare infrastructure. Physician assistants are able to attend to patients in need of urgent care or routine preventive care.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for physician assistants is expected to grow at 38% from 2012-2022. CNN Money has also ranked this occupation among the best jobs in America.
How to Become a Physician Assistant?
To enter this rapidly-growing profession, you will need to have at least a master’s degree in the field. This is a graduate level program that typically takes two years to complete. You will also need to get a license in your state to practice as a physician assistant. The requirements for licensing may vary from state to state. There are many accredited colleges offering physician assistant programs at associate, bachelor, and master level. Make sure you select a physician assistant degree that has been accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc.
Physician Assistant Associate Degree
Undergraduate physician assistant programs such as the associate degree is designed to equip students with fundamental knowledge needed for the career. The program emphasizes upon patient-centered medical care. Students will undergo a comprehensive study of wellness and disease prevention, pathophysiology, epidemiology, and psychological medical conditions.
The coursework can be divided into classroom learning, clinical learning, and research. Students will build a strong theoretical foundation of knowledge and acquire familiarity with medical terminology through classroom learning. The clinical phase will focus upon skill development and exposure to healthcare settings. Students will be trained under the supervision of physicians and nurses. This phase of the physician associate program will highlight areas such as the following:
Provision of Emergency Medicine
Please remember that the curriculum may vary from school to school. Only a limited number of schools are offering this program.
Bachelor’s Degree in Physician Assistant
Similar to the associate degree, a bachelor’s degree in physician assistant is another program that falls under the category of physician assistant undergraduate programs. This program takes around 4 years to complete. The program aims to equip students with fundamental skill, knowledge of primary care, and therapeutic patient care.
During the first year of the program, students will spend time covering general areas of study and broadening their knowledge of basic sciences, mathematics, and even liberal arts. It is important to have a basic understanding of general areas of study before beginning advanced medical classes. Further in the program, students will take part in training sessions and clinical rotations. This section of the program is dedicated to skill development and allowing students to learn through practical application of medical knowledge. The curriculum will generally cover courses such as the following:
Human anatomy and physiology
In this course, students will gain in-depth knowledge of the human body and its functions. Students will study muscular, skeletal, and reproductive systems.
This course will cover the biology of microorganisms and viruses. Students will get an overview of how microorganisms affect the human system.
Professionalism and ethics in physician assistant practice
The course will cover the ethics and standards of practice of the physician assistant profession. Students will discuss and learn about the theories of ethics and issues encountered in the field.
Community and public health
In this course, students will address issues in public health and social service. Some important topics covered in the course include: disease prevention, maintenance of health, family planning and public health needs.
This course will cover routine procedures performed by physician assistants. Students will learn how to provide primary care services to patients, diagnose common medical conditions, provide emergency medication, and more.
Master’s Degree in Physician Assistant
This is a graduate level physician’s assistant degree. The program focuses on advanced learning and clinical rotations. Students will study a wide variety of subjects that will help build a strong theoretical base. The program will enable students to perform advanced medical procedures and acquire hands on experience through training. Many institutes offering the program are affiliated with hospitals and clinics where students participate in real-world clinical training and practice physical diagnosis. The curriculum will typically include courses such as the following:
Students will complete rotations in family medicine, mental health, womens health, surgery, and emergency medicine. The curriculum will vary from college to college.
Physician Assistant Certificate Program
This is a short career-oriented course that is designed to prepare students for the occupation, or help working physician assistants update their skills. The program can take anywhere from 6-12 months to complete, depending upon the school offering the program. The coursework will entail related subjects that highlight all facets of the field.
Online physician assistant programs are offered by a number of colleges. If you can’t study on-campus due to work or other commitments, you can opt for distance learning instead. This mode of learning offers flexibility and convenience. The coursework of physician assistant programs online is covered through videos and online lectures. You may have to take a few classes at the campus for practical training and hands on experience. You can study according to your pace and availability of time.
The admission criteria will vary from college to college. Applicants must provide a high school diploma, an official transcript of a bachelor’s degree (for graduate programs), and letters of recommendation. It is advisable to have satisfactory scores in science related high school subjects. Many schools base their admissions on entry tests and GPA.
Licensing and Certification
To work as a certified physician assistant in any state, you will need a license and a certification. You must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) to become certified. This exam is administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).
As a certified physician assistant, you can work in offices of physicians, hospitals, clinics, and outpatient care centers. Your income potential will depend upon the employer organization and your qualifications. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, physician assistants made a median annual income of $90,930 in 2012.