How to Become a Physician Assistant (PA)
June 16, 2016
If you’re searching for how to become a physician assistant (PA) and the steps needed to maintain the licenses and certifications involved, look no further!
A career as a physician assistant (PA) offers competitive salaries, benefits, job availability, and satisfaction. Overall, PAs have a great outlook both for openings and rising salaries due to the current shortage of healthcare professionals.
As healthcare has improved over the past several decades, Americans are living longer and are requiring more care. With future advancements, the demand for skilled physician assistants will only continue to rise, as hospital and healthcare organizations raise salaries and increases benefit packages to attract new talent to their organizations.
If you’re serious about taking this career path, be sure to stay on top of how to become a physician assistant due to the changes that are sometimes made to the way these professionals are trained.
How to Become a Physician Assistant (PA):
Physician assistant is one of the fastest growing job opportunities in the nation. To enter into practice, a graduate from an accredited physician assistant program must also successfully complete a national certification exam and obtain a license in the state where they wish to practice.
Requirements for entry into PA programs may vary but, in general, requirements include a bachelor’s degree that encompasses a course of study in science and non-science prerequisites, with a minimum GPA of 3.3, health care experience and standardized exams to earn your license.
1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (4 Years)
The first step to becoming a physician assistant is to major in the physical sciences or a pre-med program at your school. Physician assistant programs can be highly competitive, so it can pay off well to hit the ground running and stay on top of your studies consistently.
The prerequisite required by physician assistant programs include chemistry, physiology, anatomy, microbiology, and biology courses.
A typical undergraduate semester may look like this:
|Grade Level||Example Courses|
In any or all of the science coursework undertaken, a laboratory experience may be included. The non-science courses, as those examples listed above, may vary from institution to institution but there will be a non-science component in any accredited program.
2. Complete an Accredited PA Program (2 Years)
The second step in becoming a physician assistant (PA) is to complete an accredited PA program. The Physician Assistant Education Association maintains an updated directory of admissions criteria for PA programs across the country. The Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) streamlines applications to multiple PA programs.
Most of the programs take about 26 months to complete. When you complete the program you will be rewarded with a master’s degree. During your time there you will receive classroom instruction and be involved in clinical rotation.
Classroom instruction consists of the following:
Along with your classroom instruction, you will complete more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations where you will learn about primary care in hospitals, physician offices, and long-term care facilities.
Your rotations might include:
3. Become a Certified Physician Assistant
After you graduate your PA Program you can take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).
If you pass the PANCE and maintain your certification, your title will be Physician Assistant-Certified or PA-C.
The exam contains the following:
|History Taking and Performing Physical Exams|
|Using Lab and Diagnostic Studies|
|Formulating Most Likely Diagnosis|
|Applying Basic Science Concepts|
4. Earn the Required License
Once you pass the PANCE and jump through all the hoops you can get licensed. You need to obtain your state license in order to practice. Check to see what is required of your state and apply with the licensing board.
5. Maintain Certification Through Continuing Education
To keep your national certification, you must complete 100 hours of continuing education courses every two years and take a recertification exam (Physician Assistant National Recertifying Exam, or PANRE) every 10 years.
The career path of a physician assistant is fairly straight-forward. Complete a bachelor’s degree in a physical science (biology, chemistry, physiology, etc.), then complete an accredited physician assistant program, earn your certification and license, then check with your state’s board to find out how many continuing education units (CEUs) you need on a yearly basis to ensure you license remains valid.
Stay on top of how to become a physician assistant because the requirements can change and vary from year to year. We will update this page in the future if any major changes are made to the way physician assistants are trained, certified, or licensed.