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Becoming a Pediatric Assistant

Majors Overview December 11, 2012

Pre-requisites of a Pediatric Assistant

Hospitals, health centers and clinics are the most common workplaces for pediatric physician assistants (PAs). Adolescents and children receive pediatric care from pediatric physician assistants who work under the supervising eye of a pediatric physician. Their job responsibilities include counseling patients and patients’ families, conducting routine physical examinations, diagnosing illnesses, and interpreting diagnostic tests. In the majority of states, physician assistants are allowed to write prescriptions. They are given similar training as other PAs; this includes completion of an undergraduate degree program apart from a PA program and on-the-job experience. Every state and the District of Columbia have licensure norms in place for PAs.

The most common educational requirement is a master degree (physician assistant specialization); alternatively, prospective physician assistants could complete an accredited physician assistant program of equivalent value. As stated, every state and the District of Columbia have licensure norms in place for physician assistants to qualify for such licensure; physician assistants must take the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA)’s administered exam. Admission to a physician assistant program requires four-and-a-half years of experience. Prospective physician assistants are required to show compassion and attention to detail, and must be team players. They must have the ability to use medical software such as Chartware and electronic medical record software; they must be adept at using the internet, and have substantial knowledge of spreadsheet programs and word processing. They must be adept at using medical equipment and tools such as forceps, surgical dissectors, catheters and spirometers. Importantly, they must be able to interact well with children, have a fascinating bedside manner and understand medical terminology (sources: O NET OnLine, American Association of Surgical Physician Assistants, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

The following is a step-by-step guide to becoming a pediatric assistant:

Stage One: Completing a Bachelor Degree Program

Completion of a bachelor degree is a common requirement for admission to a physician assistant program. Coursework generally includes subjects such as psychology, physics, calculus, biology, physiology, anatomy, and chemistry. Maintaining a GPA above 3.0 is mandatory for admission. Admission criteria to physician assistant programs usually call for previous experience in healthcare. Elective and mandatory healthcare coursework are devised to equip graduates for the position.

Stage Two: Gaining Hands-on Experience in Healthcare

For successful application to a physician assistant program, a candidate must have four in a half years of experience in healthcare (source: American Association of Surgical Physician Assistants (aaspa.com)). In order to be able to demonstrate that they have the experience required for admission to a physician assistant program, a potential candidate can first serve in a healthcare function such as paramedic, nurse assistant or nurse.

Stage Three: Completion of a PA Program

Hospitals, 4-year colleges, community colleges and medical schools offer PA programs. Physician assistant programs are accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA), choosing these programs will help graduates meet licensure and certification requirements. Physician assistant programs can range from two to three years. A year of didactic work is succeeded by another year of clinical work. Class assignments include coursework on subjects such as behavior medicine and pharmaceuticals, patient assessment, diagnostic methods, and basic sciences. Clinical work includes rotations (called preceptorships) in the surgery, internal medicine, primary care and emergency care departments of a healthcare center. Rotations in different physician assistant programs include pediatrics.

Stage Four: Licensure Application

Passing the Physician Assistant National Certification Exam (PANCE) is required before applying for licensure. This is a computer based exam run by the NCCPA that students can take at various centers across the country. A passing score on the PANCE accompanied by a transcript from a physician assistant program is a common requirement for licensure in many states.

Stage Five: Maintaining Certification Through Continuing Education

Certification can be renewed every two years by submitting documentation relating to one hundred continuing medical education credits; additionally, a re-certification fee has to be paid to the NCCPA. In addition, every six years, physician assistants are required to complete a re-certification exam. The NCCPA will transition to a ten-year re-certification cycle with implementation in 2014. Membership to the Society for Physician Assistants in Pediatrics and the American Academy of Pediatrics among other professional organizations will benefit PAs who can get updated information about new developments in the field apart from opportunities to network. They can get discounts on industry publications and books as well as on conference rates.

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