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Becoming an Orthopedic Physician Assistant

Majors Overview December 17, 2012

In this article, we will discuss the career prospects of an orthopedic physician assistant and show students what they need to do in order to launch themselves in a career as an orthopedic physician assistant.

Make sure you do not confuse the fields of physician assistants (PAs) and orthopedic physician assistants (OPAs). While orthopedic physicians rely on professionals for support, OPAs responsibilities are somewhat limited. Significant differences exist in the way the two professions are regulated, and the educational qualification needed to launch yourself on a career path in each field.

While physician assistants are required to attend physician assistant programs in order to obtain the knowledge necessary to embark on a career path in the field; orthopedic physician assistants can prepare by attending a physician assistant program or a nurse practitioner program as well as an OPA program. Only certain states have licensure norms for OPAs and most OPAs can practice without being restricted by any regulation.

The most common educational requirements are the completion of an OPA program or a course in related education. The degree specialization can be a nurse practitioner, primary care physician assistant or orthopedic physician assistant. The NBCOPA certifies OPAs who are required licensure in some states. Experience is required for certification(Source: the National Board for Certification of Orthopedic Physician Assistants (NBCOPA)).

The following is a step-by-step guide to becoming an orthopedic physician assistant:

Stage One: Completion of a Bachelor Degree

Earning a bachelor degree is required before an OPA can opt for a program to qualify for the national certification exam. A student who enrolls for a nurse practitioner program to qualify for the national certification exam will need a bachelor degree in nursing.

Coursework of such programs (which does not have any specific major) includes subjects like anatomy, physics, biology and chemistry. Students will benefit later in their career as an OPA by gaining hands-on experience while completing their bachelor degree. Work (including voluntary) experience in healthcare are required by most colleges before admitting a student to a graduate program. The requirements for admission can vary and it will be in the student’s interest to investigate the requirements for the particular course that they want to pursue. Four-and-a-half years of experience are required on average for application to a physician assistant program; the experience criterion can vary in respect of other programs.

Stage Two: Completion of a Graduate Program

Currently, while there are few Orthopedic Physician Assistant programs, none of the existing ones are accredited. The American Medical Association used to regulate and accredit orthopedic physician assistant programs; such accreditation was discontinued after 1974. Completion of a nurse practitioner program, primary care physician assistant program or orthopedic physician assistant program will be sufficient preparation to  launch a student on a career as an orthopedic physician assistant (source: the American Medical Association). Graduates in other types of programs will need experience in orthopedics in order to qualify for certification. It will benefit a prospective orthopedic physician assistant to become a member of the American Society of Orthopedic Physician Assistants (ASOPA) that will allow the student to avail a discount in the admission fees for the annual meeting of the ASOPA as well as on the certification examination fees and future re-certification credits, apart from access to industry updates and job listings.

Stage Three: Obtaining Certification for an OPA

Orthopedic physician assistants can obtain certification via the NBCOPA. Candidates can take the certification exam only if they have the requisite experience and the appropriate academic qualification. The certification exam can be taken at computer-based centers that include seventy-five questions and have to be answered within two hours. Specific conditions of the musculoskeletal system and relevant treatment options are covered on the exam. The exam features imaging studies, lab studies, orthopedic history, physical exam procedures, physiology and anatomy. Candidates can prepare for the exam by taking an online practice test offered by the NBCOPA.

Stage Four: Getting Licensure

Orthopedic physician assistants are required to complete licensure norms in some states that usually include a passing grade obtained in the exam ran by the NBCOPA and completion of an approved educational program. Additional experience requirements can be specified depending on the education program that is completed by the applicant. If you are an aspiring orthopedic physician assistant in a state that has licensing norms, find out what they are before deciding on practicing the profession there.

Stage Five: Meeting Continuing Education Needs and Maintaining Licensure

Orthopedic physician assistants need continuing medical education (CME) in order to maintain licensure. Every four years, they will need a minimum of 120 hours of CME credits. This will ensure their knowledge are expanded and updated on new medical procedures and techniques. A re-certification fee is payable to the NBCOPA by OPAs. In some states, orthopedic physician assistants are required to renew their license periodically, to accomplish this they need to pay a fee, submit proof of CME credits and satisfy evaluation process conducted by the licensing board.

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