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How to Become a Physician Assistant

Majors Overview December 24, 2012

Surgeons and doctors rely on physician assistants to examine patients, analyze medical test results, and treat minor injuries under the supervision of the surgeons or doctors. Physician assistants are assigned other responsibilities such as the management of inventory, supervision of medical technicians and prescription of medication. An aspiring physician assistant has to adhere to a stringent process where they will have to undergo specialized training and satisfy licensure norms. The table below outlines the core requirements of a physician assistant.

Common Requirements
Degree Level Typically, a master degree is required
Degree Field Physician assistant
Licensing Students must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination, and a license is required in all states
Key Skills Emotionally stable, compassionate, and attentive to details
Computer Skills Video-conferencing and spreadsheet programs along with Chartware and electronic medical record software
Technical Skills Dexterity with medical devices, such as head or neck traction devices, central venous catheters, spirometers and surgical tools
Additional Skills Stamina is critical since physician assistants spend countless hours on their feet (Sources: O Net online; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

In this article, we will provide a step-by-step process where a prospective physician assistant can carve their career path.

Qualifying for a Physician Assistant Educational Program

The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) has approved formal educational courses that physician assistants must complete. To enroll to such programs, prospective physician assistants have to carry a bachelor degree; alternatively, they can add three years of experience in the healthcare industry — for instance, in emergency medical service or nursing. Admission prerequisites will differ according to the program and those wishing to enroll in such programs should contact the schools concerned for specific information.

Completion of an Accredited Course

Physician assistant programs are offered by colleges, healthcare centers and medical schools. Schools offer bachelor and associate degrees; however, a majority of physician assistant programs culminate in master degree program that take over a two-year duration. Coursework typically covers medical instruction via classroom lectures and practical work in the lab and clinic settings. The topics will include pharmacology, diagnostics, patient assessment, physiology and anatomy. In the final year, candidates can get on-the-job experience via supervised clinical rotations. Prospective physician assistants will benefit from learning techniques of stress management as they work in the high stress environment, whether relating to surgery or emergency treatment.

Satisfying Licensure Norms

Regardless of the state in which they are located and want to practice their profession, physician assistants have to satisfy licensure norms. They can obtain a license to practice by passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) and graduating from an ARC-PA accredited degree course. The PANCE is an exam with multiple choice questions covering surgical and medical fundamentals, and conducted by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Once they pass the exam, test takers are allowed to use the Physician Assistant – Certified (PA-C) designation. The license has to be renewed every two years; they should receive one hundred approved continuing medical education credits in order to maintain the credential. Additionally, every six years, they will have to take the Physician Assistant National Recertifying Exam.

Opting for Specialization

Physician assistants can opt for a specialized field to practice their profession. Such specialization can be in one of many areas such as pediatrics, urology, surgery, emergency care and internal medicine. Obtaining specialty certification from the NCCPA after completion of an accredited postgraduate program will help physician assistants become specialists. Additionally, they will need to earn PA-C certification and have experience of one to two years in assisting and specialty areas. Thereafter, eligible candidates will be allowed to take the exam. Renewal of certification by the physician assistant specialists must be completed every six years ensuring that they maintain PA-C certification simultaneously.

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