Should I Become a Pediatric Assistant?
Pediatric physician assistants (PAs) work in clinics, community health centers, and hospitals. Under the supervision of a pediatrician, these PAs provide care to children and adolescents. They interpret diagnostic tests, diagnose illnesses, conduct routine physical exams, and counsel patients and their families about treatment; they also write prescriptions in most states. A great deal of time spent standing is required.
Experience in healthcare is an important prerequisite to this career coupled with a bachelor's degree. Aspiring pediatric PAs undergo the same training as all other PAs, including completing a master's degree or equivalent PA program. These professionals must be licensed in every state and the District of Columbia.
|Degree Level||Master's degree or equivalent accredited PA program|
|Degree Field||Physician assistant|
|Licensure/Certification||Licensure is required by all states and the District of Columbia, which first requires passing a certification exam administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) and becoming certified|
|Experience||4.5 years of experience is required to gain admittance into a PA program|
|Key Skills||Attention to detail, ability to work on a team, compassion, knowledge of medical software, such as electronic medical record software and ChartWare; ability use the Internet; word processing and spreadsheet programs; ability to use medical tools and equipment, such as spirometers, catheters, surgical dissectors and forceps; appealing bedside manner, knowledge of medical terminology, ability to interact with children|
|Salary (2014)||$95,820 per year (Median salary for all physician assistants)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Association of Surgical Physician Assistants, O*NET OnLine.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
PA programs require applicants to have a bachelor's degree. While PA programs do not have specific required majors, they do have coursework requirements. Undergraduates should plan to take coursework in chemistry, anatomy and physiology, biology, calculus, physics, and psychology. It is also important to maintain a GPA above 3.0, because this is also a common admission requirement for PA programs.
- Get adequate preparation for a job in healthcare. All PA programs either require or prefer candidates to have work experience in healthcare. Taking required and elective healthcare courses helps college graduates qualify for positions in the field after graduation.
Step 2: Gain Experience Working in Healthcare
According to the American Association of Surgical Physician Assistants, successful applicants to PA programs have 4.5 years of prior healthcare experience (aaspa.com). PA programs want to ensure applicants have the experience necessary to know what is required for a career in healthcare. An applicant demonstrates his or her commitment to the profession by serving as nurse, nurse aide, paramedic, or in another similar healthcare role.
Step 3: Complete a PA Program
PA programs are housed in medical schools, community colleges, 4-year universities, and hospitals. The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) accredits PA programs. Choosing an accredited program helps to ensure graduates attain certification and licensure.
PA programs take two years to complete, but some programs take up to three. Students complete one year of didactic coursework followed by one year of clinical work. In-class work includes courses in basic sciences, diagnostic methods, patient assessment, pharmaceuticals, and behavior medicine. Clinical work involves preceptorships, which are clinical rotations in a healthcare center's emergency care, primary care, internal medicine, and surgery departments. Pediatrics is included as a rotation in many programs.
Step 4: Apply for Licensure
To become certified, graduates of PA programs must pass the Physician Assistant National Certification Exam (PANCE). The PANCE is a computer-based exam available at testing centers across the U.S. It is administered by the NCCPA. After passing the exam, graduates become certified and are eligible to apply for licensure. Most state licensure applications require a transcript from a PA program and a passing score on the PANCE.
Step 5: Complete Continuing Education to Maintain Certification
To maintain certification, PAs are required to pay a recertification fee to the NCCPA and submit documentation of 100 continuing medical education credits every two years. In addition, PAs must take a recertification exam every six years. Beginning in 2014, the NCCPA is transitioning to a 10-year recertification cycle.
Step 6: Join a Professional Organization
Organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Society for Physician Assistants in Pediatrics, offer membership to pediatric PAs. Benefits of membership include networking opportunities and updates on new developments in the field of pediatrics. Discounts on conference rates, industry books, and publications are also offered to members.