Physician's Assistant Training Programs and Requirements

A physician's assistant, or PA, is a certified health care professional who provides diagnostic, therapeutic and preventive healthcare services under the supervision of a medical doctor. Some positions only require a bachelor's degree in the field, but most physician's assistants complete a master's degree program. Physician assistant programs provide classroom and hands-on education.

Essential Information

Physician's assistants must be licensed, which requires completing an approved physician assistant program. While some physician assistants meet licensure standards with a certificate, associate degree or bachelor's degree, most training programs for physician assistants are at the master's degree level. Physician assistants might have previous medical experience as nurses, paramedics or EMTs.

  • Program Levels in Physician Assistant Studies: Bachelor's degree, master's degree
  • Prerequisites: Bachelor's degree and appropriate science classes required to enter master's program
  • Program Specializations: Pediatrics, gynecology, obstetrics, and more
  • Program Length: Two years for master's degree
  • Other Requirements: Supervised clinical experience

Bachelor of Science in Physician Assistant Studies

The Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Physician Assistant Studies is a 4-year, undergraduate degree program designed to introduce students to basic physician assistant skills. Universities often offer the physician assistant bachelor's degree program through the school of pharmacy. Courses often include:

  • Pharmacology
  • Human anatomy
  • Health ethics law

Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies

A Master of Science (M.S.) in Physician Assistant Studies, a 2-year graduate-level program, is the most common form for a physician assistant studies program. Students entering a master's program with a bachelor's degree in a field unrelated to health may be required to complete prerequisite courses in microbiology and biochemistry. Master's-level courses include:

  • Diagnostic process
  • Pathophysiology
  • Clinical management

Licensing and Certification

Physician's assistants must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination to practice in any state. The exam is administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) and is only available to students who have graduated from an accredited PA degree program. Physician's assistants must be re-certified every six years.

Continuing Education

Physician's assistants must complete 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years in order to maintain their certification. Schools and health care organizations offer classes on a wide range of topics, including improved patient communication, geriatrics and behavioral medicine. Seminars designed to keep PAs current with regards to new tools and techniques may be offered at local colleges or medical organizations.

Additional Professional Development

Many continuing education options for physician assistants allow for home study courses. Presentations from conferences are available online following the conference. Organizations such as the American Academy of Physician Assistants have member resources that encourage physician assistants to develop their practices and their presence as health care providers in the community at large.

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