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How to Become a Pediatric Assistant: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a pediatric assistant. Research the job description and education and licensing requirements, and find out how to start a career as a pediatric assistant. View article »

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Should I Become a Pediatric Assistant?

Pediatric physician assistants provide healthcare to infants, children, adolescents and young adults under the supervision of a physician. According to the Society for Physician Assistants in Pediatrics, the pediatric PA is able to diagnose and treat illnesses, analyze diagnostic tests, conduct physical exams, and counsel clients about preventative treatment. In most cases, PAs can also write prescriptions.

Physician assistants (PAs) in pediatrics can work in clinics, community health centers, private physicians' offices, and hospitals. Some work with pediatric subspecialists in fields such as pediatric oncology, pediatric cardiology, pediatric pulmonology, and pediatric emergency medicine. Emergency situations can be quite stressful, and PAs must spend most of the shift on their feet.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Master's degree or equivalent
Degree Field Physician assistant
Licensure and Certification Licensure and certification required
Experience 2-5 years of direct healthcare experience usually required for admission to a PA program
Key Skills Attention to detail, ability to work as part of a team, compassion
Salary (2015) $98,180 yearly (median pay for all types of physician assistants)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Various accredited PA program websites

Let's review the steps needed to become a pediatric assistant.

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Steps to Become a Pediatric Assistant

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

An aspiring PA must complete a bachelor's degree before attending a PA program. Students may choose any major, as long as they fulfill key coursework requirements in human anatomy and physiology, calculus, biology, general and organic chemistry, microbiology, and psychology. Some programs have a minimum GPA requirement and most successful applicants have at least a 3.0 GPA.

Step 2: Gain Experience Working in Healthcare

Admission to PA programs is competitive. Most programs require experience in the healthcare field before applying and the average student has 4 ½ years of healthcare experience before attending a PA program. Individuals may gain this experience by working as a registered nurse, paramedic, diagnostic imaging technician, clinic assistant, nurse's aide, or a variety of other healthcare roles involving direct patient contact.

Step 3: Take the GRE

Many, though not all, PA programs require students to submit scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test. The test can be taken at various test centers throughout the country throughout the year.

Success Tip:

Study for the GRE. Various test prep options are available, from free or low-cost self-study guides to classes.

Step 4: Attend a PA Program

PA programs take two years to complete. They can be found at 4-year universities, medical schools, community colleges, and hospitals. Students should choose a program that is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). Programs include subjects such as medical ethics, clinical pharmacology, human anatomy, and pathology. The curriculum consists of both laboratory and classroom instruction.

PA students also participate in clinical training under the supervision of an instructor or physician, with internal medicine, pediatrics, family medicine, and emergency medicine being a few of the areas covered. Students can expect to complete about 12 months of physician-supervised clinical training.

Step 5: Take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) and Become Licensed

All PAs must pass the PANCE, which is administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Only graduates of accredited PA programs are eligible to take the PANCE. The PANCE consists of five sections of 60 multiple-choice questions and can be taken at testing centers across the U.S. Once an individual passes the exam, he or she can begin using the title Physician Assistant - Certified.

Step 6: Join a Professional Organization

The American Academy of Pediatrics and Society for Physician Assistants in Pediatrics offer membership for PAs who spend at least 50% of their time working in pediatrics. Membership can help professionals stay connected to new developments in the field of pediatrics and offers networking tools for meeting other pediatric professionals. Members also qualify for discounted rates at conferences and special deals on industry books and publications.

In summary, becoming a pediatric assistant requires a bachelor's degree, work experience, passing the GRE, attending a PA program, passing the PANCE exam, and joining a professional organization.

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