The responsibilities of a physician assistant include performing patient evaluations, counseling patients on preventative health care, prescribing medications, performing basic testing procedures and analyzing test results. Unfortunately, physician assistant baccalaureate programs are uncommon. According to the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, there were only ten accredited physician assistant four-year degree programs in the country in 2013.
Most professionals in this field hold a master's degree. With around 160 accredited programs in existence, these physician assistant programs are more readily available.
Students will need a minimum GPA of 3.0 and 200-300 hours of volunteer work or experience in a general health care setting under the guidance of a licensed physician for the bachelor's degree program. Prerequisites for a master's program include a bachelor's degree and coursework in anatomy, physiology, psychology, chemistry, microbiology and math, as well as at least 1,000 hours of patient care experience. Specializations for in the master's program include pediatrics, psychiatry, internal medicine and dermatology.
Physician Assistant Bachelor's Degree
Physician assistant bachelor's degree programs typically begin with a pre-professional phase, which comprises the first two years of study. During this time, aspiring physician assistants study foundational science topics, including general and organic chemistry, anatomy, physiology and biology. Upon completion of the pre-professional phase, students can then apply to the professional training track.
The professional phase of a physician assistant bachelor's degree program includes clinical rotations in area hospitals, medical centers and doctors' offices. Students also participate in subject-specific lectures that cover topics in:
- Patient diagnosis
- Clinical medical practices
- Health care ethics
Master's Degree in Physician Assistant Studies
Another training option for aspiring physician assistants includes a first-professional master's degree program. These programs are offered to applicants with a bachelor's degree and take around 30 months of full-time study to complete. During this time, students take biomedical sciences coursework and develop their patient care and diagnostic skills. They also complete extensive clinical rotations in emergency, family and internal medicine departments, as well as settings devoted to surgery, gynecology, pediatrics and other medical specialties.
The curriculum for a master's degree program includes several lab sessions and supervised clinical rotations. Students also complete a thesis or directed research in addition to taking classes that can include:
- Patient evaluation
- Behavioral health
- Clinical skills
- Professional practice
Popular Career Options
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the majority of physician assistants worked in doctors' offices as of 2014. Physician assistants can also be employed in the following settings:
- Public and private hospitals
- Outpatient care centers
- Government agencies
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The increasing number of older adults is expected to drive a 30% growth in employment opportunities for physician assistants from 2014 to 2024, according to the BLS. In 2015, the median annual wage of physician assistants was $98,180.
Continuing Education Information
In order to legally practice in any state, physician assistants must become licensed. Graduates of accredited physician assistant programs will need to pass the qualifying exam offered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Licensed physician assistants must also meet continuing education requirements every two years and pass a recertification exam every ten years.
Bachelor's degree program graduates who meet licensure requirements have the option of pursuing a post-professional master's degree in physician assistant studies. One-year fellowships focusing on a specialty area, such areas as internal medicine, are also available.
Post-professional fellowship and residency programs are also available to graduates of physician assistant master's degree programs. However, applicants to a post-professional program will need to pass the NCCPA exam and earn state licensure before being admitted.
While most physician assistants hold a master's degree in the field, there are a few bachelor's degree programs available. Students in a master's program have the opportunity to specialize in a specific area. Employment of physician assistants is forecast to be strong over the next several years.