An associate's degree program offers a brief introduction to a physician assistant's job, and a few bachelor's degree programs are available, but most physician assistants hold a master's degree.
Students with a bachelor's degree and some medical experience can enroll in associate's degree programs for physician assistants. Courses cover the principles of medicine and statistics. These programs prepare students for the National Certifying Examination to become a licensed physician assistant and work under the supervision of physicians diagnosing, treating, and counseling patients who need medical care. Bachelor's degree programs are similar, and there are some dual programs combining bachelor's and master's degree studies.
In a master's degree program, which is the most common program type, students already holding a degree in the medical field gain advanced knowledge in order to work as physician assistants. Programs teach students about basic medical sciences, as well as skills they needed in the physician assistant field.
Associate of Science in Physician Assistant
Students interested in becoming pediatric physician assistants consider the associate's degree program, which is aimed toward students with a bachelor's degree and experience in the medical field but not as physician assistants. Other pre-physician assistant programs are available for students with no experience or a bachelor's degree. The programs don't specialize in pediatrics, but offer a course in pediatric studies. Some programs vary with their requirements. Often times, 2,000 hours of paid patient-work are required, as well as some type of completed college work of around 60 hours.
Some schools require an advanced degree before being accepted into the physician assistant program. Students without experience should look into the pre-physician assistant programs that only require a high school diploma or GED. The courses offered in these programs combine math, science, clinical medicine, and surgery skills to learn the basic skills physician assistants need. Students take lab and clinical courses in the classroom and in hospital settings. Some courses offered include:
- Diagnostic medicine
- Principles of medicine
- Introduction to pediatric medicine
- Methods of statistics
- Pre-physician assistant practicum
Bachelor of Science in Physician Assistant
Similar to the associate's program, the bachelor's program gives students a broad introduction to being a pediatric physician assistant, but it does not offer a specialization in it. Students take electives geared toward pediatrics. These programs last between 2-4 years for full-time students and require a high school diploma or GED.
Students learn both in the classroom and in medical centers at most schools, and learn about all five specialties in physician assistants, including pediatrics. They learn how to diagnose, treat, and care for patients with different type of physical and mental conditions through these courses:
- Management science calculus
- Introduction to anatomy and physiology
- Psychiatric medicine
Master's Degree in Physician Assistant
The Master of Physician Assistant Studies and Master of Medical Science in Physician Assistant are degree programs focusing on advanced practices and theories needed to become a physician assistant. These programs are available for students already having a degree in the medical field, like students with a bachelor's degree in nursing. Students are required to have experience in the medical field as well. Some master's programs offer students a dual bachelor's and master's degree. These programs allow students with no bachelor's degree to combine both programs and finish at a quicker pace.
The programs do not focus on pediatrics, but they do have several courses that prepare students for a career in pediatrics. Courses students will see include:
- Pediatric and family medicine
- Clinical and Pharmaceutical medicine
- Psychiatric medicine
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
Physician assistants usually work under the supervision of physicians; however, more assistants are receiving additional independence to diagnose and treat patients due to the high cost of physicians and relative low cost of physician assistants. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs are more available in rural areas and those underserved medically (www.bls.gov). The BLS reported that in May 2018, physician assistants earned an average annual salary of $108,610. Employment is expected to grow 31% from 2018 to 2028.
According to the BLS, there were about 118,800 jobs for physician assistants in 2018. More than half of those physician assistants worked in physician offices. According to PayScale.com, physician assistants with less than a year of experience earned salaries ranging from $77,000 to $122,000 a year as of September 2019.
In order to become a licensed physician assistant, students must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination. Before taking the test that is administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA), students must have graduated from an accredited a physician assistant program (www.nccpa.net). As of August 2014, there were 187 accredited physician assistant programs; of these, only 12 were undergraduate programs, with the other 175 offered at the master's level. After becoming a certified physician assistant, NCCPA requires professionals finish 100 hours of continuing education every two years and pass a recertification exam every six years.
Training and education for pediatric physician assistants is available at the associate's, bachelor's and master's levels. After studying key courses in principles of medicine, introduction to anatomy and physiology or pediatric and family medicine, students will be prepared for a career in the field.