Surgical Physician Assistant Degree and Certificate Programs

Physician assistant (PA) degree programs are offered as graduate certificate and master's degree programs. Certified PAs can enroll in certificate programs, surgical physician assistants can prepare for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination with a master's program.

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Essential Information

Certificate programs for surgical physician assistants take about a year to complete and focus entirely on surgical care. Students complete a few courses in pathophysiology, surgical complications and electrolytes. During the extensive clinical training, they gain experience in skills such as incision maintenance and post-surgical care. Applicants must be licensed and certified PAs.

Master's programs for surgical physician assistants take roughly two years to complete. In the first year, students get an overview of PA work through courses including medical ethics, pharmacology and disease processes. The second year of study features a wide range of surgical experiences in a healthcare facility. Applicants to a master's degree program need a bachelor's degree. It can be in any field, but they must have completed prerequisite courses in relevant subjects, such as anatomy, physics and psychology.


Certificate Program for Surgical Physician Assistants

This 12-month program consists of clinical rotations in general, cardiothoracic, vascular, intensive care and transplant surgery. The curriculum includes lectures, seminars and laboratory studies where PAs perform procedures like closing wounds and placing central lines. The surgical focus examines the various phases of surgical care including procedures for preparing patients for surgery, treating patients during surgery and caring for patients after surgery. Other areas of focus are sterilization, surgical instruments and wound dressing.

Coursework prepares students to prep patients for surgery, perform minor surgical procedures and monitor patients after surgery. Topics of discussion in coursework include:

  • Electrolytes
  • Complications
  • Organ systems
  • Disease processes
  • Pathophysiology

Master's Degree for Surgical Physician Assistants

The surgical concentration in a PA degree prepares students to complete clinical rotations in areas like general, outpatient, cardiovascular, trauma and plastic surgery. Program outcomes include developing treatment plans, providing preventative care, assisting in surgical procedures and demonstrating professional and ethical conduct. The curriculum examines subjects like pharmacology, gross anatomy and clinical research. In the second year of the program, learners complete a clinical practicum where they work up to 40 hours per week in the areas of pediatrics, outpatient medicine, inpatient medicine and orthopedics.

Graduate courses include studies in drug classifications, pathophysiology and disease, with an additional focus on surgical topics. Coursework covers areas like:

  • Surgical techniques
  • Signs and symptoms
  • Respiratory systems
  • Drug treatments
  • Hematology

Popular Career Options

Graduates go on to work as surgical PAs in hospitals, emergency clinics and more. Surgical PAs can also specialize in surgical areas and work as a:

  • Cardiothoracic PA
  • Neurosurgery PA
  • Trauma PA

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that PAs held around 94,400 positions in the U.S. in 2014. The BLS also reported that PAs made a median annual salary of $98,180 in May 2015. The BLS also predicts an employment growth of 30% for physician assistants for the 2014-2024 decade, a growth rate that is much faster than the average for all occupations.

Continuing Education Information

Graduates of certificate programs will need to obtain surgical PA certification through state hospital boards. These boards offer certification with special practice privileges, allowing the PA to work under the supervision of any surgeon who is licensed to practice surgery in the specialty area.

Graduates of master's programs are eligible to sit for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE), given by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Certified PAs must complete 100 hours of continuing medical education units every two years to maintain certification. PAs are also required to retake the certification exam every six years. Graduates may want to check with their state boards for licensing requirements.

Aspiring surgical physician assistants can pursue graduate certificates or master's degrees in the field. Graduate certificates are designed for working physician assistants seeking a surgical specialization, while master's programs are open to bachelor's-program graduates who have completed specific prerequisite coursework. The job outlook for all physician assistants is bright, with a 30% uptick in jobs predicted for the 2014-2024 decade.

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