Be an Orthopedic Assistant: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become an orthopedic assistant. Research the education and training requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career as an orthopedic assistant. View article »

  • 0:01 Becoming an OPA
  • 1:04 Qualifying for PA Program
  • 1:31 Graduating from PA Program
  • 2:00 Certified PA
  • 2:33 OPA Residency
  • 3:05 OPA Certification

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Video Transcript

Become an OPA

Orthopedic physician assistants (OPAs) specialize in the musculoskeletal system and work under the direction of surgeons and physicians. The extent of their duties varies by state, but physician assistants typically review medical histories, examine patients, order medical tests, and make diagnoses and provide treatment. Working with patients can be stressful at times, but many assistants find the experience rewarding.

Becoming an OPA involves completing undergraduate coursework, a physician assistant master's degree program, and an orthopedics residency, along with passing certification exams. OPAs must be detail-oriented, compassionate, and emotionally stable. PayScale.com reported that these professionals earned a median annual salary of $90,958 as of January 2016.

Let's explore the steps involved to become an orthopedic physician assistant.

Degree Level Master's degree
Degree Field Orthopedic physician assistant
Certification Required in all 50 states
Experience Previous medical experience may be helpful
Key Skills Detail-oriented, compassionate, emotionally stable
Salary $90,958 per year (Median salary from January 2016 for orthopedic physician assistants)

Source: PayScale.com

Step 1: Qualify for a Physician Assistant Program

Most physician assistant programs require a bachelor's degree and medical experience prior to admission. Some students enter physician assistant programs after working as nurses, paramedics, or other medical professionals. Prerequisite courses for a physician assistant program might include medical ethics, advanced physiology, and microbiology.

Step 2: Graduate from a Physician Assistant Program

A physician assistant master's degree program trains students through both classroom and laboratory work. Courses might include pathology, pharmacology, physical diagnosis, and medical ethics. Students typically participate in clinical work in family medicine, surgery, pediatrics, geriatrics, and other areas.

Step 3: Become Certified as a Physician Assistant

The National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants offers a certification examination that's required in all 50 states to work as a physician assistant. This is taken after completion of an accredited physician assistant program. Residency programs for orthopedic assistants also require certification. To maintain certification, physician assistants must complete continuing education requirements throughout their career.

Step 4: Complete an Orthopedic Physician Assistant Residency

A physician assistant residency in orthopedics typically takes one year to complete. The residency prepares students to assist in surgery, work in orthopedic offices, and treat trauma patients. Residents gain hands-on experience in treating bone fractures, dealing with orthopedic emergencies, and first-assisting in orthopedic surgery. Students learn through lectures, readings, and clinics.

Step 5: Earn Voluntary Certification as an Orthopedic Physician Assistant

The National Board for Certification of Orthopaedic Physician's Assistants confers certified status on candidates who pass its exam; this certification is voluntary and allows orthopedic physician assistants to use the designation OPA-C. As with regular physician assistant certification, the OPA-C credential must be periodically renewed through continuing education.

Remember, to become an orthopedic physician assistant, you must graduate from a physician assistant master's degree program and earn certification as a PA. After completing a PA residency in orthopedics, you might opt to pursue voluntary certification as an OPA.


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