Physician's Assistant Training Programs and Requirements

A master's degree, more so than a bachelor's, is the primary education path for aspiring physician's assistants. A physician's assistant, or PA, is a certified health care professional who provides diagnostic, therapeutic and preventive healthcare services under the supervision of a medical doctor.

Essential Information

Physician's assistants must be licensed, which requires completing an approved physician assistant program. While some physician's assistants meet licensure standards with a certificate, associate degree or bachelor's degree, most training programs for physician assistants are at the master's degree level. Many students have the opportunity to specialize in a sub-area, like pediatrics, gynecology and obstetrics. They'll receive direct experience with required supervised clinical training. Physician's assistants might have previous medical experience as nurses, paramedics or EMTs.

Bachelor of Science in Physician Assistant Studies

The Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Physician Assistant Studies is a 4-year, undergraduate degree program designed to introduce students to basic physician assistant skills. Universities often offer the program through the school of pharmacy. Courses often include:

  • Pharmacology
  • Human anatomy
  • Health ethics law

Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies

A Master of Science (M.S.) in Physician Assistant Studies, a 2-year graduate-level program, is the most common form for a physician assistant studies program. Students entering a master's program with a bachelor's degree in a field unrelated to health may be required to complete prerequisite courses in microbiology and biochemistry. Master's-level course topics include:

  • Diagnostic process
  • Pathophysiology
  • Clinical management

Continuing Education Information

Physician's assistants must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination to practice in any state. The exam is administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) and is only available to students who have graduated from an accredited PA degree program. Physician's assistants must be re-certified every six years.

Physician's assistants must complete 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years in order to maintain their certification. Schools and health care organizations offer classes on a wide range of topics, including improved patient communication, geriatrics and behavioral medicine. Seminars designed to keep PAs current with regards to new tools and techniques may be offered at local colleges or medical organizations.

Many continuing education options for physician assistants allow for home study courses. Presentations from conferences are available online following the conference. Organizations such as the American Academy of Physician Assistants have member resources that encourage physician assistants to develop their practices and their presence as health care providers in the community at large.

Hefty training, to enter the field, and ongoing continuing education is a huge part of becoming a physician's assistant. Before practicing, a physician's assistant must be licensed according their state's requirements, and to continue working, certification must be renewed every 6 years.

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