Physician Assistant Certification and Certificate Programs

Those interested in becoming physician assistants typically need a master's degree and to complete an education program that's accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. Physician assistant certificate programs can help students gain requisite education to pass the required certification exam for career entry.

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Essential Information

Physician assistant (PA) certificate programs combine classroom learning with clinical field experiences. Some schools offer a simultaneous master's degree PA program in conjunction with certificate programs through the school or an affiliated university. Graduates will need to take the steps to secure a license before they can begin working. States differ in requirements, but most request an examination, a background check and proof of completion of a training program. These programs, which typically can be completed in 24-30 months, can be found at allied health schools, community colleges and universities. Some experience shadowing a PA for several hours and an understanding of the duties and needs of the potential career might be required. Some courses are available online.

Certificate Programs in Physician Assisting

These programs teach students about various areas of healthcare, such as performing physical exams, using medical equipment, diagnosing patients and performing diagnostic studies. Common topics include:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Pathophysiology
  • Patient management
  • Genetics
  • Pharmacology
  • Biochemistry

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as the healthcare industry expands, physician assistants' job growth is expected to increase quickly at a rate of 30% from 2014-2024. PAs could assist with surgeries and provide more primary care to patients, which makes them a more cost-effective option than doctors in many instances.

The BLS noted that the median salary for a PA in 2015 was $98,180. The top ten percent in the field earned a median salary of $139,540 or more, while the bottom ten percent made $62,760 or less per year. The employment services industry paid their PAs more than other industries, while the state of Rhode Island paid the highest average salaries in the country, at $110,600 per year.

Licensure, Certification and Continuing Education Information

Like doctors, physician assistants must obtain state licensure to practice. Each state uses the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. Additional requirements vary by state but could include fingerprinting, a background check and additional assessment of qualifications by the licensing board.

The PANCE exam tests aspiring PAs' basic surgical and medical knowledge. In addition to obtaining a state license, PAs are also awarded the Physician Assistant-Certified credential. Continuing education requirements must be met to renew both certification and licensure.

Physician assistants will be required to have at least a master's degree in order to practice in addition to proper licensure. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for these professionals hovered around $100,000, as of May 2015.

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