If becoming a medical doctor doesn't seem to be in your future, but you still want to be a medical practitioner, you might consider becoming a physician assistant. Working closely with a physician, you'll need to meet certain rigorous requirements, but job opportunities look promising.
Physician assistants provide medical care to patients under the supervision of a physician. These professionals are trained and qualified to examine patients, facilitate surgical procedures and administer drugs. Educational programs require significant hands-on learning and are offered at the master's degree level. Physician assistants also need to be licensed, which is done by taking a certification exam.
|Required Education||Master's degree|
|Other Requirements||Certification and licensure|
|Projected Job Growth*||30% between 2014 and 2024|
|Median Salary (2015)*||$98,180|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Physician Assistant Program Information
Many physician assistant programs are offered at the master's degree-level. There are some bachelor's programs with curricula divided between a pre-professional phase with coursework and a professional phase of clinical experience. Bachelor's and master's programs teach students about the major systems of the body, the diseases that affect them and the methods of treatment. Because physician assistants work with equipment that records vitals information, coursework in diagnostic data interpretation may be required.
Master's programs offer coursework or sequences in clinical-based concepts, such as medicine, pharmacology or diagnosis. Extensive clinical experience is included in most programs, in which students rotate between departments, usually spending a month in each. Clinical experiences include requirements, such as emergency and internal medicine, and may offer some elective rotations. Students receive evaluations from their supervisors and are given exams to assess their understanding.
Students may consider programs that have earned approval from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). This organization accredits all types of programs, although most are at the master's level. According to the ARC-PA, graduating from an accredited program is an eligibility requirement for the certifying exam and state licensure.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most applicants to physician assistant programs have earned a college degree. Some may also have previous healthcare experience. Prerequisite coursework in chemistry, biology, anatomy and physiology may be required. Applicants may have to undergo criminal background checks or drug testing.
Physician assistants must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE). This exam is administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants and tests individuals on medical and surgical topics. The successful completion of the PANCE leads to the Physician Assistant-Certified credential. Continuing education standards must be met to maintain certifications and a recertifying exam is required every six years.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
In 2015, physician assistants earned an annual median salary of $98,180, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Employment for these professionals was predicted to increase by 30% from 2014-2024, the BLS stated, which is much faster than average.
Though you may qualify to become a PA with a bachelor's degree, most PAs hold a master's degree. In order to qualify to practice as a PA after earning your degree, you must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam, which leads to licensure.