How to Become a Physician Assistant in the U.S.

How to Become a Physician Assistant in the U.S.

Within the healthcare industry, there are several roles played by different professionals. Among them, one of the crucial roles is that of a physician assistant. If you seek up to the profession and want to know how to become a physician assistant and earn a living out of it, this is your ideal guide. 

These are healthcare professionals who are either self-employed or works under a physician. The main task of physician assistant includes providing primary medical services like diagnosing. In this guide, you’ll learn all about the career path that you must follow to seek success in this field. 

If you’re interested in other ‘how-to-guides’ on becoming a health professional, you must read:-

How to Become a Doctor 

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner 

Who are Physician Assistants?

Physician assistants are also known as P.A.

They are medical care professionals who seek a license to practice only if they are under the supervision of a physician. On becoming a physician assistant, they perform tasks as physicians do. Their prime duties include:-

  • physical examination of a patient
  • Curing illnesses
  • to read test reports
  • assist a surgeon during surgery
  • prescribe medications
  • counsel patients on health care

They can also work in other departments like education, research and administration.

If you are a student with a medical background, you have to do an internship or a residency for specializing in a particular area. But in the case of a physician assistant student neither need to finish an internship nor residency.

Job Roles of a Physician Assistant

Physician assistants working for clinics in smaller cities or towns will be the only source of medical care. So, they’ll earn a good sum by visiting the clinic only a couple of times a week. But, in such scenarios, a P.A. must consult with the physician as and when possible. P.A. also visits other medical care facilities to perform their duties. Also, they can work in specialized medical fields such as:-

geriatric care; orthopaedics; surgery; internal medicine; pediatric care; emergency facilities

In the healthcare industry, a physician assistant gets equal respect to a physician. Both have a good relationship. After becoming a physician assistant, one must have a good tie with some of the physicians. Since both ensure proper treatment and care of the patient, they go along well.

To add to that, as per the report by the Labor department of U.S.,

“a Physician assistant’s job is going to be amongst the top ten jobs in the U.S. through 2014, and there is going to be a marginal growth by 27 per cent.”

Duties of Physician Assistants

The duties performed by these professionals are both valuable and crucial. They have been this way ever since the mid-1960’s when there was a shortage of doctors in the U.S.

Since then, becoming a physician assistant has equal importance to that of a physician. The person who created this role was Dr Eugene A. Stead of Duke University, North Carolina. When he noticed there was a shortage of physicians, he gathered the best P.A.’s who had worked for the U.S. Navy hospital and U.S. Combat Medic. Then, he trained them through a fast track program and instilled the needed skills in them.

  • They can administer injections and intravenous fluids and medications.
  • Counsel patients on healthy living and hygiene.
  • They can refer specialists to patients who might cure illnesses that they are not specialized to treat.
  • During surgery, they can help surgeons or physicians.
  • They can and must record all patients’ medical history for future references.
  • Do the physical examination of the ill and injured patients.
  • Physician assistants can suggest medical tests and can read test reports.
  • They can choose to diagnose the sick patient and take good care of them.
  • On becoming a physician assistant, they can use therapies as a method of treating a patient.
  • Build and install plans to treat patients with specific health problems.

Why Become a Physician Assistant?

Wanting to be a P.A. is much easier than said. Yes, it would be demanding but rewarding as well.

Now that you’ve asked the question on how to become a physician assistant, it’s time for you to ask yourself another question:-

“why only a physician assistant and why not a physician, a nurse, or any other medical professional?” I’m assuming your answer would be:-

“Being a P.A. allows you to perform certain duties of a physician. Also, you do not have the time or the money to study for 10 to 12 years to become a physician”.

Educational Qualifications to Become a Physician Assistant

Basic Education

If you wish to become a physician assistant, there are few prerequisites to follow. You have to meet certain criteria before getting into an accredited program. Most of the top med schools would want you to hold a bachelor’s degree in subjects such as:-

Microbiology; chemistry; biology; mathematics; biochemistry; English. Then, you need to have two years of hands-on experience in the direct care of patients, such as:-

  • EMT (Emergency Medical Technician)
  • hospital orderly
  • ambulance technician
  • a pediatric nurse or other nurses
  • respiratory therapist

Undergrad and Postgrad Education

After finishing your B.S. (Bachelor of Science) degree and have hands-on experience, you will have to go through a stringent process. This process would include -physician assistant application, screening, and interview process. If you pass all well, you can seek admission into an ARC-PA. ARC-PA stands for Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant. It is an accredited P.A. program, which will take about 24 months to complete.

Since a physician assistant will be working with a licensed physician and performing similar tasks; basic knowledge is a must. So, the  program will have a similar model of coursework. These courses will prepare their prospective physician for all sorts of situations. By following up with the exam, you’ll be able to become a licenced

In the 24 months of P.A. program, the first 12 months will go in corpse laboratory and classroom training. The remaining 12 months will go in clinical and rotations in areas such as:-

Internal medicine; geriatrics; paediatrics; general surgery; cardiothoracic surgery; family medicine; orthopaedics.

Qualifying Exams 

After the completion of the program, you will have to sit for the computer-based PANCE. PANCE stands for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam. Once you pass this exam, you get certified as a Physician Assistant and ready to practice. Plus, every member in two years will have to sit for a continuing education program to keep your certification.

Finally, every six years, it’s a must that you renew your P.A. certification by sitting for the PANRE. The exam PANRE stands for Physician Assistant National Recertification Exam Test.

What is the Salary of a Physician Assistant?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physician assistants earn a median annual salary of $104,860 as of May 2017. Plus, there were 106,200 people employed in this occupation. If a P.A. works for a high demand speciality area, such as a correctional facility, an emergency centre or in cardio, then their salaries can go rocket high. In the year 2008, the average salary of a physician assistant was $90,000, and in 2010 it was around $100,000. So, if you see the salary growth pattern, you will realize that in every two years there is going to be a $10k hike in salaries.

Isn’t that enough motivation.?

How Long Does it Take to Become a Physician Assistant?

Being a physician assistant is to share responsibilities with a physician. To be a physician assistant, you need to have intelligence, dedication, hard work and be open to new ideas. You have to remember that they play a very important role in the healthcare industry, and they seek respect for that. So, the number of years you spend in education and training justifies the role you are about to undertake. The time taken to become a physician assistant is about eight years. Being a P.A. has a bright future and finds recognition throughout the U.S.

So if you too dream of becoming a physician assistant, you can follow this guide and find a way to a stable career in this field. 

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