How to become a physician assistant?

January 25, 2023 at 1:19 PM

Becoming a physician assistant (PA) requires completing several steps, including education, clinical experience, and certification. The specific requirements vary by state, but generally, the process includes the following steps:

  1. Earn a bachelor's degree: To be eligible for PA programs, applicants must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. While there is no specific major required, most PA programs prefer applicants with a background in science, such as biology, chemistry, or a related field.

  1. Complete a PA education program: After completing a bachelor's degree, individuals must complete an accredited PA education program. These programs typically take two years to complete and include both classroom instruction and clinical experience.

  1. Pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE): After completing a PA education program, graduates must pass the PANCE to become certified as a PA. This exam is administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) and tests the knowledge and skills necessary to practice as a PA.

  1. Obtain state licensure: After passing the PANCE, graduates must obtain a state license to practice as a PA. Requirements for licensure vary by state but generally include passing a background check and meeting continuing education requirements.

  1. Maintain certification: PAs must maintain their certification by fulfilling certain requirements, such as completing continuing medical education (CME) and passing the Physician Assistant National Recertifying Exam (PANRE) every 10 years.

It is important to note that the process of becoming a PA can take several years, including completing a bachelor's degree, PA education program and passing a certification exam. Additionally, some states may have additional requirements that need to be fulfilled. It is always recommended to check the requirements of your state and the accreditation status of the PA program you plan on attending.

Types of Physician Assistant Degrees

There are two types of physician assistant (PA) degrees: the Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) and the Master of Medical Science (MMS) degree. 

  1. Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) degree: This is the most common type of PA degree and is offered by many universities and colleges across the United States. The MPAS degree typically takes two years to complete and includes both classroom instruction and clinical experience. It covers a wide range of topics, including anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and patient assessment.

  1. Master of Medical Science (MMS) degree: The MMS degree is a less common type of PA degree that is usually offered by schools with existing medical programs. It typically takes one year to complete and is intended for individuals who have already completed a bachelor's degree in a related field such as biology or chemistry. Like the MPAS it covers a wide range of topics, including anatomy, pharmacology, and patient assessment.

Both MPAS and MMS degrees are accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) and graduates are eligible to take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) to become certified PAs. It is important to check the accreditation status of the program you are interested in attending.

Job growth

The job growth for physician assistants (PAs) is expected to be very strong in the coming years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of PAs is projected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations. 

There are several factors that contribute to the strong job growth for PAs, including:

  • Growing demand for primary care services: With an aging population and an increased emphasis on preventive care, the demand for primary care services is expected to continue to grow. PAs can help to meet this demand by providing primary care services in a variety of settings.

  • Shortage of primary care physicians: There is a shortage of primary care physicians in the United States, particularly in rural and underserved areas. PAs can help to fill this gap by providing primary care services in these areas.

  • Increased use of PAs in specialty fields: PAs are increasingly being used in specialty fields such as surgery, emergency medicine, and psychiatry. They can provide a cost-effective alternative to physicians in these areas and help to improve access to care.

  • Healthcare reform: Healthcare reform, such as the Affordable Care Act, has led to an increase in the number of people with health insurance, which is expected to increase the demand for healthcare services, including PAs.

Overall, the job outlook for PAs is very positive, with strong job growth and high demand for their services expected in the coming years.