Last Updated: July 14, 2022
How to Become a Physician Assistant?
Physician assistants are people who practice medicine by teaming up with professional workers in the healthcare industry like physicians, surgeons, dentists, etc. They generally have set duties that have to be supervised by qualified professionals which vary from state to state. Candidates who become physician assistants will be able to work in any healthcare-related space involving primary care, family medicine, emergency medicine, surgery, dentistry, etc. This profession is often confused with that of a medical assistant with the essential difference being how a medical assistant is involved only in clerical tasks while a physician assistant will be practicing medicine.
Candidates who become physician assistants will have hectic work schedules that require them to work for at least 40 hours a week. Most often, they will have to work on weekends and holidays and also take nightshifts like other professions associated with the healthcare industry.
Qualifications Required to be a Physician Assistant
The qualification that one will require to be a physician assistant is a master’s degree in physician assistant which can be taken from any reputed university. If one is to enroll in a master’s program in this subject, they will require a bachelor’s degree in any science-related field of study. This program should be accredited by a reputed organization and candidates should also have taken up job roles that provide them with patient care.
Once they have fulfilled this criterion, they will be able to apply for the PA program at the master’s level. Candidates need to choose programs that have been accredited by the ARC-PA. Master’s programs in this field of study typically have a duration of 2-3 years.
Almost all states in the US require physician assistants to gain a license upon completing their master’s in the subject. The examination they have to take for getting the license is called the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination or PANCE which is provided by the NCCPA.
The qualifications required include-
- Bachelor of Sciences in any Science-related field
- Specified Number of Patient Care Hours
- Master’s in Physician Assistant accredited by ARC-PA
- State License
- PANCE Examination for License
This is the national certifying exam for being certified as a physician assistant and is also known as the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination. It is a computer-based examination with 300 multiple-choice questions based on the medical knowledge the candidate will require in this profession. It is conducted by the NCCPA and costs $475. Candidates can only apply for the examination within 90 days before course completion.
PANCE Exam Pattern and Content
The exam consists of 300 multiple-choice questions that are split into 5 blocks each with 60 questions. Students will be provided with 60 minutes for each block. The exam has two categories with each category dealing with a specific content. These categories are-
- Organ Systems & Diseases, Disorders & Medical Assessment
- Knowledge and Skills to Treat Disorders.
Eligibility Requirements for Physical Assistant Programs
The eligibility requirement to get into a physical assistant program is dependent on the institution one is enrolling in but at the same time, there are general requirements that have to be fulfilled by candidates. These include-
- Overall GPA between 2.75 and 3.2
- GRE Scores
- Letters of Recommendation
- Personal Statement
- Specified Number of Patient Care Hours
Cost for Physician Assistant Programs
The cost for PA programs is mostly dependent on the duration of the program one has applied for and the institution they plan to enroll in. The general duration of PA programs is 26 to 28 months and the average fee that students will have to pay if they are in a public institution will be different for resident and non-resident students. The average cost for resident students is around $50,000 whereas that for non-resident students is around $89,000 for the entire program.
Responsibilities of a Physician Assistant
Physician assistants generally tend to take up minor duties of physicians and surgeons but their job roles are spread across a wide range of activities. They will be required to collect and review the medical histories of patients and then examine the patients. At the same time, they will also be provided with prescribing medicine or giving treatment to those in need. A few of the other job responsibilities they have include-
- Examining patients and ordering diagnostic tests.
- Diagnosing injury and illness in patients.
- Communicating the aftercare procedures of patients to family.
- Prescribing medicine and recording the recovery progress of the patient.
- Treat patients in nursing homes by visiting such places often.
Top Physician Assistant Programs
A few of the best programs for being a physical assistant include-
| Physician Assistant Program || Duke University ||$47,000 per year |
| Masters in Physician Assistant || University of Iowa ||$55,000/$103,300|
| Physician Assistant Program || Baylor College of Medicine ||$32,000 per year |
| Master of Physician Assistant Studies || University of Utah ||$82,000/$102,000 per year|
| MMSc in Physician Assistant ||Emory University||$110,000|
| Physician Assistant Program ||George Washington University||$16,000 per semester|
| Physician Assistant Program ||University of Colorado||$74,000/$120,500 per year|
Physician Assistant Program-Duke University
The Duke Physician Assistant Program has a duration of 2 years. It is a Master of Health Sciences curriculum that deals with both basic medical sciences and clinical medicine. The course has a total of 109 academic credits which is split into 58 preclinical year credits and 51 clinical year credits. They will be learning about clinical & technical skills, professional behavior, interpersonal skills, competencies, etc.
The fee for the program is estimated to be around $47,000 per year for this program.
Masters in Physician Assistant-University of Iowa
The department of physician assistant studies and services at the University of Iowa has a master’s program for physician assistants which has a duration of 28 months. The program will deal with mechanisms of health & disease, clinical & professional skills, and medicine & society along with interpersonal and communication skills and medical knowledge one will require in the field. They will also have to learn about the systems-based practice they will have to eventually do and about professional patient care as part of the course.
The fee that residents have to pay for the entire program is estimated to be around $55,000 and that non-residents have to pay is about $103,300.
Physician Assistant Program-Baylor College of Medicine
This is a 30-month program where students will spend the first 13 months studying theoretical aspects of the course and another 17 months with experiential learning. The program is accredited by the ARC-PA and has a class size of only 40 students. It has a graduation rate of 92%. Students will complete 30 courses earning 71 credits in the first phase and around 16 courses earning 66 credits in the second phase as part of the course.
The tuition fee for the program is around $32,000 per year.
Master of Physician Assistant Studies-University of Utah
The physician assistant program is offered at a master’s level here and it is accredited by the ARC-PA. It has a duration of 27 months in all and consists of 7 continuous semesters. The program consists of 2 phases called the didactic phase and clinical training. The former is spread across 4 semesters and includes academic coursework. The latter takes 3 semesters in all with full-time clinical training offered under the supervision of experts. Students will also have to complete a community-engagement research project to complete the program.
The fee for residents per year is around $82,000 and that for non-residents of Utah is around $102,000 per year.
MMSc in Physician Assistant-Emory University
The physician assistant program offered by Emory University is considered to be one of the top five programs in the country. This program has a duration of 29 months and it deals with evidence-based medicine and other interpersonal skills one will require will taking up this profession. They will be studying topics like gross anatomy, medical communications, biomedical ethics, patient assessment, cardiology, dermatology, psychiatry, etc. Students will have to complete 123 credits for course completion.
The tuition fee for the program is around $110,000. The course will also incur additional miscellaneous expenses that have to be paid separately.
Physician Assistant Program-George Washington University
This program has a duration of 2 years and deals with a wide range of patient care. Students will be taught basic clinical science knowledge and then they will delve into areas like internal medicine, surgery, emergency medicine, pediatrics, gynecology, psychiatry, etc. Students will also learn about patient care, professionalism, interpersonal & communication skills, etc. as part of the course. The program provides a total of 104 credits when completed.
The estimated fee for the program per year is around $16,000.
Physician Assistant Program-University of Colorado
This program has a duration of 3 years in all during which students will learn about clinical and basic sciences along with the opportunity to work in all areas of medicine. The first two years of the program deal with didactic education in the field whereas the final year will deal with experiential learning. The curriculum is split into 7 semesters each dealing with areas like the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, pulmonary, etc.
The fee for in-state students is around $74,000 per year whereas that for out-of-state students is around $120,500 per year.
Salary Scope for Physician Assistants
Physician assistants generally work in outpatient care centers, hospitals, physician offices, government healthcare institutions, and other similar spaces. They are required to work a minimum of 40 hours every week and often have to extend their work into weekends, holidays, etc. depending on the healthcare emergency, the institution is facing. The median annual wage for physician assistants is dependent on the industry they are working in with those working in outpatient care centers earning around $128,000 per year.
The workers who get paid the least by being a physician assistant get a median salary of $78,000 whereas those getting the highest receive a salary of around $164,000 per year.
Physician Assistant License Recertification
Candidates who have taken their physician assistant license will have to maintain the status of being a Physician Assistant-Certified by completing 100 hours of continuing education in the field every two years. They will also have to pay an amount of $180 as a certification maintenance fee. In some cases, states will require physician assistants to keep an agreement with their supervising physician during their period of practice.
The license certification will only be valid for a total of 10 years after which one will have to renew the same.