This post provides detailed information on the physician assistant career, including how to become one, the various career opportunities, and the benefits of being a physician assistant.
How to Become a Physician Assistant
If you want to become a physician assistant, here are the six steps to take as recommended by the American Academy of PAs (AAPA):
- Get a Bachelor’s Degree from an Accredited School
According to AAPA, specializing in a science, such as biology or chemistry, is advantageous.
2. Complete the Prerequisites for your PA School
To qualify for a PA program, you may need to take additional courses such as statistics, biological sciences, chemistry, or psychology, even if your college major does not need them.
Specific criteria will differ depending on the school.
3. Gain Real-World Work with HCE and PCE
Most PA programs demand at least 1,000 hours of experience in one or both of the fields of healthcare experience (HCE) and patient care experience (PCE).
Volunteer or paid roles such as serving as a medic or emergency medical technician, Peace Corps experience, or doing a summer internship in a medical office are examples of work experiences.
Applicants value direct patient care, such as working as a registered nurse. More information on guidelines can be found in the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA)1 and the Applicant’s Manual of Physician Assistant Programs2.
Specific criteria will differ depending on the school.
4. Apply to and Attend a PA Program That is Accredited
Investigate PA schools based on affordability, flexibility, accreditation, or other considerations.
Gather your educational transcripts, certification credentials, letters of recommendation, and a list of your professional experience.
Next, write an essay explaining why you want to be a PA. Finally, use the CASPA application online to submit your application, supporting materials, and essay.
As part of the application process, most PA programs include an interview.
5. Pass the National Certifying Exam for Physician Assistants (PANCE)
To be qualified to take the PANCE4, you may need to meet certain physician assistant education standards, such as graduating from a program approved by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA).
The 300-question test lasts five hours. Repeat testing is permitted if you do not pass the first time.
6. Obtain and Keep State Licensing and Certification
You will be expected to obtain a license in your state to practice as a physician assistant.
According to the AAPA website page on state licensing, which includes a link to a list of all 50 states’ licensing boards, all states need PAs to pass the PANCE exam and complete an ARC-PA certified PA curriculum.
To keep your national certification, you must complete extra hours of continuing medical education in accordance with your state’s regulations.
What Physician Assistants Do
Physician assistants perform various duties and responsibilities, including providing medical care, diagnosis, and treatment to patients. See more physician assistant job description.
Physician Assistant Career Opportunities
Here are various career opportunities available to a physician assistant:
- Medical Office Manager
A medical office manager works in an office environment. The position requires the individual to have strong organizational and communication skills to be success on the job.
A physician assistant without this skill set may be forced to find another career path due to the lack of communicative abilities.
2. Practice Manager
A practice manager is in charge of a practice or clinic that has multiple physicians. If a practice is large enough it can be split into multiple offices, a practice manager will be in charge of each office.
The practice manager is in charge of ordering supplies and arranging billing.
3. Medical Officer
Most medical staff can have either a medical officer position or an executive physician (ED) position.
A medical officer is in charge of helping other physicians work within the hospital or clinic.
Some positions require a quick attention to detail and excellent organizational skills, while others are more direct with patients and hard working.
4. Medical Director
A medical director works directly under the supervision of a doctor. As the title indicates, they are directly in charge of the department.
They oftentimes will go on vacation or leave at night so they can oversee morning and evening rounds with patients.
Communication is vital in this position as well as excellent organizational skills, just like an office manager.
5. Clinical Coordinator
A clinical coordinator oversees and makes sure that everything runs smoothly for their charge’s patients.
They have a few medical officers, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants that they are in charge of.
Receptionists and nurses are also under the clinical coordinator’s supervision.
6. Nurse Manager
A nurse manager position oversees all nursing staff, to make sure the patients are being taken care of in the best way possible.
They do not work directly with patients, but rather the staff members who work with the patients on a day-to-day basis.
The staff works under the nurse manager’s direction.
7. Clinical Supervisor
The clinical supervisor is a more specialized and advanced role to a physician assistant.
They oversee and make sure that everything runs smoothly in their clinics or hospitals.
A physician assistant who supervises must be able to communicate effectively and lead with compassion.
They must also be able to effectively manage time and money while maintaining a healthy level of organization.
8. Medical Unit Director
A medical unit director is the highest level of the physician assistant career. This role travels from hospital to hospital overseeing and making sure that their unit runs well.
A unit director is in charge of managing everything for the patients within their assigned area, including physicians, nurses, and other medical staff members.
A clinician works with patients directly to treat disease and illnesses.
They cannot prescribe medication or diagnose patients; they must report their findings to a supervising physician who will then decide the course of action.
Another role a clinician can take is to be a clinical instructor. A clinical instructor helps teach medical students and residents in the hospital setting.
10. Clinical Manager
A clinical manager leads and oversees the clinical staff of a hospital or clinic. They plan, direct, and coordinate, and evaluate the activities of one or more departments in a hospital.
A clinical manager must be able to delegate tasks as well as effectively supervise employees.
Challenges faced by Physician Assistant on the Job
Here are common challenges a physician assistant may face in the course of their job:
- Time Management
Managing time can be the most difficult part of a physician assistant’s job. It requires the ability to prioritize and be able to work on multiple tasks at once without it being detrimental to the patient, which is hard to do.
2. Difficult Patients
This is a challenge that any physician assistant faces with their patients. A physician assistant must be able to communicate with difficult patients and keep them calm while they treat them.
This requires excellent communication skills, compassion, and empathy towards others.
3. Maintaining a Work/Life Balance
A physician assistant cannot maintain a work/life balance if they are so busy that they cannot take time to rest, eat, or spend time with their family or spouse.
Physician assistants need to have excellent time management and organizational skills to create a good work/life balance for themselves.
Major Benefits of Physician Assistant Career
Some of the major benefits of a physician assistant career are:
- Excellent Salary
A physician assistant’s salary is excellent compared to other careers. On the average, physician assistants earn about $114,617 yearly.
2. High Job Growth Rate
Employments for physician assistants are expected to grow by 28 percent between 2021 and 2031.
This is substantially more than the average for all occupations.
Over the next decade, an average of 12,700 opportunities for physician assistants is expected.
3. Excellent Healthcare Coverage and Benefits
Physician assistants typically have excellent medical coverage, ranging from healthcare plans to dental insurance.
They also typically receive retirement benefits, paid time off, bonuses, and reimbursement of continuing education.
4. Variety of Patient Interactions
A physician assistant is able to interact with a wide variety of patients and their family members, which are usually grateful for their care.
This creates a very satisfying job environment.
5. Great Job Satisfaction
Physician assistants have one of the most satisfying and rewarding careers out there. They are able to make a difference in the lives of their patients, which creates a very rewarding environment.
6. Excellent Career Advancement Opportunities
A physician assistant is able to advance their career to such positions as nurse practitioner, physician associate, or chief medical officer of a facility as they gain experience.
7. Short Length of Training Compared to other Medical Careers
In comparison to other medical careers, the physician assistant program takes an average of 26 months to complete.
This is significantly shorter than other medical careers that take years or even decades to complete.
Overall, a physician assistant job is an excellent career choice for anyone. It provides an excellent salary, variety of patient interactions, and great job satisfaction.
The physician assistant career also provides excellent health and retirement benefits.
If you are able to pass the PANCE exam, then you can obtain a license and be able to practice your physician assistant career anywhere in the United States.