Physician Assistant (PA) training programs generally require applicants to have a few years of healthcare experience, and many aspiring PAs assume they must be nurses to be eligible to enroll in the program. This is definitely not the case, and applicants have a couple of different options for meeting the experience requirements. Becoming a PA is a big decision but one that usually results in a rewarding and satisfying career. Get the facts on what it takes to become a PA and what to expect for a career outlook.
To become a physician assistant, an individual must pass a training program accredited or approved by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant. This is important for certification and licensure, both of which are required for employment in all the states. There are currently more than 200 approved programs in the U.S. Assuming the candidate already has a bachelor’s degree, the training program should take about two years to complete.
The PA program includes classroom studies, lab courses, and internships. The courses may include pharmacology, human anatomy, physical diagnosis, pathology, clinical medicine, medical ethics, and physiology. During the supervised internship, the student will work in various areas of medicine, such as internal medicine, pediatrics, family medicine and emergency room, among others.
Certifications for Physician Assistants
Physician assistants are required to be licensed in all the states, and this requires passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam. The test consists of 300 multiple-choice questions and must be completed in five hours. Once the PA passes the exam, he or she has earned the credential of Physician Assistant-Certified or PA-C and is eligible for licensure in that state.
In addition to the PA certification, physician assistants may also choose to obtain certification in specialty areas, including vascular access, ultrasound, ambulatory surgery, nutrition, emergency medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, and orthopedic surgery. Each certification requires passing the designated certification exam.
What Experience is Required?
Completing an accredited PA training program and obtaining certification is not the only requirement to become a PA. They must also have at least three years of healthcare experience. Many candidates mistakenly believe that they must be a nurse prior to becoming a PA. Working as a nurse definitely gives the candidate valuable experience and will meet the healthcare experience, but it’s not the only path. Interested candidates can also gain experience from working as an EMT, CNA, paramedic or a similar health care position that meets the program’s requirements.
Physician assistants can be found working in hospitals, doctors’ offices, clinics, skilled nursing facilities and outpatient facilities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that PAs could see a job growth of 37% during the 2016-2026 decade. This excellent growth should result in the creation of about 39,600 new PA jobs by 2026. Physician assistants earn wages ranging from $66,590 to $146,260 with the average yearly wage at $104,760. Their average hourly wage is $50.37 as of a May 2017 wage report by the BLS.
With the high need for qualified physician assistants and the excellent career potential offered to PAs, many find it an ideal career choice. Whether an individual is starting from scratch or is already a nurse or some other medical professional, choosing to become a PA may be the start of a great career.