How Can I Go From a Medical Assistant to a Physician Assistant?

If you're working as a medical assistant but want to be more hands-on with patient care and have additional responsibilities, then you may be ready to take the steps necessary to become a physician assistant. With additional education, experience and certification, you can start a new career as a physician assistant. Schools offering Allied Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Medical Assistant and Physician Assistant Comparison

As a medical assistant, you handle mainly administrative duties in a medical setting. Your duties could include scheduling appointments, recording patient information, buying supplies and filling out insurance forms. Though your job may be heavily clerical, you may also handle some basic clinical tasks, such as changing dressings, taking vital signs and preparing blood for laboratory tests.

A job as a physician assistant (PA) involves more clinical tasks and has more education and experience requirements. To transition to a PA position, you need to complete a physician assistant program, which most commonly results in a master's degree. This graduate program usually takes two years and may be found at medical schools, colleges or hospitals.

As a PA, your job duties may include conducting physical exams, interpreting diagnostic tests, prescribing some medications, making preliminary diagnoses, providing treatments and working closely with a healthcare team. You could work in a specific area of medicine, such as surgery, emergency medicine or psychiatry.

Due to the clinical nature of a physician assistant's job, this field is more strictly regulated than medical assisting. Certification, though preferred by many employers, is not a strict requirement to work as a medical assistant. Physician assistants, however, must meet legal requirements for state certification because they are providing medical care directly to patients.

Important Facts About Medical and Physician Assistants

Medical Assistant Physician Assistant
Median Salary (2014) $29,960 $95,820
Key Skills Analytical, interpersonal, and technical skills Communication and problem-solving skills, emotional stability
Job Growth Outlook (2014-2024) 23% 30%
Similar Occupations Dental assistants, pharmacy technicians Physical therapist, nurse practitioner

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Physician Assistant Education Prerequisites

You may not have had any formal training prior to becoming a medical assistant, or you may have completed a certificate or associate's degree program in medical assisting. If you completed a formal program, your coursework may have covered medical terminology, office procedures, anatomy, laboratory techniques and medication administration.

PA program admission requirements can vary, but many schools require professional experience in a medical field where you provide direct patient care. Your experience as a medical assistant may have provided you with the patient care hours required for admission into a PA program. However, if you plan on entering a graduate program, you will need to earn a bachelor's degree prior to applying. Some schools prefer that your degree be in a health-related area, but either way you will need to have completed prerequisite coursework in areas such as anatomy, physiology and medical terminology.

If you don't want to commit to earning a separate bachelor's degree, you could apply to a dual-degree bachelor's and master's program instead. These programs don't require you to have earned a previous degree, but typically you will still need to have completed prerequisite courses, such as anatomy and physiology, chemistry and microbiology.

Physician Assistant Programs

Once you meet the education and experience requirements and are accepted into a PA program, you may take courses in pathophysiology, radiology, pharmacology, patient care and medical ethics. You'll also receive supervised clinical training in several areas of medicine, such as primary care, emergency medicine, pediatrics and internal medicine. Programs often require you to participate in a research project as well.

Certification Info

Once you complete your PA program, you must meet state requirements for certification before you can practice as a PA. The BLS reports that all U.S. states require PAs to be certified through the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) by passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination. Once you pass the exam, you can use the title Physician Assistant - Certified. You must complete continuing education and pass a recertification exam every six years to maintain your certification, according to the NCCPA (www.nccpa.net).

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:
The schools in the listing below are not free and may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users. Tuition and costs will vary across programs and locations. Be sure to always request tuition information before starting a program.

Popular Schools

  • The George Washington University

    The George Washington University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at The George Washington University:

    • Master

    Online Programs Available

  • Independence University

    Independence University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Independence University:

    • Master

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  • Southern New Hampshire University

    Southern New Hampshire University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Southern New Hampshire University:

    • Master

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  • Purdue University Global

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  • Regent University

    Regent University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Regent University:

    • Doctoral
    • Master

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  • College of Health Care Professions

    College of Health Care Professions responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at College of Health Care Professions:

    • Certificates

    Campus Locations:

    • Texas: Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio
  • Grand Canyon University

    Grand Canyon University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Grand Canyon University:

    • Doctoral
    • Master
    • Bachelor Degrees

    Online Programs Available

  • Keiser University

    Keiser University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Keiser University:

    • Bachelor Degrees
    • Associate Programs

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  • Penn Foster High School

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  • Fortis College

    Fortis College responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Fortis College:

    • Certificates

    Campus Locations:

    • Maryland: Towson
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