What Are the Education Requirements to Be a Physician Assistant?

Physician assistants (PAs) usually have previous healthcare experience and earn a master's degree. In addition, they must become licensed and meet requirements to maintain their licensure. Read on to learn more about the educational requirements for these professionals. Schools offering Allied Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Job Description

PAs are licensed healthcare professionals who practice medicine under the supervision of doctors. They're qualified to examine patients, make diagnoses and record medical histories. They also analyze x-rays and other test results as well as perform procedures like suturing wounds and setting broken bones.

Important Facts About Physician Assistants

Online AvailabilityFull coursework online; clinical rotations onsite
SpecializationsPost-graduate specialized degrees available in areas like emergency medicine, psychiatry, and acute care
Similar OccupationsNurse, physical therapist, physician
Continuing EducationCourses available through organizations like the AAPA and medical school continuing education departments

Educational Requirements

PAs usually enter the profession after they've gained experience in a healthcare field, such as nursing or emergency medical care. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most already have bachelor's degrees, though all PAs are required to complete an accredited post-graduate education program specifically geared toward physician assistants (www.bls.gov). Such programs may culminate in certificates, associate's degrees or bachelor's degrees; however, most are available at the master's-degree level.

Master's Degree Programs

Admission to a master's program entails completion of a bachelor's degree program. While you generally don't have to earn a degree in a specific major, you may need to fulfill prerequisites in chemistry, biology, anatomy, psychology, physiology and other health-science subjects. Most programs also require you to have work experience in the healthcare field. The master's degree program for physician assistants usually lasts two years and includes a number of classroom and clinical studies.

First-Year Curriculum

The first year of these programs typically covers basic topics in medicine, and you might also participate in professional development activities. Some common topics of study include:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Patient evaluation
  • Clinical and evidence-based medicine
  • Pathology

Second-Year Curriculum

The second year of these programs usually includes some advanced courses, and you might also do a capstone project and prepare for a clinical examination. You'll also complete clinical rotations that will give you the opportunity to work with professionals in a number of different specialties, such as pediatrics, family medicine, emergency care and obstetrics.

Some second-year courses may cover the following:

  • Psychiatry
  • Patient evaluation
  • Clinical medicine
  • Surgery
  • Clinical skills

Licensure Requirements

After graduating from an accredited PA program, you must become licensed to practice in the profession. The BLS reports that licensure candidates must apply for and pass an examination administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. After passing your certification exam, you may use the Physician Assistant-Certified designation. You must recertify every 10 years by passing an exam, and every two years, you will need to comply with the continuing education requirement of 100 hours to maintain your licensure.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The BLS notes that PAs can expect good job prospects due to employing growth being much faster than average (30%) over the 2014-2024 decade. The aging population will particularly demand healthcare services, which will lead to facilities hiring more PAs. In addition, these healthcare professionals are less expensive than physicians, so facilities may hire PAs to save costs. As of May 2014, the average wage for these professionals was $97,280, according to the BLS.

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:

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