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What Education Do I Need for a Career As a Physician Assistant?

Completing the educational and certification requirements to become a physician assistant can train you to examine patients, order necessary testing, supervise medical technicians, and prescribe medication. Review the requirements for entering this career field here.

Educational Requirements

In order to become a certified physician assistant (PA), you must graduate from a PA program that is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). PA programs are offered primarily at the master's degree level; less than 15 programs leading to a certificate, associate's degree or bachelor's degree were available as of 2015, and it's important to note that the master's degree is increasingly becoming the standard for PAs. According to ARC-PA in 2019, there are 242 accredited master's-level programs for PAs.

Admission requirements for PA programs vary according to the institution and type of degree, but there are some common requirements you may see in most schools. Most graduate-level PA programs require a bachelor's degree from an accredited university. You might be required to have completed courses in topics such as anatomy, physiology, or microbiology as part of your undergraduate study. Some schools may also require applicants to have previous work experience as a nurse, medical assistant, emergency medical technician, or medical technologist.

Important Facts about this Occupation

Average Salary (2020)$116,080
Job Outlook (2019-2029)31% growth
Work Environment Majority employed by health practitioners' offices; Work can be stressful, physically and emotionally; May work nights, weekends, holidays
Similar Occupations Registered Nurses, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Physicians and Surgeons, Speech-Language Pathologists

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Certification

According to the BLS, the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants' (NCCPA) Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) is a mandatory requirement in all states to practice as a licensed PA. Once you pass the PANCE, you can use the PA-C designation after your name.

You must maintain your certification by logging 100 hours of continuing education every two years and taking a re-certification exam every ten years. Additionally, the NCCPA website states that a new exam model is being considered for the re-certification exam, which would take into account specialty knowledge alongside general knowledge.

Postgraduate Educational Options

If you want to practice in a specialized area of medicine, such as surgery or psychiatry, you have to complete education beyond a PA program. You could pursue postgraduate options such as internal medicine, pediatrics, and emergency medicine.