How to Become a Physician Assistant in 5 Steps

A physician assistant (PA) practices medicine under the guidance of a licensed physician. Get information about the responsibilities of these professionals, as well as education and licensure requirements for the job. Schools offering Allied Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Physician Assistant?

As a physician assistant, you will provide an array of health care services as assigned by your supervising physicians. You may record patient medical histories, perform examinations to ascertain patients' physical condition, provide wound care, diagnose illnesses and order laboratory tests and x-rays. In addition, you may give immunizations and injections and provide assistance during surgeries. You may also perform specialty procedures utilizing advanced technologies. Other duties may include ordering medical supplies and, with the approval of a licensed physician, prescribing medications or therapies.

Step 1: Obtain Initial Training and Experience

Many physician assistant programs will require that you possess some experience in the health care field and in providing direct care to patients. The required amount of patient-care hours can range from 300 to 3,000. You can begin your career by first working as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), or an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).Since there are also some physician assistant programs which accept applicants who have non-paid health care experience, you might consider performing hands-on volunteer work and job shadowing in hospices, nursing homes or medical clinics.

Most PA programs require the completion of a bachelor's degree. You may earn a degree in a medical-related field, such as nursing or medical assisting.

Step 2: Enroll in an Accredited Physician's Assistant Program

You need to complete a physician assistant's master's degree program. These programs can last between 26 and 27 months. The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) reports that curricula can include coursework in behavior, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology and microbiology. Other courses might include pulmonary medicine, ophthalmology, dermatology, pathology, and clinical decision-making.

Step 3: Meet State Licensing Requirements

All states require you to successfully pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) and obtain the Physician Assistant-Certified credential, which is granted by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Your examination will consist of a series of multiple-choice questions, which will test your knowledge of various surgical and medical procedures.

Step 4: Find Employment as a PA

Physician assistants are employed in virtually every area of medicine, including orthopedics, pediatrics, emergency medicine, geriatrics, gynecology, family medicine and internal medicine. You may find work in hospitals, clinics, prisons and outpatient centers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2008, there were about 74,800 Pas working in the country ( Of those, 53% worked in physician's offices, 24% worked in medical and surgical hospitals and the remainder worked for outpatient centers, government agencies, college, universities and health maintenance organizations.

Step 5: Participate in Continuing Medical Education (CME) Courses

Continuing education courses are recommended as a way of remaining informed of improvements in technology and medicine. You'll also be required to complete 100 hours of continuing education in each two-year interval to maintain your PA certification.

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