Physician assistants, also known as PAs, provide health care to patients under the direction and guidance of a doctor or surgeon. If you enjoy helping people and want to pursue a career in health care, becoming a PA might be for you.
Physician assistants are educated to diagnose patients and practice medicine. Working as a physician assistant, your duties might include requesting and analyzing laboratory work, noting patients' health histories, performing health checkups, providing health remedies and prescribing medications. You might also be in charge of administering stitches, applying bandages and putting on casts for patients. In inner-city or rural areas, you might be the primary source of medical care. With these types of situations, the primary doctor is still obligated to guide and instruct you.
You can work in general primary care, such as family or internal medicine, or specialize a certain area. For example, you might become a pediatric physician assistant, physician assistant in surgery or physician assistant in neonatology.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of physician assistants was expected to increase 39% between 2008 and 2018 (www.bls.gov). Job prospects were anticipated to be particularly good in areas where it's hard to attract physicians and in states that grant PAs more range to practice. In May 2010, physician assistants earned an average salary of $87,140.
Before you can apply to formal PA programs, you'll most likely need to have either a college degree or experience related to health care. Community colleges, allied health schools, colleges and universities may offer physician assistant programs, which the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant accredit. If you're starting out, you can consider an associate's degree program for physician assistants or a physician assistant bachelor's degree program. A master's degree program for physician assistants may be for you if you already have a baccalaureate degree in another subject.
Your physician assistant studies might cover the composition and structure of the human body, medications and treatments, illnesses, common medical procedures and ethics. You'll also learn how to conduct medical examinations and diagnose health conditions. You might learn about providing health care to adolescents and seniors and handling emergency and surgical procedures. You'll be expected to participate in clinical experiences.
Upon graduation, you can apply for physician assistant certification through the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. You'll need to have had completed an accredited training program and pass an exam that tests your expertise about clinical and health topics.