A physician’s assistant is a certified and licensed medical professional who facilitates physicians and other members of the healthcare team in practicing and providing medicine.
How To Become A Physician’s Assistant
Physician’s assistant (PA) school is extremely competitive. Physician’s assistant school requires that students have already completed work in fields like chemistry, anatomy, and biology, and may even require previous healthcare experience.
Complete a Bachelor’s Degree in a Science Field
Most applicants for PA school have a bachelor’s degree in the medicine or science field. In order to qualify for PA school, you must have completed courses in chemistry, physiology, anatomy, microbiology, and biology.
Work in Health Care for Three or More Years
In addition to a bachelor’s degree, most applicants to PA school also have three years experience (or more) in healthcare. A few of the many positions where a potential applicant can get health care experience are: EMT, medical corpsman, registered nurse, surgical tech, or CNA.
Attend An Accredited PA Program
PA programs typically last three academic years, and result in a master’s degree. Both clinical rotations and classroom instruction are part of this program.
After graduating from an accredited PA program, students are eligible to take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE). Upon passing, students are given the title Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C)
Obtain A State License
Each state has different licensing requirements for practice. New York state requires a baccalaureate degree, graduation from an accredited PA program, and a passing grade on the PANCE, as well as infection control training before licensure, and as a condition of license renewal. California, on the other hand, requires graduation from an accredited PA program, a passing grade on PANCE, and a minimum number of continuing medical education hours.
The average cost for tuition a PA program is $50,567. This is on top of the cost of a bachelor’s degree, which can cost around $50,000 on average.
Job Description / Responsibilities
Physician’s assistants are an important part of a medical team including physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers. They are employed in all fields of medicine, including primary care, pediatric care, surgery, and emergency medicine. Generally, physician’s assistants perform the following duties daily.
- Contribute to effectiveness of physician and medical team by identifying patient health issues, providing information related to any issues and treatment plans, recommending courses of action, and carrying out physician’s orders.
- Interview patients and perform physicals to screen for patient conditions; update and study medical histories for effective treatment and prevention of disease.
- Administer and order diagnostic tests to determine abnormal health conditions, such as X-Rays, blood tests, and CAT scans.
- Document, through medical charts, patient care services received and ordered, such as therapeutic services, diagnostic test results, and patient lifestyle.
- Administer immunizations, injections, sutures, wound care, infection management, medication as required, and other therapeutic services.
- Arrange admissions and discharges; perform rounds and record patient data; compile case summaries; use case summaries to issue diagnostic orders.
- Draw and examine blood; apply bladder catheterization and run urinalysis; administer intubation; collect and examine stool; collect bacteriological and viral cultures.
- Administer local anesthesia; strap, cast, and splint sprains and fractures; remove casts; incise and drain skin infections
- Assist in surgical procedures such as pre and postoperative care, general surgical assisting, biopsies, insert and remove drains, vein harvesting, surgical closure, and intensive care.
- Participate in or conduct outreach programs; speak with groups about disease management, prevention techniques, and wellness programs.
- Research latest treatment options to increase quality of patient care; keep up to date with new medical studies and findings
- Educate and speak with patients regarding new diagnoses and conditions; discuss best treatment plans with individuals and families.
- Act as primary care provider when physician is unavailable; make house calls and visits nursing homes to treat immobile patients.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the physician assistant’s position is projected to grow 30 percent over the next ten years, which is significantly faster than average growth for all areas.
It is projected that in 2024, there will be 123,200 positions for physician assistants. As baby boomers age, there is a growing population needing more medical care, which could be responsible for creating massive growth in this field.
Chronic diseases are also on the rise. Diabetes, pulmonary disease, and cardiac problems all require greater attention to preventative care, which is a primary responsibility of a physician assistant.
Also contributing to the projected growth of positions available is the anticipated increase in the number of individuals who have access to healthcare. The expected federal health insurance reform will lower costs and other barriers to entry regarding health insurance, making it available to nearly everyone.
Physician assistants are also performing the tasks of physicians more regularly as physicians begin to retire or move into specialty fields.
The role of the physician assistant continues to evolve, and as someone in this position moves forward in their career, they can further specialize by taking more courses.
Physician assistants work mostly in the offices of physicians, but can also be employed in hospitals, outpatient care centers, educational services, or by the government.
Physician assistants have a job that is demanding, both physically and emotionally. They are often making rounds and evaluating patients. They spend most of their shift on their feet, especially when assisting with operations.
Physician assistants may need to cope with patients under their care dying or otherwise being seriously injured. To cope with the emotional problems this may cause, physician assistants may draw on their own spiritual needs, or even seek professional counseling.
Physician assistant positions are typically full time. If employed by a physician’s office, they will generally have a regular weekday schedule. Physician assistants employed in hospitals often have to work nights, weekends, and holidays.
Some physician assistants are required to take on-call shifts. During this time they will be required to show up to work with little notice.
American Academy of PAs: The AAPA is a national society for professional physician assistants. They provide educational resources regarding the profession, and work to ensure recognition and personal and professional growth for all PAs.
Journal of the AAPA: The JAAPA is a monthly trade publication released by the AAPA. This publication focuses on any concerns or research that might be of interest to a physician assistant.
Physician Assistant Education Association: PAEA is a national organization that represents PA educational programs. They ensure quality PA education by developing tailored educational products.
PAJobsite: PAJobsite offers job postings specifically for physicians assistants throughout the United States. This website allows users to search by specialty and by metropolitan area.
National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants: This organization’s website offers access to any information regarding earning and maintaining PA certification to students and PAs.
Society of Emergency Medicine Physician Assistants: This national organization represents physician assistants who work in the field of emergency medicine. They offer education and development tools.
Association of Neurological Physician Assistants: ANSPA is a volunteer led organization that represents physician assistants working in neurology through education and outreach.
Physician Assistant Forum: Founded in 1998, the Physician Assistant Forum is a place for PAs to meet and discuss topics relevant to the field including state specific discussions, residency, and more.
Physician Assistant Solutions: Physician Assistant Solutions is a recruitment website targeted at matching PAs to the right practice based on their specialty or career goals.
Physician Assistant History Society: PAHx curates and identifies magazine and newspaper clippings, papers, manuscripts, and other documents to maintain an accurate collection of the history of PAs.
Physician assistants have many responsibilities, and therefore need to embody many different skills in order to be successful. They are regularly called upon to solve problems, work in a team, and change tasks rapidly. Listed below are some of the requisite hard and soft skills.
Knowledge of Medicine– Physician assistants need to have a full working knowledge of techniques for diagnosis and treatment. They often act in place of physicians, and cannot rely on the physician for these things.
Detail Oriented-In the medical field, even the smallest mistake can make a huge difference. It is important to be able to pay attention to prescription dosages, patient charts, and other information about the patient’s care.
Compassion-Physician assistants will constantly be dealing with patients who are ill and their family members, many of whom will feel overwhelmed or scared. These patients and family members must be treated with great compassion to facilitate their recovery.
Active Listening- In order to make diagnoses and provide care plans, physician assistants need to give their full attention to their patients and the patient’s family members. They need to listen carefully, and be careful to not interrupt, while knowing when to ask the right questions.
Emotional Stability– Work in this field can be stressful; patients and their family members may be stressed about their condition, and it is up to the physician assistant to remain calm and keep any personal feelings to themselves in order to provide the best care.
Independence- While physician assistants work under a licensed physician, they are not always, and in fact are rarely, working directly with the doctor. They must be able to work well on their own and provide nearly all of the care services provided by a licensed physician.
Interpersonal Skills-Physician assistants spend their entire day working with people, so they must, by necessity, be proficient at interacting with others.
Time Management-This position requires the physician assistant to be able to manage their own time, and the time of others.
Adaptability-Things change frequently in the medical field, both physically, and in terms of research. A good physician assistant can rapidly adapt to changes.
Service Minded-Physician assistants need to be passionate about helping others actively.