What is a Physician Assistant?

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What is a Physician Assistant?

Physician Assistants (PAs) are vital members of the healthcare team, working alongside physicians and other healthcare workers to provide high-quality care to patients. PAs are highly trained and skilled healthcare providers who play a crucial role in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of various medical conditions.

To become a PA, one must complete a rigorous educational program that is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). This accreditation ensures that the program meets the highest standards of education and prepares graduates for the challenges they will face in their career.



The role of a PA is diverse and dynamic, as they work in various healthcare settings such as hospitals, clinics, and surgical environments. PAs are trained to perform a wide range of tasks, including taking patient histories, conducting physical examinations, ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, prescribing medications, and assisting in surgical procedures.

One of the key responsibilities of a PA is to provide comprehensive care to patients. This includes not only treating their medical conditions but also addressing their emotional and psychological needs. PAs are trained to listen to their patients, understand their concerns, and provide the necessary support and guidance throughout their healthcare journey.

For those considering a career as a PA, there are numerous opportunities available. The demand for PAs is on the rise, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting a 31% growth in employment for PAs from 2019 to 2029. This growth is much higher than the average for all occupations, making it an excellent career choice for those who wish to make a difference in the healthcare field.

To become a PA, there are several steps that need to be taken. First, aspiring PAs must complete a bachelor’s degree, preferably in a science-related field. Then, they must apply to a PA program, such as the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA), and complete the necessary prerequisites. Once accepted into a program, students will undergo intensive training, including classroom instruction, laboratory work, and clinical experiences.



After completing the PA program, graduates must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) to become certified. This exam evaluates their knowledge and skills in various medical areas and is a requirement for licensing in most states. Once certified, PAs can choose to specialize in a specific area of medicine by completing a postgraduate residency or fellowship program.

When it comes to earning potential, PAs have a promising career ahead. The median annual wage for PAs was $112,260 in May 2020, with the highest 10% earning more than $157,120. The salary can vary depending on factors such as experience, specialization, and geographic location.

What is a Physician Assistant?

A Physician Assistant (PA) is a healthcare professional who works under the supervision of a licensed physician to provide medical care to patients. PAs are trained to perform a wide range of tasks, including diagnosing and treating illnesses, performing physical examinations, ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, prescribing medications, and assisting in surgery.



PAs are educated in a rigorous program that includes classroom studies, laboratory work, and clinical rotations. They must complete a Master’s degree from an accredited PA program, which typically takes about two years to complete. During their studies, PAs learn about anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and other medical sciences.

Roles and Responsibilities

Once they have completed their education, PAs can work in various healthcare settings, such as hospitals, clinics, and private practices. They are trained to provide primary care to patients of all ages, from newborns to the elderly. PAs can diagnose and treat common illnesses, manage chronic conditions, and provide preventive care.

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PAs work closely with physicians and other healthcare professionals to develop and implement treatment plans for their patients. They perform physical examinations, take medical histories, order and interpret diagnostic tests, and prescribe medications. PAs also provide counseling on healthy lifestyle choices and educate patients on managing their conditions.

Career Opportunities

As a PA, you’ll have a wide range of career opportunities to choose from. You can specialize in a specific area of medicine, such as pediatrics, cardiology, or orthopedics. PAs can also work in surgical settings, assisting in procedures and providing post-operative care.

To become a PA, you must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). After passing the exam, you’ll be a certified PA and can apply for state licensing. Each state has its own licensing requirements, so it’s important to check the specific requirements of the state you plan to practice in.

According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), the PA profession is expected to grow by 37% from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. This high demand for PAs is due to the increasing need for healthcare providers to meet the growing healthcare needs of the population.

Roles, Responsibilities, and Career Opportunities of a Physician Assistant

A physician assistant (PA) is a healthcare professional who works under the supervision of a licensed physician to provide medical care to patients. PAs are trained and educated to perform various tasks and responsibilities, making them an integral part of the healthcare team.

The role of a physician assistant includes conducting physical examinations, diagnosing and treating illnesses, ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, prescribing medications, and assisting in surgeries. They work closely with physicians to provide comprehensive and quality care to patients.

One of the key responsibilities of a PA is to complete patient histories and perform physical examinations. They gather information about the patient’s medical history, current symptoms, and any relevant test results. This information helps them in diagnosing and treating the patient effectively.

Physician assistants also play a crucial role in follow-up care. They monitor the progress of patients, order additional tests if necessary, and adjust treatment plans accordingly. They ensure that patients receive the necessary care and support throughout their healthcare journey.

Career opportunities for physician assistants are vast and diverse. PAs can choose to work in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, private practices, and long-term care facilities. They can specialize in different areas such as family medicine, emergency medicine, surgery, pediatrics, and more.

To become a licensed physician assistant, one must complete a PA program. These programs are typically graduate-level and require a bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite. The PA program curriculum includes both classroom studies and clinical rotations to provide comprehensive training.

After completing the PA program, graduates must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) to become certified. This exam tests their knowledge and skills in various medical areas, including anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and more.

Once certified, physician assistants must also obtain a state license to practice. Licensing requirements vary by state but generally involve passing a state-specific exam or the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE).

The outlook for physician assistants is promising, with a high demand for healthcare providers in the coming years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of physician assistants is projected to grow 31% from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all professions.

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In addition to the rewarding career opportunities, being a physician assistant also comes with a competitive salary. The median annual wage for physician assistants was $112,260 in May 2019, with the highest 10% earning more than $157,120.

Transitioning into the role of a physician assistant can be a fulfilling and unforgettable journey. It requires dedication, hard work, and a genuine passion for helping others. If you are interested in becoming a PA, it is essential to understand the responsibilities and requirements of the profession.

For more information and guidance, you can visit the websites of professional organizations like the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) or the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA). These websites provide valuable resources and insights into the PA profession, helping you make an informed decision about your career path.

What Degree Is Needed to Be a PA

To become a Physician Assistant (PA), you’ll need to earn a specific degree that prepares you for the role. PA programs are typically offered at the graduate level, meaning that those who are interested in becoming PAs must first complete an undergraduate degree before applying to a PA program.

There are various undergraduate degrees that can help prepare you for a career as a PA. While there is no specific major required, many PA programs recommend or require certain prerequisite courses in subjects such as biology, chemistry, anatomy, and physiology. These courses provide a foundation in the sciences and help students acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed in a PA program.

Once you have completed your undergraduate degree and have taken the necessary prerequisite courses, you can then apply to a PA program. PA programs are typically 2-3 years in length and include both classroom instruction and clinical rotations. During these programs, students learn everything from medical diagnosis and treatment to patient care and healthcare management.

After completing a PA program, graduates must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) in order to become licensed to practice. This exam tests the knowledge and skills necessary to be a competent and effective PA.

The outlook for PAs is very positive, with job opportunities expected to increase significantly in the coming years. PAs can work in a wide range of healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, and private practices. They can also specialize in various areas, such as orthopedic surgery or emergency medicine.

FAQ

What is a Physician Assistant?

A Physician Assistant (PA) is a healthcare professional who works under the supervision of a licensed physician. PAs are trained to provide medical care, diagnose and treat illnesses, and prescribe medications. They can work in various healthcare settings, such as hospitals, clinics, and private practices.

What are the roles and responsibilities of a Physician Assistant?

A Physician Assistant has a wide range of roles and responsibilities. They can conduct physical examinations, order and interpret diagnostic tests, develop treatment plans, assist in surgeries, provide counseling and education to patients, and perform various medical procedures, such as suturing wounds and casting fractures. PAs also collaborate with other healthcare professionals to ensure comprehensive patient care.

What are the career opportunities for Physician Assistants?

Physician Assistants have excellent career opportunities. They can work in primary care settings, such as family medicine and internal medicine, or specialize in areas like surgery, emergency medicine, pediatrics, or dermatology. PAs can also pursue careers in research, education, administration, or healthcare policy. With experience and additional training, they can advance to leadership positions or open their own practices.

How do you become a Physician Assistant?

To become a Physician Assistant, you need to complete a bachelor’s degree, preferably in a science-related field, and then apply to a Physician Assistant program. These programs typically take about two years to complete and include both classroom instruction and clinical rotations. After graduating from an accredited program, you need to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) to become a certified PA. Some states also require PAs to obtain a license to practice.

Dave Pennells

By Dave Pennells

Dave Pennells, MS, has contributed his expertise as a career consultant and training specialist across various fields for over 15 years. At City University of Seattle, he offers personal career counseling and conducts workshops focused on practical job search techniques, resume creation, and interview skills. With a Master of Science in Counseling, Pennells specializes in career consulting, conducting career assessments, guiding career transitions, and providing outplacement services. Her professional experience spans multiple sectors, including banking, retail, airlines, non-profit organizations, and the aerospace industry. Additionally, since 2001, he has been actively involved with the Career Development Association of Australia.