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Physician Assistant

Overview

According to Money magazine, Physician Assistant is one of the Top 10 Best Jobs in America. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 30% job growth rate for the profession through 2020.

With the average PA program at 24-27 months, and the flexibility to move into different areas of medicine without additional training also add to the appeal of the profession.

Physician Assistants can practice and prescribe medicine in all 50 states and the District of Columbia (regulations vary by state) under the license of a physician, can work in a variety of health care settings, and although PAs are trained as generalists in medicine, they can also work in specialty areas, such as orthopedics, emergency medicine, or cardiology for example.

PAs are formally trained to provide the following healthcare services, as designated by a licensed physician:

  • Diagnostic, Preventive, and Therapeutic services
  • Working as members of the health care team, PAs may also:
  • Diagnose illness and disease
  • Examine and treat patients
  • Instruct and counsel patients
  • Order or carry out therapiesOrder and interpret lab tests and X-rays
  • Prescribe medications
  • Record progress notes
  • Take medical histories
  • Treat injuries by suturing, splinting, and casting

PAs can also have managerial duties, order medical and lab supplies and equipment, or may supervise technicians and assistants. While PAs practice under the license of a physician, they may also be the principal care providers in many practices, where a physician may be present for only 1 or 2 days each week. In such cases, the PA confers with the supervising physician and other medical professionals as needed, or as required by law. PAs may also make house calls or go to hospitals and nursing homes to check on patients and report back to the physician.

The Physician Assistant Education Association recently launched a microsite, PAFocus.org for Pre-PAs to discover more about the profession, admissions process, CASPA and veterans information. 

To learn more about this career, watch the video profile of "Physician Assistants."

Working Conditions

PAs usually work in a comfortable, well-lighted environment. Those in surgery often stand for long periods, and others may do considerable walking. Schedules vary according to practice setting, and often depend on the hours of the supervising physician. The workweek of PAs may include weekends, nights, early morning hospital rounds to visit patients, or may be on-call. PAs in clinics usually work a 40-hour week.

Academic Requirements

In order to practice, all PAs must graduate from an accredited PA program, pass the national certification exam, and obtain license in the state they wish to practice.

The number of accredited PA programs has increased from 141 in 2008 to 174 in 2013. 89% of programs offer a Master's-level degree. The remainder of PA programs offer either a bachelor's degree, associate’s degree, or certificate of completion. Starting in 2020, all PA programs will be required to offer a Master’s-level degree upon completion of and graduation from a PA program.

A large majority of PA graduates have a bachelor's degree. The Physician Assistant Education Association also provides a searchable list of PA programs via the Program Member Map. Potential applicants may also to subscribe to the recently updated version of the PA Program Directory for an annual fee of $35. Program requirements can be searched among the PA programs with the ability to filter and compare criteria. 

The Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) makes it easy to apply to multiple PA programs using a single application, one set up transcripts, one set of letters of recommendation, and one personal statement.