Physician Assistant (Pediatrics): How to Become a Pediatric Assistant

Learn how to become a pediatric physician assistant. Research the education requirements, licensure information and experience required for starting a career as a pediatric physician assistant.

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Do I Want to Be a Pediatric Physician Assistant?

Pediatric assistants work under the supervision of a physician, providing healthcare to infants, children, adolescents, and young adults. Physician assistants (PAs) in pediatrics may work in a clinic, community health center, or hospital. They provide care such as routine check-ups and vaccinations for children.

While more than half of all physician assistants work in medical doctor's offices, nearly a quarter work in high-stress, fast-moving hospitals. The work done by physician assistants often carries an emotional toll and can be physically demanding; however, many find the prospect of helping other rewarding. Assistants may be required to stand for hours at a time. Physician assistants work on a full-time basis, although long and irregular hours may be part of the job.

Job Requirements

Pediatric PAs must undergo the same training as all other PAs, typically an accredited master's degree. Licensure for PAs is required in every state. Licensure applications usually require evidence of completing a PA program and passing a national certification exam. The following table presents the requirements for beginning a career as a pediatric PA:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Master's degree or equivalent accredited PA program*
Degree Field Physician assistant*
Licensure and Certification Licensure is required by all states and the District of Columbia. PAs take a certification exam before applying for licensure.*
Experience 2-5 years of experience is usually required to be a competitive candidate for a PA program.**
Key Skills Attention to detail, ability to work in a team, compassion*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Admission requirements for PA programs.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

PA programs require students to be graduates of a regionally-accredited bachelor's degree program. There is not a specific major required by PA programs, and candidates from diverse educational backgrounds are accepted. However, certain coursework in science, math and psychology is required. Typical course requirements include calculus, biology, microbiology, human anatomy, general and organic chemistry and psychology. Some programs require a minimum GPA requirement.

Success Tip

  • Choose a bachelor's degree program that will provide adequate preparation for getting experience in healthcare. To be a competitive applicant to PA programs, candidates should have experience in a healthcare setting following graduation from their bachelor's degree program. Therefore, students should be sure that they take any class in addition to those required by PA programs that will help them find work in a healthcare setting.

Step 2: Gain Experience Working in Healthcare

Most PA programs require experience in a healthcare setting, and some programs may not specify how much experience is required. However, admissions to these programs can be competitive, and successful applicants may need 2-5 years of experience. Many PAs have about 4-1/2 years of health care experience before attending a PA program, according to the American Association of Surgical Physician Assistants (aaspa.com).

Step 3: Attend a PA Program

PA programs must be accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). Most programs take two years to complete, with the first year focusing mainly on coursework and the second year concentrating on clinical work. A master's degree is the most common degree awarded by PA programs, but some may have other options, such as certificates. Most programs follow a general curriculum in which students get exposed to many areas of medicine, including obstetrics and gynecology, internal medicine, pediatrics, family medicine and emergency medicine.

Step 4: Take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) and Apply for Licensure

In order to become licensed in any state, graduates of a PA program must sit for the PANCE. The PANCE consists of five sections of 60 multiple-choice questions and is taken at computer-based testing centers across the country. The National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants administers the exam. As of September 2012, the test costs $475 to take. After passing the exam, an individual is eligible to submit an application for licensure in the state in which they wish to practice. Once the application is approved, professionals may use the title Physician Assistant - Certified.

Step 5: Join a Professional Organization

Licensed PAs working at least 50% of their time in pediatrics are eligible to join the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Society for Physician Assistants in Pediatrics. Professional organizations such as these offer members opportunities to stay connected with other professionals and learn about updates and new research in the field. Membership also offers discounts on industry books and publications and conference fees.

Step 6: Complete Required Continuing Education to Maintain Certification

Currently, PAs must submit documentation of 100 credits of continuing medical education coursework and pay a certification maintenance fee every two years. Every six years, PAs must take a recertification exam. Beginning in 2014, the NCCPA will begin transitioning to a 10-year recertification cycle.

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