Physician's Assistant Courses and Classes

Physician's assistants perform many of the same medical procedures performed by physicians. Courses for this career are usually taken as part of a full graduate degree program.

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Essential Information

Education for physician's assistants is found at the master's degree level and normally takes a minimum of two years to complete. These programs generally require an undergraduate background in science and some experience in the health care field. In addition to completing courses with both classroom and laboratory components, students must complete many hours of clinical experience working directly with patients at a hospital or other medical care facility. A research project might also be included.

In introductory courses, students study the essential concepts of immunology, pharmacology and physiology, learning to think like doctors. They study anatomy to understand the human body's systems and disease prevention. Students take a clinical medicine course to learn about diseases and how to treat them. For example, they learn about endocrinology, neurology, gastroenterology and cardiovascular medicine. In a diagnostic process course, students put all their knowledge about the human body and disease into practice by learning to do full physical examinations. Students also learn to provide counseling to patients.

Graduates must take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) licensure exam to get certified to work as a physician's assistant. After earning certification, physician's assistants must comply with continuing education requirements, which consist of a recertification exam and continuing education hours.

List of Courses

Below are descriptions of a few classes commonly found in physician's assistant programs.

Diagnostic Process Course

This course instructs students in performing a complete physical diagnosis. Students learn to take medical histories, discern normal from abnormal conditions, perform diagnostic assessments and counsel patients. Other areas of emphasis include problem solving, clinical decision making, communication skills and a review of pathophysiology. In addition to classroom study, the course includes practical experience in a clinic, where students take complete physical examinations of patients.

Clinical Medicine Introductory Course

This is one in a series of courses in which prospective physician's assistants learn to identify and treat diseases and medical conditions of the different bodily systems. A case-based approach is used to understand the treatment of adult, pediatric and adolescent patients. The curriculum provides a foundation for patient care in the context of acute illness and chronic disorders. Areas studied include the respiratory, cardiovascular, neurologic, endocrine, renal and other systems.

Clinical Anatomy Course

Through dissection and examination of a human cadaver, students gain a comprehensive understanding of the relationships of various elements of the anatomy and how they correlate to the onset or prevention of disease. The course also includes the study of a human embryo in order to provide an understanding of normal and malformed embryonic development. Emphasis is on the relationship of anatomical concepts to diagnosis and problem solving.

Patient Counseling Course

Students learn to counsel patients by educating them about their own health and promoting healthy behavior. The focus of this physician's assistant course is on counseling techniques for a variety of clinical issues, such as substance abuse, crises, sexuality, patient-practitioner transference and cultural differences. Theories of psychopathology and personality are studied.

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