Physician's Assistant Training Programs and Requirements

A physician's assistant, or PA, is a certified health care professional who provides diagnostic, therapeutic and preventive healthcare services under the supervision of a medical doctor. Training programs for physician assistants require classroom and hands-on education, and certification requires ongoing continuing medical education.

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Training Requirements and Recommendations

Physician's assistants must be licensed, which requires completing an approved physician assistant program. While some physician assistants meet licensure standards with a certificate, associate degree or bachelor's degree, most training programs for physician assistants are at the master's degree level. Physician assistants may have previous medical experience as nurses, paramedics or EMTs.

Formal Education

Although some positions may be available to students that hold a bachelor's degree in the field, most physician's assistants complete a master's degree program. While most aspiring physician assistants hold or are earning a bachelor's degree, an individual's undergraduate degree doesn't need to be in a health-related field in order to be accepted into a master's degree program for physician assistants.

Bachelor of Science Degree Program

The Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Physician Assistant is a 4-year, undergraduate degree program designed to introduce students to basic physician assistant skills. Students take courses in health-related topics, such as pharmacology, human anatomy and health ethics law. Universities often offer the physician assistant bachelor's degree program through the school of pharmacy.

Master of Science Degree Program

A Master of Science (M.S.) in Physician Assistant Studies, a 2-year graduate-level program, is the most common form for a physician assistant studies program. Classes may address subjects like diagnostic process, pathophysiology and clinical management. Students entering a master's program with a bachelor's degree in a field unrelated to health may be required to complete prerequisite courses in microbiology and biochemistry.

Job Experience

Physician's assistants are expected to have some clinical experience before applying for a position. Required and supervised clinical rotations during the degree programs provide PA students with the necessary hands-on experience for an entry-level job. Students may complete rotations in pediatrics, gynecology and obstetrics.

Licenses and Certifications

Physician's assistants must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination to practice in any state. The exam is administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) and is only available to students who have graduated from an accredited PA degree program. Physician's assistants must be re-certified every six years.

Workshops and Seminars

Physician's assistants must complete 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years in order to maintain their certification. Schools and health care organizations offer classes on a wide range of topics, including improved patient communication, geriatrics and behavioral medicine. Seminars designed to keep PAs current with regards to new tools and techniques may be offered at local colleges or medical organizations.

Additional Professional Development

Many continuing education options for physicians assistant allow for home study courses. Presentations from conferences are available online following the conference. Organizations like the American Academy of Physician Assistants have member resources that encourage physician assistants to develop their practices and their presence as health care providers in the community at large.

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