Physician Assistant Certification and Certificate Programs

Find out what requirements are needed to become certified as a physician assistant (PA). Continue reading to learn more about receiving training through certificate programs and career information for aspiring PAs.

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Essential Information

Physician assistant certificate programs can help students gain requisite education to pass the required certification exam for career entry. Those who are interested in becoming physician's assistants typically need a bachelor's degree and need to complete an education program that's accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. (www.arc-pa.org). These postbaccalaureate programs, which typically can be completed in 24-30 months, can be found at allied health schools, community colleges and universities.

Physician's assistant certificate programs combine classroom learning with clinical field experiences. Some schools offer a simultaneous master's degree PA program in conjunction with certificate programs through the school or an affiliated university. Graduates will need to take the steps to secure a license before they can begin working. States differ in requirements, but most request an examination, a background check and proof of completion of a training program.

Educational Prerequisites

Requirements for entry into physician assistant certificate programs vary by school. Most programs require prospective students to have a bachelor's degree as well as some experience in healthcare. Applicants could also be required to shadow a PA for several hours prior to entering the program to understand the duties and needs of the potential career.

Course Topics

The PA program teaches students about various areas of healthcare, such as performing physical exams, using medical equipment, diagnosing patients and performing diagnostic studies. Common topics include:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Pathophysiology
  • Radiology
  • Patient management
  • Genetics
  • Pharmacology
  • Biochemistry
  • Emergency care
  • Pediatrics
  • Healthcare ethics

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as the healthcare industry expands, physician assistants' job growth is expected to increase quickly at a rate of 39% from 2008-2018 (www.bls.gov). PAs could assist with surgeries and provide more primary care to patients, which makes them a more cost-effective option than doctors in many instances.

The BLS found that job opportunities would be strong in non-traditional areas, such as prisons, hospitals and medical centers in institutional settings. As of 2010, doctor's offices were the most common place of employment for PAs.

The BLS noted that the median salary for a PA in 2010 was $86,410. The top ten percent in the field earned a median salary of $117,720 or more, while the bottom ten percent made $57,450 or less per year. The employment services industry paid their PAs more than other industries, while the state of Washington paid the highest average salaries in the country, at $98,620 per year.

Licensure, Certification and Continuing Education Information

Like doctors, physician assistants must obtain state licensure to practice. Each state uses the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. Additional requirements vary by state but could include fingerprinting, a background check and additional assessment of qualifications by the licensing board.

The PANCE exam tests aspiring PAs' basic surgical and medical knowledge (www.nccpa.net). In addition to obtaining a state license, PAs are also awarded the Physician Assistant-Certified credential. Continuing education requirements must be met to renew both certification and licensure.

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