Physician Assistant

What is a Physician Assistant?

Physician assistants are health care professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. As part of their comprehensive responsibilities, PAs conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery, and write prescriptions.

In some rural areas where physicians are in short supply, PAs serve as the primary providers of health care, conferring with their supervising physicians and other medical professionals as needed and as required by law. PAs can be found in virtually every medical and surgical specialty.

The PA’s responsibilities depend on the type of practice, his or her experience, the working relationship with physicians and other health care providers, and state laws.
There are approximately 68,100 practicing PAs in the United States as of January 2009.

There are more than 140 accredited PA programs located throughout the United States. They are generally affiliated with two- and four-year colleges and university schools of medicine or allied health. The education consists of classroom and laboratory instruction in the basic medical and behavioral sciences (such as anatomy, pharmacology, pathophysiology, clinical medicine, and physical diagnosis), followed by clinical rotations in internal medicine, family medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, emergency medicine, and geriatric medicine.

Upon graduation, physician assistants take a national certification examination developed by the National Commission on Certification of PAs in conjunction with the National Board of Medical Examiners. To maintain their national certification, PAs must log 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years and sit for a recertification every six years. Graduation from an accredited physician assistant program and passage of the national certifying exam are required for state licensure.

PA programs look for students who have a desire to study, work hard, and to be of service to their community.  Most physician assistant programs require applicants to have previous health care experience and some college education. The typical applicant already has a bachelor’s degree and approximately four years of health care experience. Commonly nurses, EMTs, and paramedics apply to PA programs. Check with PA educational programs of interest to you for a list of their prerequisites.

The Online Program Directory published by the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) is a comprehensive listing of physician assistant educational programs in the U.S. This online catalog lists addresses, admissions deadlines, course requirements, tuition level, degrees awarded, Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) participation, and much more.