A physician assistant, or PA for short, is a type of mid-level health care provider whose duties revolve around, as you might have guessed, assisting a doctor in the day-to-day treatment of patients. Of course, such a general description does not really describe what a PA actually does and, as it happens, assisting a doctor involves a much more diverse set of duties than one might expect. For instance, a PA might even spend a lot of time treating a patient without a doctor even present.
Indeed, PAs can even be the principal healthcare provider in a number of healthcare settings. They may even diagnose diseases and, in many cases, appear to be handling many things that a fully qualified doctor does. PAs always undergo their medical training in less time than it takes to complete a traditional medical degree; they also skip the residency training altogether.
What Does a Physician Assistant Do?
A cursory look at any health job boards online will return a great many vacancies for physician assistants. Moreover, most of these are likely to be fairly diverse too – given the diversity of roles and duties of a doctor, a PA’s duties are just as varied.
Nevertheless, it is possible to be a bit more specific about what PAs actually do and offer a good outline for those perhaps thinking of becoming one themselves. The first thing to note is that PAs work in a variety of settings, ranging from clinics and colleges to private medical practices and outpatient surgeries. PAs do normally work under the guidance of a physician and in the U.S. must be legally connected to one. However, they do maintain their aforementioned independence and will take up the majority of a doctor’s duties, including diagnosing illnesses.
Steps to Becoming a Physician Assistant
If you are thinking about becoming a physician assistant, you should be aware that it takes time (although less than to become a doctor), hard work, and genuine desire to help others. If you can satisfy those criteria, then there is nothing left to do but get started.
Complete a Bachelor’s Degree
The first step is to start a bachelor’s degree, which should be a science major such as biology or chemistry.
Fulfill Your School’s PA Prerequisites
After your bachelors, you will need to get into a PA school. And to do this, you will need to satisfy their specific prerequisites, which could involve taking additional courses.
Get Work Experience
A typical PA program will require about a thousand hours of experience in either healthcare or patient care (often, both are required). This can include both volunteer and paid positions. Specific requirements may, however, vary by school.
Attend an Accredited PA Program
You will need to find a school that suits you and then submit all your application and relevant materials through the CASPA (Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants) applications portal.
Pass the PA National Certifying Exam (PANCE)
After graduating from your PA program, you will have to take this exam in order to become a fully qualified – although as yet unlicensed – PA.
Obtain State Licensure
Medical regulation is, more often than not, regulated at the state level, so you will need to obtain a license within the specific state in which you want to practice. This will also narrow down your choice when searching on sites like Health Jobs Nationwide for a job vacancy.
And that is how you begin practicing as a PA. Get ready for a rewarding career which, despite the implications of the name, will offer you a great deal of professional independence.