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How to Become a Physician's Assistant - One of the Most In-Demand Jobs in the Medical Field

Updated on September 17, 2020

If You Are Interested In A Fascinating And Rewarding Career, Consider Becoming A Physician Assistant.


PERSONAL QUALITIES NEEDED TO BE A SUCCESSFUL PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT

Because they work under the supervision of a Physician, Physician Assistants must be willing and able to take direction and follow through with speed and accuracy. As they are required to deal with people of all ages and personalities, who may be ill, injured, or in pain, Physician Assistants must be compassionate, patient, and discreet. They must have excellent communication skills, be well-organized, detail oriented, hard working, and physically fit.

Above all, those who work in the medical field should be motivated as much by a desire to serve humanity as by prestige or a paycheck.


WHERE AND WHEN DO PHYSICIAN ASSISTANTS WORK

Physician Assistants work in clean, well-lit surroundings, in physician's offices, hospitals, clinics, and in long-term care facilities. They work in both urban and rural areas. Physician Assistants who work in isolated rural areas, may find they are the only source of health care in that location.

Although they usually work a regular schedule, the very nature of the job demands that Physician Assistants may also be required to work evenings, weekends, and holidays.


THE DUTIES OF A PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT

The duties of a Physician Assistant are many and vary day by day. Physician Assistants will assist in providing diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive health care to all their patients. This involves recording medical histories, preforming physical exams, listening to patient complaints, treating minor wounds, and assisting with surgeries. It also involves ordering and interpreting lab tests, x-rays, and MRIs, and developing treatment plans based on the results. Physician Assistants council patients on preventive health measures and refer them for further treatments. They may also prescribe medications. All this is done under the supervision of a practicing Physician.

If you are a Physician Assistant in a rural area, you may find that you are required to serve as the principal care giver. This may require you to refer patients to physicians, and, if necessary, arrange transportation to a hospital or other medical facility.


BASIC EDUCATION NEEDED TO BECOME A PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT

If you are still in high school and considering becoming a Physician Assistant, the course you take are very important. You must take all the science related courses available such as chemistry, biology, and health care. You should also take English and computer technology. Becoming a Physician Assistant is not any easy path to follow so study hard and get the best basic experience you can.

Discuss with your school councilor your subject choices and also the possibility of shadowing a practicing Physician Assistant or at least speaking to one about the profession.

It would be wise to get some practical experience as a volunteer in a hospital, nursing home, or clinic. Simply being around medical professionals will give you some idea of the problems and difficulties related to their work.


EDUCATION NEEDED TO BECOME A PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT

After graduating from high school, it will be necessary to first obtain a bachelors degree. This means four years of hard work, ideally in a related field. Although any degree may be accepted, applicants are considered better candidates for the job, if they have a degree in fields such as nursing, psychology, science or health services.

Once you have your undergraduate degree, you will need to get a years experience working in the medical field. This experience will provide you with an opportunity to work on a one to one basis with patients, and will act as a basis for the further education that will be needed.

With some actual experience under your belt, you will be ready to apply for enrollment in an ARC-PA accredited program. ARC-PA (ACCREDITATION REVIEW COMMISSION ON EDUCATION FOR THE PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT) sets out the standards that must be met by any institution offering education for Physician Assistants.

Make sure the program you choose is accredited by ARC-PA. All states now require Physician Assistants to graduate from an accredited program.


ACCREDITED TRAINING PROGRAMS FOR PHYSICIAN ASSISTANTS

First, a word of caution. Applying for training programs for Physical Assistants is extremely time consuming and complicated. As soon as you get your application, start planning as the process may take up to a full year.

Applications require such things as letters of recommendation, essays, documentation of your academic history (subjects and grades), and records of relevant experience and employment (paid or volunteer). This is not as easy as it appears. Parts of the application have time limits, and there are deadlines to be met. Over half of those who apply, do not succeed, at least not on their first try, so if you need help, consult your student adviser.

Programs for Physician Assistants take from two to three years, and include classroom, laboratory, and clinical work. These programs cover a wide variety of essential material including courses in anatomy, pharmacology, pathology, emergency medicine, gynecology, microbiology, internal medicine, and surgery. If you have a specific interest, consider specializing in areas such as pediatrics, geriatrics, or gynecology.

Periodically, throughout their careers, Physician Assistants will take further training in order to keep up with all the rapidly advancing knowledge and techniques in the medical field.


CERTIFICATION FOR PHYSICIAN ASSISTANTS

After satisfactorily completing an accredited program and passing all required exams, Physician Assistants must then become certified. This entails taking and passing the PANCE exam (Physician Assistants National Certifying Exam).

This exam consists of several hundred multiple choice questions. These are set up in several blocks, allowing breaks between. Once you complete a block, you cannot go back, but must continue to the next.

Once all these educational requirements have been satisfactorily completed, you will be considered a licensed Physician Assistant, ready and qualified to seek employment.


A WORD OF CAUTION

Check with you state, where you plan to practice, to ensure that you are meeting all that state's requirements. State requirements may vary slightly over time, so check often.


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