How to Become A Physician Assistant

How to Become a Physician Assistant

Physician assistants are highly trained and experienced medical personnel who practice on teams with physicians, surgeons and other healthcare workers. They work in physicians’ offices, outpatient care centers, clinics and hospitals.

If you are interested in this branch of medicine, the following guide will provide you with a detailed overview of how to become a physician assistant.

Should I Become a Physician Assistant?

The work of a physician assistant is highly rewarding – both intrinsically and monetarily. Even though getting into this field requires a lot of time and effort, it is worth it if you are really passionate about medicine and helping others.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Physician Assistants made an annual mean income of $108,430 in the year 2018. Let’s take a look at some quick facts and statistics for this occupational category to put things into perspective.

Education Required

Master’s Degree

Major Requirement

Physician Assistant




Required for admission into a PA Graduate Program

Key Skills

Communication skills, compassion, attention to detail, emotional stability and problem-solving skills

Annual Mean Salary (2018)


Job Outlook (2018)

31% (Much faster than average)

Career Requirements

In order to build up a career as a physician assistant, candidates are required to complete a bachelor’s degree, followed by a master’s degree. The master’s degree needs to be an accredited Physician Assistant program, lasting approximately 26 months. Once graduated from this program, candidates are eligible to take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE).

All states require physician assistants to be licensed to practice. Candidates are advised to check with their local state medical boards for a detailed list of state-specific licensure requirements for PAs. Once certified, candidates have to maintain it by completing continuing medical education (CME) credits, every two years and passing the rectification exam every 10 years.

Steps to Become a Physician Assistant

Step 1: Graduate from a Physician Assistant Degree Program

This would be a master’s level degree from an accredited educational program. It would typically take around 2 years to complete this program. Prior to enrolling in this program, students will be required to complete a bachelor’s degree, along with some patient care work experience. Though admission requirements for these programs vary, typical requirement include 2 to 4 years of undergraduate coursework with a focus in science subjects. Many applicants to these programs already possess experience as registered nurses or EMTs and Paramedics.

Physician assistant programs include both classroom and laboratory components with subject matter covering topics like physiology, human anatomy, pathology, clinical medicine and medical ethics etc. Supervised clinical training would include subjects like family medicine, internal medicine and pediatrics etc.

Step 2: Get Some Healthcare and Patient Care Experience (HCE/PCE)

Healthcare experience would be where you are not directly responsible for a patient’s care, while patient care experience would be where you are directly responsible for a patient’s care. It is best to get this experience early on. Every PA program requires it, though the exact hours may vary. Nearly all colleges would require you to have some healthcare experience before admissions, while most would have clinical rotations to fulfill experience hours requirements for graduation.

Step 3: Become Certified

Once you have graduated from your PA program, you will be eligible to sit for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE), which is administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Once you clear this exam, you may use the credential “Physician Assistant Certified (PA-C).” The PANCE is a 300-question, five-hour exam. It generally takes a few weeks to get the results.

Step 4: Get a State License

Requirements for state license would vary according to the state licensing body. However, most states would require you to file a formal application, submit the application fee, request the relevant educational institutes for official transcripts and request the NCCPA to forward your score report to the board. The evaluation process may easily take four to eight weeks to complete.

Step 5: Maintain Licensure

Most states require that physician assistants complete a certain number of continuing education hours. While this number may be different across states, in order to maintain national certification, licensed PAs are required to complete 100 hours of continuing medical education every 2 years.

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