How Do I Become a Physician Assistant?

If you have an interest in healthcare, pay attention to details and empathize with patients who are sick or in pain, you might wonder how to become a physician assistant. Physician assistants are the professionals in the field of healthcare who provide direct care to patients while working under the supervision of a doctor. These professionals have advanced healthcare training, culminating in a master’s degree. All fields of medicine, from primary care to specialties, may employ physician assistants.

Like doctors, physician assistants diagnose and treat patients directly. They go over medical histories, perform examinations, review test results, develop diagnoses and administer many kinds of treatments for injuries and illnesses as well as preventive care such as immunizations. Although they practice medicine, physician assistants are not doctors themselves. They work under the guidance of full-fledged doctors, so in many states, they do not have the option to open their own private practices. Most physician assistants find employment in established hospitals, doctor’s offices, clinics, outpatient centers and government agencies. Some physician assistants even work in surgical operating rooms.

To begin preparing for a career as a physician assistant, candidates should pursue a formal education from a college or university. First, aspiring physician assistants should earn a bachelor’s degree, usually in a field related to science or mathematics. Experience in some aspect of the healthcare industry is often necessary for aspiring physician assistants to enroll in the required master’s degree program. Some candidates approach the profession from a background in nursing or emergency response.

Upon finishing their undergraduate educational career and acquiring the required amount of healthcare experience, aspiring physician assistants should apply to a two-year physician assistant master’s degree program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant. These special programs may be offered by hospitals, medical schools, academic health centers, four-year or community colleges or schools of allied health. During their graduate-level education, aspiring physician assistants will study anatomy and physiology, pathology and ethics in the classroom and gain clinical experience working in various disciplines of medicine. After graduating, they must successfully complete a test called the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination, administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, and obtain state licensure.

Physician assistants earn a median annual salary of $86,410, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Career opportunities for physician assistants are rapidly growing, in part because of a shortage of primary care doctors. The BLS anticipates job prospects for this profession to increase by 30 percent between 2010 and 2020, as compared to only 14 percent across all occupations. For many physician assistants, the opportunity to help patients without having to make the significant time and financial investment in completing medical school is another benefit. If you can work calmly under pressure and care about helping others, knowing how to become a physician assistant could be your first step toward a profitable and fulfilling new career in the healthcare industry.

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