Becoming a Physician Assistant

rawpixel-577480-unsplashA growing number of postbacs have indicated an interest in becoming a physician assistant (PA). So, what does this career path look like?

A PA is an advanced practice medical provider who is licensed to treat illness and disease. Depending on the state, PA’s can prescribe medication and order diagnostic tests for their patients. Generally, they examine patients and practice medicine on teams with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers. In some extremely rural areas, a PA may even be the primary care provider at a clinic where a physician may present only one to two days a week. Laws and regulations on these practices vary by state in the U.S.

It is important for individuals interested in becoming a PA to possess many qualities, such as strong communication and interpersonal skills. This is key given how much of the work is focused on patient interactions. However, it is equally important to demonstrate excellent problem-solving skills and the ability to respond to emergency situations in a calm and reasoned manner.

Here are some quick facts about the field according the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook:

Typical Entry-Level Education:  Master’s Degree
2017 Median Pay:   $104,860/annually; $50.41/hour
Number of Jobs, 2016:  106,200
Job Outlook, 2016-2026:  37% (Much faster than average)

The Occupational Outlook Handbook suggests that these occupations have similar job duties to that of a PA. These include: EMTs and Paramedics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, Nurse Practitioners, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Physicians, Surgeons, Registered Nurses, and Speech Language Pathologists. If you are continuing to explore career options and are considering becoming a PA, these might be other avenues to look into as well.

As you can see from the Department of Labor projections, this is a growing career path in the U.S. If you are interested in learning more about becoming a PA, the NAAHP has offered some key questions to think about as you decide on this field:

  • What distinguishes a PA from other health care providers, like a physician or a nurse practitioner?
  • How will the PA profession help me meet my career goals?
  • Why do I think I will be an excellent health care provider? More specifically, an excellent physician assistant?

Physician assistant programs usually take at least two years of full-time study, equivalent to a master’s degree. While requirements vary by program, usually your undergraduate coursework should demonstrate a focus on science and you should have accrued exposure to clinical settings. If you would like to learn more about PA programs, here are some resources to check out:

 

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