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How to Become a Physician Assistant

By Ahmad Rhodes


Have you ever wanted to pursue a career that closely resembles a physician but didn’t want to go to school for as long? If so, a physician assistant may be the best choice. A physician assistant is an allied healthcare professional that can diagnose, treat, and work in collaboration with other healthcare professionals. The difference between a physician assistant and a physician is the physician has the final authority over the patient’s care. The physician assistant works under supervision of a medical doctor.


In order to become a physician assistant, a high school diploma and college education would be needed. In college, a bachelor’s degree with the prerequisites would have to be obtained. The prerequisites for physician assistant school are general chemistry, biology, microbiology, anatomy, and physiology. These are science prerequisites all with a lab. Non-science courses include English, statistics, and psychology. For those who want to be a more competitive applicant for physician assistant school, organic chemistry, biochemistry, genetics, physics, sociology, and psychology should also be taken. The popularity of the physician assistant profession is growing, so expect the admission process to be more competitive each year. The reason the physician assistant profession is becoming more favored is because many people do not want to go to school as long or pay as much debt as a normal physician. Furthermore, older people who need to spend more time with their family attend physician assistant school to maintain a work/life balance. Shadowing, volunteering, and community service are required for physician assistant school to show that one is truly dedicated to the field. The ideal GPA requirement for a physician assistant school applicant is 3.6, according to the 2019 Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) report. A lot of clinical experience in healthcare is needed in order to get into physician assistant school. It is recommended to be a CNA or a patient care technician temporarily because of bedside and communication skills that would be gained from the experiences. CNAs often work the closest with patients, considering they help the patient do daily tasks such as bathing, grooming, feeding, and checking vital signs. After all of that, the PA-CAT would have to be taken. The PA-CAT is the physician assistant school entrance exam. The different sections of the PA-CAT are writing, biological processes, chemical processes, critical reading, and quantitative reasoning. Unfortunately, there isn’t much score information regarding PA-CAT because it is not required to be accepted into physician assistant school. Some applicants take the MCAT instead.


Physician assistant school is normally 2 years and very similar to medical school. The first year is a didactic year with courses such as anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, physical diagnosis, behavioral sciences, and ethics. The last year is a clinical base year. Students rotate through family medicine, internal medicine, general surgery, pediatrics, and emergency medicine. At the end of physician assistant school, students take the physician assistant national certifying exam. This exam grants licenses for physician assistants to practice and covers material from all courses in physician assistant school. It is 300 questions with 5 blocks.


As a physician assistant, a specialty can be chosen. A benefit of being a physician assistant is one can switch specialties easier than physician can. Being a physician, one would have to attend a residency in one specialty. However, a residency is not required for physician assistants. The match process, which matches physicians with a residency, is a computerized system that lasts a year. It is very unpredictable, considering the applicant could be moved across the country for a residency position. Not to mention, flights and hotels for interviews can become very expensive. Therefore, it’s challenging for physicians to switch specialties once one is already picked.


Physician assistants are paid decent salaries; according to the U.S Bureau of Labor and Statistics, physician assistants make $112,260. The physician assistant career is also very rewarding, and one can learn a lot from different specialties while avoid working long hours. Unfortunately, there have been situations where doctors disrespect physician assistants because they aren’t as authoritative in care and have a lower ranking. Sometimes, physician assistants aren’t appreciated for their work ethic as they should be. Despite this, the physician assistant profession is nonetheless very rewarding and should be considered as a possible future career for those interested in going into the healthcare field!


References

  1. Erinnelson, & Erinnelson. (2020, February 19). All About the PCAT. Retrieved December 07, 2020, from https://www.kaptest.com/study/pcat/all-about-the-pcat/

  2. PA Programs: How to Become a Physician Assistant. (n.d.). Retrieved December 07, 2020, from https://www.geteducated.com/careers/how-to-become-a-physician-assistant/

  3. Shemmassian, S. (2020, March 13). PA School Requirements: The Ultimate Guide. Retrieved December 07, 2020, from https://www.shemmassianconsulting.com/blog/pa-school-requirements

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