A physician’s assistant is a healthcare professional who works under the supervision and authority of a fully licensed medical doctor. The physician’s assistant is generally empowered to provide any medical duties assigned by the supervising doctor and for which he has trained, up to and including surgical duties of a minor nature. Most generally a physician’s assistant or PA works as part of a larger health care team in a hospital or clinic environment; however PA’s may also be the only medical caregivers in some isolated, inner city and rural areas. They must still conduct their work under the supervision of a doctor, even in these semi autonomous situations.
The PA is most effective as a health care provider in the maintenance, prevention and treatment of illnesses and injury, and in an increasingly high cost health care environment, their utilization as the primary providers of treatment is increasingly being recognized.
PAs as a general rule can conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat most illnesses, authorize and interpret medical tests, assist a physician in surgery, advise patients on preventative health measures, issue medical orders to patients and support staff and write prescriptions.
How to Become a Physicians Assistant
As a prospective PA you will first want as much medical experience as possible. Having a minimum of two to four years should be sufficient. This means the sooner you can find your way into the medical field the better, look for jobs as med tech, paramedic or a nurse all of which will require their own specialized schooling. Next if you do not already have one you will need to earn yourself a Bachelor’s Degree and preferably a Bachelor’s of Science. You will also need to have taken classes in biology, microbiology, physiology and math as well as a few others. It would also be in your best interest to decide in advance which of the over 150 Physician Assistant Programs in the US that you plan on applying for. This way you can research the exact requirements those programs require. The easiest way to do this is check the website for the program in question.
Once you have met all the requirements for your chosen program you will then be ready to apply. You will then want to contact the program directly and request their information packet. Chances are you will then be asked to open an account with the Central Application Service for the Physician Assistants (CASPA) and apply through them. You may also be asked to fill out an admission application to the university through which the program is taught. At this point you will be waiting for an invitation for an interview. Like most interviews you will want to be prepared. The best way to do this would be to find a doctor or a physician assistant that is willing to help you with a mock interview. During which they can ask you questions that you are likely to here during the real thing.
If you are accepted into the program you will spend on average 26 months in training. You will then need to pass a national certification exam. At this point you will begin your search for your first job as a PA. Depending on which state you choose to work and the laws and regulations of that state you may also be required to obtain several other licenses, certificates and registrations.
The information above is a quick run through of the steps required to becoming a Physicians Assistant. There are many placing online that have more detailed information but the official site for the Physician Assistant Programs Association (paeaonline.org) is probably the best place to start.