become a physician assistant

What does a Physician Assistant (PA) do?

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A physician assistant (also known as a PA) is a health care professional who is trained and licensed to offer health care services under the supervision of a physician or surgeon. They are not a doctor or physician but the job profile includes many of the same responsibilities. Areas of work include medicine (including primary care and family medicine), emergency medicine, and psychiatry. Many physician assistants are employed in offices of health practitioners, hospitals, or outpatient facilities. Watch a video to learn what a physician assistant does.

How To Become A Physician Assistant (PA)

physician assistant

To become a physician assistant, a person typically needs a master’s degree from an accredited educational program. Coursework usually includes pathology, human anatomy, physiology, clinical medicine, pharmacology, physical diagnosis, and medical ethics. In addition there is supervised clinical training including family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine, and pediatrics. One must earn a bachelor’s degree and many work in the medical field prior to seeking this career path. The following physician assistant masters’ degrees are usually recognized in the United States:

  • Master of Science in Medicine (MMSc)
  • Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS)
  • Master of Health Science (MHS), Master of Medical Science (MMSc)
  • Master of Clinical Medical Science (MCMSc)
  • Master of Clinical Health Services (MCHS)
  • Bachelor of Clinical Health Services (BCHS)
  • Bachelor of Health Sciences (BHS)
  • Bachelor of Science Physician Assistant degree (BScPA)
  • Postgraduate Diploma in Physician Associate Studies (PgDip)

Once graduated one must become licensed to practice. A physician assistant must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA)- and as of 2014 – recertification is required every 10 years.

Job Description of a Physician Assistant (PA)

A physician assistant diagnoses health conditions, illnesses, and offers general healthcare. They also prescribe medication, offer first aid, attend to emergencies, and conduct tests – including but not limited to – blood tests, ultrasounds, x-rays, electrocardiographs, and recording vital signs among many additional tasks. Some physician assistants may also assist a surgeon or doctor during surgery.

The job profile of a physician assistant is quite extensive and it may also include minor administrative responsibilities as well. In most cases, the job profile of a physician assistant is formulated according to the needs of a particular clinic, health care center, hospital, or private practice in which they are working.

A physician assistant can specialize in medical and behavioral sciences areas as well, such as anatomy, immunology, hematology, microbiology, pharmacology, pathology, pathophysiology, genetics, clinical medicine, internal medicine, surgery, family medicine, physical diagnosis, pediatrics, gynecology, obstetrics, and emergency medicine.

Physician Assistant Career Video Transcript

Interested in a medical career with more advanced training than a registered nurse but less than a doctor? Consider becoming a physician assistant (or PA). Under a physician’s supervision, PAs examine and diagnose patient’s injuries or illnesses, treat and educate patients, and prescribe medicine. A PA does many of the same tasks a doctor does, from setting broken bones to ordering X-rays and blood tests.

Physician assistants work in all areas of medicine, including primary care and family medicine, emergency medicine, psychiatry, and surgery where they assist physicians during procedures. Like other medical professionals, PAs spend significant time reviewing patient records and documenting patient’s progress. Most physician assistants work in health care clinics and hospitals, spending many hours on their feet each day to make rounds and examine patients. The work can be physically demanding.

Most PAs work full-time and may work nights, holidays, and weekends. Some are required to work on-call shifts, ready to respond to patient’s needs at any time. They make house calls or visit nursing homes to treat patients. A master’s degree and license are required to enter the field. PAs bring healing and health to patients while continuously learning from the skilled physicians in their midst and the patients who depend on their skills.

Article Citations

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Physician Assistants.

National Center for O*NET Development. 29-1071.00. O*NET OnLine.

The career video is in the public domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.

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