Becoming a physician assistant is demanding, but it can be one of the most rewarding medical careers. Perhaps the first step in becoming a physician assistant should be asking yourself why you want to be one. After all, there are many other types of medical professionals, including nurses, nurse practitioners, and medical assistants, and many physician assistants come from careers in these fields. Being a physician assistant is a more autonomous profession, where your work complements that of the collaborative physician supervisor. Ask yourself, “Why do I want to become a PA, and not a nurse practitioner, physician, or other medical professional?”
If you want to become a PA, you will have to meet certain requirements in order to be admitted to one of the accredited physician assistant programs. Most physician assistant schools and all the top ones require that you have some degree of experience in direct patient care. That may include experience as a hospital orderly, an EMT, respiratory therapist, or nurse, as well as other patient care experiences. You will also generally have to have a bachelor’s degree with good grounding in biology, chemistry, microbiology, biochemistry, and mathematics. If you lack these prerequisite courses, you should arrange to complete them before applying to PA programs.
When you’re ready to choose a program, you have your choice of dozens of accredited programs in the United States. Your personal situation will help determine which of these you apply to. Your finances, whether you have a spouse and / or children, and geographical preference will play some role in helping you determine which programs you will find most fitting. Physician assistant schools all have different application deadlines, and many of them favor those who apply early, so make note of these deadlines on your calendar so you don’t miss out. You will have to have an interview before being admitted, so be prepared to explain your reasons for wanting to become a PA, and why you believe you are a good candidate for one of the limited positions in a PA school.
Physician assistant programs generally last two to three years, and they are demanding. Most people are not able to work even part-time while they are training as a PA. Generally the first half of the curriculum is dedicated to classroom and laboratory instruction, while the second half of the curriculum is devoted to clinical rotations in various medical specialties. In some cases, first year PA students train alongside first year medical students. Once you complete the PA program, you will have to take the necessary licensing exams and pass them before you can practice.
Becoming a physician assistant is a big undertaking, but PAs have a unique and extremely valuable place in the health care system. Becoming a PA takes brains, commitment, and determination. With the aging of the American population, medical professions are predicted to experience significant growth in the second decade of the 21st century, and physician assistants will play an increasingly important role in the delivery of health care to the public.