What to Study to Become a Physician Assistant

Physician assistants work under a doctor's supervision.

Physician assistants work under a doctor's supervision.

Physician assistants are medical professionals who practice medicine under the supervision of a doctor, examining, diagnosing and treating patients. With job growth expected to show an increase of 30 percent between 2010 and 2020, this career offers realistic opportunities to those who have the right education. To become a physician assistant, you need to complete specialized training and pass a licensing exam.

Undergraduate Degree

Prior to being admitted to a physician assistant program you generally need a bachelor's degree. Although you don't need to have a specific undergrad degree, you are usually required to have some health care-related work experience. If this is not the case, then you will need an undergraduate degree that is related to health care, such as a bachelor's of science in nursing.

Physician Assistant Programs

To become a physician assistant you must enroll in a program approved by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant. As of 2011 there were 165 accredited programs. Most of these programs are master's programs, but some offer bachelor's degrees, and a small number offer an associate degree. Physician assistant programs typically last two years and include classes in areas such as pathology, anatomy and medical ethics. You will also undertake supervised clinical training in areas like family medicine, emergency medicine and pediatrics.

Licensing and Continuing Education

In all states and the District of Columbia you must be licensed to practice as a physician assistant. To become licensed, you must pass the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants' exam. After passing this exam you can use the title "physician assistant-certified." Every six years you will need to take a re-certification exam or complete a program that includes a take-home exam.

Postgraduate Education

Physician assistants can specialize in specific areas of medicine like internal medicine or occupational medicine. If you want to do this you can take a postgraduate educational program. To gain entry to one of these programs you'll need to have completed a physician assistant program and be certified by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants.

 

About the Author

M. Scilly is a writer and editor who writes for various online publications, specializing in business and management. He has a fondness for travel and photography. In his free time he enjoys marathon training.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images