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March 18, 2024

How Many Years to Become a Physician Assistant?

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Dr. Shefiu Lanre Shittu

President of Daily Care Solutions

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The path to becoming a PA is both rewarding and rigorous. On average, it might take around six years to complete the journey, but everyone's timeline can vary. For some, it might be a swift sail through the necessary education and training, while others might find themselves on a more winding route.

Why do some individuals take longer or shorter than others? It often boils down to previous educational backgrounds, personal responsibilities, and chosen educational institutions. But rest assured, whether your journey is swift or prolonged, the outcome is a fulfilling career dedicated to improving patients' lives.

physicianKeep reading to explore what it really takes to become a Physician assistant and understand the various stages and factors influencing the timeline.

Overview of the Physician Assistant Profession

physicianA Physician assistant (PA) is a licensed medical professional who practices medicine under the supervision of a physician. They can diagnose, treat, and even prescribe medications for patients.

The scope of practice and responsibilities of a PA can vary based on the state they practice in and their specialization. They can work in various medical settings, ranging from the hospital to an outpatient setting. PAs often choose areas of specialization similar to physicians, such as pediatrics, emergency medicine, or orthopedics, to name a few.

Physician assistants collaborate closely with doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals. They ensure patients receive timely and comprehensive care. It's crucial to understand that PAs have a broad set of skills and responsibilities but differ from other healthcare professionals. Their role sits somewhere between a nurse and a doctor, and their training is tailored specifically to bridge this gap.

Related: Locum Tenens Physician Salary Guide

Educational Prerequisites

Student studying the anatomy

Before becoming a PA, you will have to complete some educational prerequisites. You will need a bachelor's degree to enroll in a PA program. Many PA programs accept degrees in various disciplines as long as specific coursework is completed.

A bachelor's degree usually takes four years, but some can finish it in three years.

Pre-PA coursework often includes foundational sciences like:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Anatomy
  • Microbiology

These courses provide the necessary groundwork for the more intensive medical education to follow. Beyond academics, many programs also require applicants to have healthcare experience.

This can be obtained through shadowing hours, where aspiring PAs observe practicing professionals or direct patient care roles like medical scribing or EMT work.

The academic rigor of PA programs means that GPA and overall academic performance are vital considerations during the admissions process. The average GPA of students that got accepted to PA school is around 3.6.

Some programs may require standardized tests like the GRE to gauge applicants' readiness. The average GRE score for applicants accepted to PA school is 300-310.

Physician Assistant Programs

Enrolling in a PA program is the next step upon meeting the prerequisites. These programs are master's level education that lasts between 2 and 3 years. Every PA program must be accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) to ensure a standardized level of education.

A PA program offers a blend of classroom learning and clinical training. The curriculum is intensive, diving into medical sciences, pharmacology, medical ethics, and patient care techniques. As students progress, they're given the chance to choose elective rotations, allowing them to explore areas they might want to specialize in after graduation.

Clinical Rotations and Training

Clinical rotations are among the most valuable parts of a PA's education. These rotations make up roughly 2,000 hours throughout the program. During this time, students are exposed to various medical specialties, from family medicine and pediatrics to surgery and emergency medicine.

Under the vigilant eyes of physicians or seasoned PAs, students get to practice hands-on patient care. This real-world exposure is crucial for honing clinical skills and judgment. Not only does it prepare students for their future roles, but it also offers invaluable networking opportunities. Building relationships during rotations can open doors for future job prospects and professional collaborations.

Certification and Licensing

After completing the rigorous academic and clinical training journey, an aspiring Physician Assistant must take the next pivotal step: certification. This involves passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE). The PANCE is a comprehensive exam that evaluates a candidate's knowledge and skills, ensuring they're ready to provide quality care to patients.

Beyond the national certification, each state has its specific licensing requirements for PAs. These can vary but typically involve proof of education, PANCE certification, and other relevant documentation. Once licensed, the learning doesn't stop. PAs are required to maintain their certification through Continuing Medical Education (CME). This ensures they remain updated with the latest medical practices and knowledge.

Furthermore, PAs must undergo periodic recertification exams. These exams and CME ensure a PA's skills and knowledge remain sharp and current. The PA's unwavering adherence to professional and ethical standards is integral to all these steps, which is the foundation of a PA-patient relationship.

If you are a PA in Illinois and looking for work with a competitive pay and flexibility, check out our service today.

Post-Graduate Residency and Fellowships

While not mandatory, post-graduate residencies and fellowships are becoming increasingly popular among PAs. Especially for those looking to specialize, these programs, which last 1-2 years, provide intensive training. Some PAs might opt for surgery, while others lean towards emergency medicine or orthopedics.

Entry into these programs can be competitive, with selection based on academic performance, 

clinical experience, and alignment of interests. These post-graduate opportunities are not just about gaining specialized skills. Given the advanced expertise PAs acquire during these programs, they can also be gateways to higher earning potential.

Ongoing Professional Development

PA working in the operating room

In the dynamic world of healthcare, staying static isn't an option. PAs, like all medical professionals, must commit to lifelong learning. This could mean seeking additional certifications or diving deeper into a chosen specialization. Beyond formal education, PAs can expand their horizons by attending workshops, conferences, and seminars relevant to their field.

Associating with professional bodies, like the American Academy of PAs (AAPA), can be tremendously beneficial. These organizations provide resources, networking opportunities, and platforms to discuss emerging trends and challenges. 

Lastly, with medical practices and guidelines continuously evolving, PAs must remain proactive in updating their knowledge to provide the best care to their patients.

Career Prospects and Longevity

With changes in healthcare systems and an aging population, the demand for PAs is rising. This surge offers PAs various opportunities, from leadership roles in medical settings to academic positions where they can mold future professionals.

One of the unique aspects of being a PA is the flexibility it offers. They can switch specialties more easily than physicians, allowing them to explore various medical fields throughout their careers. 

The profession also boasts high job satisfaction along with a competitive compensation package. As the medical world advances, the PA profession continually evolves, ensuring its relevance and importance.

If you are a PA in Minnesota and looking for work with a competitive pay and flexibility, check out our service today.

Where Can You Find Work as a PA

Navigating the medical landscape, Physician Assistants have many opportunities awaiting them. They work hand-in-hand with physicians, providing patient care that's both essential and impactful.

Primary Care Practices are a natural fit for those inclined towards frontline care. They can diagnose ailments, prescribe treatments, and build long-term relationships with patients. But if a PA has a particular medical interest, they can steer their career towards Specialized Medical Practices. Whether it's the intricate world of cardiology or the visual appeal of dermatology, the options are vast.

Educational Institutions also open their doors to PAs, especially those with a knack for teaching. Imparting knowledge and shaping the next wave of medical professionals can be an enriching experience. 

For PAs craving flexibility, Daily Care Solutions offers a golden opportunity. Our locum tenens positions promise competitive compensation and the chance to work in diverse settings. This ensures that PAs can gather a wealth of experiences, all while enjoying the benefits of a flexible work arrangement.

Related: What Is Locum Tenens

Final Insights on Becoming a PA

Becoming a Physician Assistant is a commendable journey filled with rigorous education, hands-on training, and continuous professional development. This path ensures that by the time a PA starts practicing, they are well-equipped with the knowledge and skills to offer top-tier medical care. While the time frame, on average, hovers around six years, it's essential to remember that each individual's journey might vary based on prerequisites, chosen PA programs, and potential specializations.

The PA profession is not just about the duration it takes to qualify but also about the opportunities that await post-certification. From specializing in particular medical fields and transitioning between specialties to taking up academic roles, the horizon is broad and promising. With healthcare's changing landscape, PAs remain pivotal players, ensuring patients get the care they deserve.

If you're a Physician Assistant seeking new opportunities or a fresh perspective on your career, consider exploring locum tenens positions with Daily Care Solutions. Not only do we offer flexibility, but we also promise a competitive compensation package, ensuring you get the best of both worlds. Interested? Book an appointment with us today and take the next step in your fulfilling PA journey.

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Dr. Shefiu Lanre Shittu

President of Daily Care Solutions

Internal Medicine physician with over 10 years of experience in medical staffing solution. Completed medical education and residency in Columbia University. Provided expert oversight to private groups and hospitals. Contracted services organization and Take charge of establishing three hospitalist programs from inception to completion. Develop the scope of practice and negotiate contracts with other departments and specialties. Perform a wide range of tasks including contract negotiations, revenue cycle and human resource management, process improvement, and introduction of interdisciplinary rounding. Drove key efforts toward the reduction of cost of running programs by approximately 15-20%. Identified staffing needs while creating unique staffing plans for programs.

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