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What is a Physician Assistant?
Physician assistants work under the supervision of a qualified physician to provide care for patients through examination, intake, assistance during surgery, set bones, provide prescriptions, and a variety of other tasks. The limits of what a physician assistant may or may not do is dictated by the state and varies as a result. Physician assistants differ greatly from medical assistants due primarily to what functions they may perform, primarily the amount of actual treatment they may provide a given patient.
Individuals enrolled in a physician assistant program typically have earned a bachelor's degree and have some experience in the healthcare industry. Many students have previous experience as a nurse, emergency medical technician, or paramedic. Programs typically take two years to complete. Students will have practical and classroom education, covering a variety of health related subjects requiring a strong background in science. Some programs may provide internship opportunities under the supervision of a physician to increase their experience and practical knowledge.
A curriculum may include:
- Clinical Medicine
- Medical Ethics
Work Opportunities and Licensure
Individuals working as physician assistants will find work primarily in hospitals and clinics, though there are positions available in private practices, military and government facilities, as well as universities and other post-secondary educational institutions. Physician assistants will work a varying schedules, with some individual working over 50 hours a week, and others being on call.
Licensure is required by all fifty states and the District of Columbia. Licensure requires the passing of the Physician National Certifying Examination, offered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Continuing education courses are required to maintain the certification, and every 6 years physician assistants must retake the exam.
Salary, Job Growth, and Related Fields
The average salary for a physician assistant is approximately $86,500 per year, with individuals working in higher populated areas typically earning more. Job growth is expected to increase greatly over the next decade, as physicians become more specialized and the role of physician assistants transforms into a more standard and broad form of healthcare. This compounded by a increasing population and an aging population which will create a demand for more healthcare professionals in general.
For more information, check out our Roadmap to Becoming a Physician Assistant on our blog here.