While the rewards of joining the Physician Assistant profession include robust salaries, abundant and growing number of employment opportunities and the satisfaction of witnessing patients recover from severe injuries or illnesses, the path to becoming a Physician Assistant is not an easy one. While the number of Physician Assistant jobs is expected to grow almost 30 percent in the coming years, the competition for those jobs should intensify as well. This competition should be most intense at the academic admission level; there are only a limited number of places among the nation’s 173 PA graduate programs
ARC-PA Accredited Programs
The 173 schools in the U.S. with Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) accreditation provide rigorous and comprehensive academic instruction in a variety of medical subjects. ARC-PA accredits graduate degree programs as well as post-graduate programs. It is of paramount importance that prospective Physician Assistants attend a graduate school with ARC-PA accreditation. Only graduates of ARC-PA accredited programs are permitted to take the Physician Assistant National Certification Exam (PANCE). Passing the PANCE is a prerequisite for practicing as a PA in the United States and obtaining a state license.
The average length of the Master’s programs for Physician Assistants in the U.S. is about 27 months. This typically includes about 1,000 hours of classroom or laboratory instruction in a variety of topics including:
- Patient history taking
- Technical procedures
- Medical decision making
While these courses are not as rigorous as those found in medical schools, they are intended to provide strong foundations for use in a clinical setting. Students will obtain knowledge of a wide variety of medical skills, procedures and specialties intended to lay a foundation for proficiency across the spectrum of medical settings and physician specializations.
There are also eight universities in the country with post-graduate programs. These universities offer clinical fellowships that allow Physician Assistants who have earned their national certification and are licensed within the state to obtain in-depth knowledge of a specialty. These programs typically last 12 months during which the fellow PA will participate in a variety of procedures and cases intended to instill authoritative knowledge about the particular medical specialty. Most of these programs are sponsored by the country’s top universities or clinics like Johns Hopkins Medical School and the Mayo Clinic. Furthermore, these programs offer a limited number of spots to applicants per year, some as few as two. Therefore, post-graduate programs are typically reserved for the most eminently qualified Physician Assistants.
In addition to the strong academic course load that PA students must shoulder, there is also a substantial clinical work requirement. The typical Physician Assistant program requires that students complete about 2,000 hours of clinical practice under the supervision of a licensed Physician Assistant or physician.
These internships are intended to introduce students to the demands of performing within a medical environment as well as offer experiences in a variety of medical specialties. Once again the purpose of these clinical rotations is to prepare students to practice in almost any hospital or clinical setting.