How to Become a Physician Assistant in Arkansas
Physician assistants in Arkansas are essential to the health and well-being of the state’s residents. From the Arkansas Yellow Fever quarantines of 1878 and the 1937 polio outbreak to the modern day’s fight against West Nile virus and Bird Flu, medical professionals including 250 physician assistants are working to diagnose and treat the maladies of the Natural State. The process of how to become a physician assistant in Arkansas proceeds as follows, leading to a career where by a recent count the average annual statewide salary was $82,140:
- Qualify for an Accredited Arkansas Physician Assistant Program for Licensure
- Take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE)
- Apply for an Arkansas PA License
- Stay Current on Certification and License
Step 1. Qualify for an Accredited Arkansas Physician Assistant Program for Licensure
The Arkansas State Medical Board requires PAs applying for licensure to have graduated from an education program that is certified by the Committee on Allied Health Education and Accreditation (CAHEA) or successor agency. Programs must also be additionally accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) or its predecessors, as required by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA), the agency that sponsors the requisite PANCE Exam that will be discussed soon. It is therefore the first job of the prospective PA to scout out a program accredited by both the CAHEA and ARC-PA. The next step is to meet the program’s prerequisites.
Although PA programs all have their own prerequisites for admission, there are some general guidelines that prospective students should meet. First, all PA candidates should have a bachelor’s degree in any subject. Although there are a few exceptions to having a bachelor degree for state licensure (being grandfathered in as of 1999 or having worked as a PA for the federal government), the vast majority of Physician Assistant degree programs are at the graduate level and require a bachelor’s degree for admission. PA programs additionally tend to demand:
- Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
- Coursework in biology, chemistry, and psychology
- Clinical experience- paid or volunteer
Although any bachelor degree fulfills the degree requirement, students can save time by majoring in an undergraduate field that includes PA prerequisite courses, including:
Step 2. Take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE)
After successful graduation from a PA program and before applying to the Arkansas State Medical Board for a PA License, physician assistants will need to have passed the PANCE that is sponsored by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). This is a five-hour exam composed of 300 multiple-choice questions costing $475. Candidates can register online, where they will also find practice exams available for $35. Upon passing the PANCE, PAs will gain the Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C) credential and can then apply for licensure with the state.
Step 3. Apply for a License to Practice in Arkansas
The Arkansas State Medical Board can grant a Physician Assistant License once a new PA has submitted an application packet that includes:
- $90 application fee
- Criminal background check authorization
- Application for Licensure
- Sufficient explanations for past PA employment problems
- Proof of graduation from an accredited PA education program
Candidates must additionally be of good moral character, mentally and physically able to carry out the job duties of a PA, and be at least 21 years of age.
Step 4. Stay Current on Certification and Licensure
PAs in Arkansas need to maintain their state licensure, which expires each year on the last day of their birth month, and their PA-C credential issued by the NCCPA which is on a two-year renewal cycle. The Arkansas State Medical Board will mail out renewal applications eight weeks before a PA’s license expires and must be returned with a $50 fee. For the PA-C credential, PAs must complete 100 credits of continuing medical education (CME) every two years and pass the $350 Physician Assistant National Recertifying Examination (PANRE) once each tenth year. Last year 38 new PAs were successfully licensed in Arkansas.