Physician assistants (PAs) are health professionals credentialed to practice medicine under the supervision of a licensed physician. Within the physician/physician assistant relationship, PAs provide diagnostic and therapeutic patient care in virtually all medical specialties and settings. PAs’ responsibilities include taking medical histories, performing physical examinations, ordering laboratory tests and diagnosing problems. They also develop and implement treatment plans under the supervision of a physician. Patient education and counseling are important aspects of a PA’s function. PAs not only advise patients in preventative health care, but also aid in treatment and management of health problems. PAs practice in many areas, usually focusing in those areas that do not have enough physicians to meet community demands, for example: rural and inner-city urban areas.
If you are interested in pursuing a career as a PA, there is more than one route to follow. The American Academy of Physician Assistants (see below) does not make a distinction between Certificate, Bachelors and Masters programs in terms of certification, placement or financial outcomes. There is reason to believe that, however, as the field matures there will be some distinction made between these levels of education. Currently, if you are interested in teaching, you should pursue the Masters degree. In some states, there is a trend towards requiring a Masters degree in order to prescribe medications. Most states will allow licensed PAs to write prescriptions. If you would like more information about the various levels of education, you can contact the American Academy of Physician Assistants at:
950 North Washington Street
Alexandria, Virginia 22314-1552
PA training programs are almost universal in requiring direct, hands-on work experience in patient care. Many even required paid experience. Examples of preferred work experience include: Emergency Medical Technician, Certified Nurse Assistant and Military Medic. PA training programs look for candidates who have directly cared for ill patients, thus voluntary experiences as a sports trainer or a hospital volunteer may be insufficient. If you are interested in pursuing this career, you may want to use the following steps as a guide:
- Contact schools of interest. Contacting approximately ten schools provides a good range of places and programs.
- After obtaining information about the various schools, you should choose the ones that most interest you. Consider:
- Accredited Programs (some are not). For a list of accredited programs go to http://www.arc-pa.org/acc_programs/index.html
- Percentage of students that successfully passed the Board Examinations.
- Program Policies, especially concerning out of state students.
- After outlining the requirements for both school and experience, create a tentative schedule that allows you to maximize your semesters at Binghamton. PA Program Admission Committees are not concerned with your major, as long as you have fulfilled the prerequisites needed and have demonstrated both the ability and determination to complete your course work. Depending on the program, you may have to take the GRE (very few schools require the MCAT). A few schools use the Allied Health Professions Admissions Test (AHPAT); this standardized exam tests Biology, Reasoning skills, Chemistry and Reading Comprehension.
- You may have to submit an application using the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) https://portal.caspaonline.org/ In this application, you will submit a personal statement, GRE results, college transcript, achievements and, of course, volunteer work/experience.
The following is a list of courses that most schools require as prerequisites for their programs. However, it would be wise to research your schools of interest and confirm that you are in fact taking the proper courses. http://www.allalliedhealthschools.com
Physician's Assistant Primary Course Requirements:
|Subject||Course Rubric & Number|
|Biological Sciences (1 Year)||BIOL 117 & BIOL 118|
|Inorganic Chemistry (1 Year)||CHEM 107 & CHEM 108 OR
CHEM 111 & either CHEM 221 or CHEM 280 or CHEM 341 or CHEM 351
You MUST choose one sequence. You may not switch between sequences. CHEM 107 must be taken in the fall semester and CHEM 108 in the spring semester.
|Organic Chemistry (1 Year & Lab)||CHEM 231, CHEM 332 & CHEM 335 (lab)|
|Human Anatomy & Physiology (1 Year)||BIOL 251 & either BIOL 252 or BIOL 347|
|Mathematics and/or Statistics (1 Semester)||MATH 147 or MATH 148 or PSYC 243|
Most schools now require:
|Subject||Course Rubric & Number|
|Psychology (1 Semester)||Any psychology course|
|Microbiology (1 Semester & Lab)||BIOL 314 & BIOL 326 (Lab)|
|Molecular Genetics or
Cell Biology (1 Semester)
|BCHM 301 (BIOL 301) or
|Biochemistry (1 Semester)||BCHM 302 (BIOL 302)|
|English (1 Semester)||Any course in English (ENG), Rhetoric (RHET), Writing (WRIT), Creative Writing (CW) or Comparative Literature (COLI) departments.|
Again, it would be in your best interest to look at specific schools and then take these secondary requirement courses accordingly.
PA education is similar to that of medical students and usually lasts from 24 to 27 months, consisting of classroom and laboratory instruction in basic medical and behavioral sciences followed by clinical rotations.
Last updated: 4/13/12 RR