What You Should Know About This Degree
Physician assistants work in a team-based setting alongside physicians, nurses, and other healthcare practitioners. Although a PA’s supervising physician does not need to be on-site at all times, PAs should be prepared to work closely and collaboratively with their supervising physician to provide care.
Although PAs perform many of the same duties as physicians, including examining and diagnosing patients and prescribing medications, there are key differences between the two jobs. When considering your career in the healthcare field, it’s important to understand what makes a physician and a physician assistant different, as this will help you make educational and professional choices that are right for you.
Each state licenses physician assistants individually. In order to become licensed, PAs must attend an ARC-PA-accredited program and pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE), which is administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Individuals must complete continuing education credits and take periodical recertification exams to maintain their credentials.
Experiential learning is an important component of PA programs. As many programs are designed for individuals who are already working in healthcare settings, you may be able to complete your clinical requirements at your current job. Be sure to talk to the program and your employer to make sure your current work site is eligible for completing the program’s clinical requirements.
Here are some questions to ask when researching online physician assistant programs:
- Does this program have the specialization that I want? Physician assistants work in all areas of medicine, including general practice, surgery, pediatrics, psychiatry, and more. If you are interested in working in a particular area of medicine, seek out a program that offers training in that area through concentrations or electives.
- Am I eligible for this program? Most PA programs require students to have a bachelor’s degree in a science or healthcare related field, as well as professional experience. Be sure to review the program’s qualifications prior to applying, to make sure that you meet the minimum eligibility requirements for admission.
Review the program’s application requirements, and begin to gather your application materials early. Submitting your application and supporting documents well ahead of the deadline will help ensure a smooth admissions process.
Now is also the time to think about how you will fund your master’s degree. Talk to the school’s financial aid office about applying for loans, scholarships, assistantships, and other forms of aid. If you are currently employed, find out if your job offers tuition assistance benefits.