What You Should Know About This Degree
When considering this career path, it’s important to understand the differences between physician assistants and similar professions, such as nurse practitioners. While physician assistants and nurse practitioners hold advanced degrees and provide care to patients, they are distinct degrees and professions.
Physician assistants receive an education that focuses on the medical model, which emphasizes disease pathology. In this way, physician assistant schools are organized like medical schools, but the program is much shorter in duration. The curriculum in the first year includes coursework such as anatomy, clinical medicine, and physiology. The second year comprises clinical rotations in several specialties, such as emergency medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, psychiatry, and surgery.
Nurse practitioners also earn a master’s degree, but nurse practitioners typically train according to the nursing model, which adheres to a patient-centered methodology rather than a disease-centered one. Nursing coursework generally includes classes on how to treat a specific population of patients and emphasizes quality of care according to the wellness of the patient.
Physician assistant programs and nurse practitioner programs both require students to complete clinical training. Physician assistant programs typically require students to complete at least 2,000 clinical hours, while nursing programs require 500 to 1,500 clinical hours. For comparison, medical doctors are not allowed to practice until they have completed at least 15,000 clinical hours.
Here are some questions to ask when researching physician assistant programs:
- How long does it take to complete this degree? Physician assistant education programs typically take two years of full-time study to complete. Education includes classroom and laboratory instruction in subjects such as anatomy, clinical medicine, pathology, pharmacology, physical diagnosis, and medical ethics. Physician assistant programs also include 2,000 hours of supervised clinical training in areas such as family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine, general surgery, and pediatrics.
- What licensing or certifications are required? All states require physician assistants to be licensed in the state in which they practice in order to see patients. To become licensed, candidates must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). In addition, state licensure laws require physician assistants to hold an agreement with a supervising physician.
As you research programs, review admission requirements and application materials and take note of application deadlines. Most physician assistant programs require applicants to have completed prerequisite coursework in the sciences. Previous clinical experience also is preferred. You can usually find information about the graduate application process online or by contacting the admissions department.
Financing your graduate education is another important consideration. Tuition and fees vary by program. Funding opportunities might include scholarships, loans, and grants. If you’re working, ask your employer about educational assistance programs.