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Becoming a Physician Assistant

A physician assistant is a health professional who practices medicine under the supervision of a licensed physician. Most physician assistants have at least four years of experience in the allied health field prior to becoming a physician assistant. Physician assistants can conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery and in most states, write prescriptions.

In rural areas or inner city clinics, where doctors may be present for only one or two days each week, physician assistants may be the principal care providers. In such cases, the physician assistant confers with the supervising physician as required by law or as needed. Physician assistants may also have managerial duties, may make house calls or go to hospitals and nursing facilities to check on patients, after which they report to the supervising doctor.

Job Outlook for Physician Assistants

Because of increased health-care costs and the need by many hospitals and other institutions to try to reduce spending, the physician assistant profession is expected to grow over the next several years. Because physician assistants have so many cost-effective qualifications and abilities, many physicians and institutions are expected to employ more physician assistants to provide primary care and assist with medical and surgical procedures. Job opportunities for those who have completed physician assistant programs should be good, particularly in rural and inner city clinics, mostly because those areas typically have a difficult time attracting physicians to work there.

Physician Assistant Programs

There are many opportunities available for those who would like to become a physician assistant. There are many physician assistant programs and physician assistant schools. The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) requires that all programs for physician assistants offer graduate level degrees.

When you do the BA/PA physician assistant program, you can earn your bachelor's degree in conjunction with your graduate-level PA certificate. During the first two years of the program, you will focus mainly on basic sciences, mathematics and liberal arts. The third and fourth years, you will do clinical course work and rotations. In the MA/PA program, you must already earn your bachelor degree before you enter the program. In the first year of the master's program, you will take classes in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, microbiology, internal medicine, pediatrics, emergency medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, geriatrics, surgery and psychology. In the second year, you will focus on primary care and medical specialties.

Schools to consider: