What is a Physician Assistant Degree Called and How to Become One

Let’s talk about one of the most in-demand jobs in the healthcare industry, a physician assistant or PA. Have you ever wondered what a physician assistant degree is called and what it entails? Well, a physician assistant degree is a Master’s level degree and is known as a PA degree. PAs practice medicine alongside physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare professionals. They provide diagnostic and preventative healthcare services to patients and have the authority to prescribe medication, administer treatment, and interpret diagnostic tests.

Getting a PA degree is a highly competitive process. It typically requires applicants to have a Bachelor’s degree as a pre-requisite and they must complete an accredited PA program, which takes around 2-3 years. Most of these programs include both classroom and clinical instruction. Once they complete their degree, they must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) which is administered by the National Commission of Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). This certification must be renewed every ten years, requiring PAs to complete 100 hours of continuing education every two years.

It’s important to note that a physician assistant degree is not the same as a medical degree. Though there are similarities in the curriculum, PAs are trained and educated differently than physicians, and have different licensing and certification requirements. However, PAs are a crucial part of the healthcare team, as they are able to provide quality care to patients in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, and private practices.

Physician assistant vs. Medical assistant

Many people confuse the roles of a physician assistant and a medical assistant. Both professions are important in healthcare, but they are vastly different in terms of education, training, and responsibilities.

  • Education: Physician assistants are required to have a master’s degree from an accredited program, which takes approximately two years to complete. In contrast, medical assistants typically complete a one-year certificate program or an associate’s degree in medical assisting.
  • Training: Physician assistants undergo a rigorous training program, including classroom instruction and clinical rotations, which can last up to 2,000 hours. They are required to pass a national certification exam before starting practice. Medical assistants receive on-the-job training and may also complete a certification exam.
  • Responsibilities: Physician assistants work under the supervision of a physician and can perform a wide range of medical duties, including diagnosing and treating illnesses, prescribing medications, and performing minor surgeries. Medical assistants, on the other hand, typically perform administrative tasks, such as taking patient histories, scheduling appointments, and maintaining medical records. They may also assist with routine clinical tasks like taking vital signs and drawing blood.

Overall, physician assistants have a greater level of responsibility and require more extensive education and training than medical assistants. They are essential members of the healthcare team, working closely with physicians to provide high-quality patient care.

Requirements for becoming a physician assistant

If you’re interested in becoming a physician assistant, there are a few requirements you’ll need to meet before you can start practicing. These requirements include:

  • Earning a bachelor’s degree: Before you can enroll in a physician assistant program, you’ll need to earn a bachelor’s degree. While some programs don’t require a specific major, there are certain courses that are usually recommended, such as anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry, and psychology.
  • Attending an accredited physician assistant program: Once you’ve earned your bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to enroll in an accredited physician assistant program. These programs usually take around two years to complete and include a combination of classroom instruction and supervised clinical practice.
  • Passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam: After you’ve completed your physician assistant program, you’ll need to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) in order to become licensed. This exam tests your knowledge and skills in various medical areas, including anatomy, pharmacology, clinical medicine, and more.

Skills needed to become a physician assistant

In addition to meeting the requirements mentioned above, there are certain skills that are essential for success as a physician assistant. These skills include:

  • Strong communication skills: As a physician assistant, you’ll need to interact with patients, families, and other healthcare providers on a regular basis. Therefore, it’s essential that you have strong communication skills in order to effectively convey information and listen to others.
  • Critical thinking abilities: Physician assistants are often required to make diagnoses, develop treatment plans, and make medical decisions on their own. Thus, it’s important to have strong critical thinking abilities in order to assess situations, analyze information, and make informed decisions.
  • Compassion and empathy: Patients often seek medical care during vulnerable and difficult times in their lives. It’s important for physician assistants to display compassion and empathy in order to provide quality care and build strong patient relationships.

Certification Requirements for becoming a physician assistant

In order to become certified as a physician assistant, you’ll need to complete certain requirements. These may include:

  • Graduating from an accredited physician assistant program
  • Earning a passing score on the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE)
  • Completing continuing education requirements on a regular basis in order to maintain certification
Organization Requirements
National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants Graduation from an accredited physician assistant program; passing score on the PANCE; completion of continuing education requirements
American Academy of Physician Assistants Membership in good standing; completion of continuing medical education credits; completion of online learning modules

By meeting these certification requirements, you’ll be able to demonstrate to employers and patients that you have the necessary knowledge and skills to excel as a physician assistant.

Accredited Physician Assistant Programs

Physician Assistants (PAs) play a critical role in the healthcare industry, and the demand for these professionals is on the rise. Individuals interested in becoming a PA must complete an accredited physician assistant program to practice as one. These programs provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to become a competent and confident healthcare provider.

  • Accreditation: Accreditation is the process of evaluating a program to ensure that it meets the established quality standards. Accreditation is essential when choosing a physician assistant program to ensure that its curriculum meets the essential learning objectives that ensure a safe and competent PA workforce. The two accrediting bodies for Physician Assistant programs in the United States are the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
  • ARC-PA: The ARC-PA is the primary accrediting agency for physician assistant programs in the United States. ARC-PA accredited programs are required to meet specific standards and guidelines essential for producing competent and effective healthcare providers. These programs must undergo a rigorous review process every 10 years to ensure they continue to meet the established criteria.
  • CAAHEP: CAAHEP accredits various allied health education programs, including Physician Assistant programs. The programs are evaluated every five years to ensure that they meet the established standards for program quality and effectiveness. CAAHEP accreditation is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a legitimate accrediting organization for physician assistant programs.

Accredited physician assistant programs often have multiple clinical affiliations through which students can gain invaluable hands-on experience in various medical specialties. These programs also offer rigorous coursework, didactic lectures, laboratory sessions, and simulations focused on building students’ clinical skills and knowledge. Recently, online physician assistant programs have become increasingly popular, providing students with greater flexibility in where and when they earn their degree.

Overall, the decision to pursue a physician assistant career is an excellent choice for individuals interested in working in the healthcare industry. Obtaining a Physician Assistant degree from an accredited program is a crucial first step towards becoming a competent, caring, and compassionate healthcare provider.

Accreditation body Accreditation cycle
ARC-PA 10 years
CAAHEP 5 years

Overall, Accredited Physician Assistant Programs are a fundamental requirement for individuals seeking to become Physician Assistants. Accreditation body through which a program is accredited is a crucial aspect to consider when selecting a program. In summary, accreditation serves as an indicator of a program’s overall quality and effectiveness in preparing individuals for the role of a competent and confident healthcare provider.

Career options with a physician assistant degree

Physician assistants have numerous career opportunities available to them, thanks to their extensive medical training and skill set. Here are some of the most popular career options for those with a physician assistant degree:

  • Clinical practice: This is the most common career option for physician assistants. In this role, PAs work alongside physicians, diagnose and treat patients, and assist in surgeries and other medical procedures. They also have the ability to write prescriptions and order diagnostic tests.
  • Specialty practice: Physician assistants can specialize in a particular area of medicine, such as cardiology, emergency medicine, orthopedics, or pediatrics. Specialization requires additional training and education beyond the standard physician assistant degree.
  • Research: As experts in medicine and patient care, physician assistants can also conduct research studies to improve patient outcomes and overall healthcare practices.

While the above-mentioned career options are the most common paths for physician assistants, there are also other opportunities available:

Academic career: Physician assistants can also teach at medical schools or PA programs, shaping the next generation of medical professionals. They can also conduct continuing education and training for practicing physician assistants.

Administrative roles: Experienced physician assistants can take on administrative roles within hospitals, clinics, or medical practices. These roles may involve supervising other PAs, overseeing patient care, or managing budgets and resources.

If you are a graduate with a physician assistant degree, the career options are limitless. Consider what aspects of medicine interest you the most, and where you can leverage your skills and experience to make a positive impact on patients and the healthcare industry at large.

Career Median Salary Job Growth Outlook
Clinical Practice $112,260 31% (much faster than average)
Specialty Practice $112,260 31% (much faster than average)
Research $91,160 16% (faster than average)
Academic career $74,760 9% (faster than average)
Administrative roles $100,980 32% (much faster than average)

Salary and job growth outlook information according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2020.

Physician Assistant Scope of Practice

Physician assistants (PA) are healthcare professionals who work under the supervision of licensed physicians. They are trained to diagnose and treat illnesses, prescribe medications, and perform a variety of medical procedures. The scope of practice of a physician assistant varies based on their specialty, experience, state laws, and the supervision of the physician. The following are some of the key responsibilities and duties of a physician assistant:

  • Conduct physical exams and interpret medical histories
  • Order and interpret diagnostic tests
  • Develop treatment plans and prescribe medications
  • Perform minor surgeries and procedures
  • Counsel patients on preventive care and healthy lifestyle choices

The scope of practice of a physician assistant may also include providing patient education, participating in research studies, and working as part of a healthcare team. Physician assistants can work in various healthcare settings such as hospitals, clinics, and private practices.

PA Scope of Practice Guidelines

The scope of practice of a physician assistant is determined by state laws and regulations, as well as guidelines established by professional organizations such as the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA). These guidelines define the scope of practice of a physician assistant based on their education, training, and experience. They also specify the level of physician supervision required for various medical procedures and treatments.

For example, in some states, physician assistants can work independently and have their own patient panels, while in other states, they must work under the direct supervision of a physician. The scope of practice of a physician assistant can also be influenced by the practice setting and the physician’s specialty. For instance, a physician assistant working in a surgical specialty may have a broader scope of practice than one working in primary care.

Collaborative Practice Agreements

Collaborative practice agreements (CPAs) are legal documents that establish the working relationship between a physician and a physician assistant. These agreements define the scope of practice of the physician assistant, including the medical procedures and treatments they can perform. CPAs also specify the level of oversight and supervision required by the physician. CPAs are required by law in many states and are essential for ensuring patient safety.

Elements of a typical CPA include:
Identification of the supervising physician and physician assistant Definition of the purpose and scope of the CPA
Specification of the medical procedures and treatments a physician assistant may perform Detailing how the physician assistant will be supervised and evaluated
Identification of the record-keeping and reporting requirements Specification of the duration and termination of the agreement

Overall, the scope of practice of a physician assistant is broad and allows for a wide range of responsibilities and duties. Their ability to work collaboratively with physicians and other healthcare professionals enables them to improve patient outcomes and provide high-quality care to patients.

Comparison of Physician Assistant and Nurse Practitioner Roles

Physician assistants (PAs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) are two types of advanced practice providers who are highly trained professionals and provide primary care services under the supervision of a physician. However, there are several differences between the two roles, including:

  • PAs are trained in a medical model of care, while NPs are trained in a nursing model of care. This means that PAs are trained to diagnose and treat medical conditions like a physician, while NPs are trained to provide holistic patient care with a focus on prevention and health promotion.
  • PAs work primarily in a team-based approach with physicians and other healthcare professionals, while NPs often work independently and have their own patient panels.
  • PAs are trained in general medicine and can work across various specialties, while NPs typically specialize in a specific area of practice such as family medicine, pediatrics, or women’s health.
  • PAs have more flexibility in terms of their scope of practice and can perform certain procedures that NPs are not authorized to do, such as assisting in surgery or performing invasive diagnostic tests.
  • NPs have more autonomy in terms of prescribing medications and can prescribe controlled substances in all 50 states, while PAs have varying levels of autonomy depending on state laws.
  • PAs are required to work under the supervision of a physician, while NPs have varying levels of autonomy depending on state laws and can work independently in some states.

Despite these differences, both PAs and NPs play important roles in providing high-quality, accessible healthcare to patients across the United States. Their roles may overlap in some areas, but they are both valuable members of the healthcare team and work together to provide comprehensive care to patients.

Additional Notes on Roles

It is important to note that the roles of PAs and NPs can vary depending on the state laws and regulations that govern their practice, as well as the policies and procedures of the healthcare facility where they work. Additionally, the scope of practice for both roles is constantly evolving, as lawmakers and healthcare professionals work to improve access to care, reduce costs, and meet the changing needs of the healthcare system.

Summary Table: Comparison of Physician Assistant and Nurse Practitioner Roles

Aspect of Role Physician Assistant Nurse Practitioner
Training Medical model of care Nursing model of care
Work approach Team-based with physicians and other healthcare professionals May work independently and have own patient panel
Specialization Can work across various specialties Typically specialize in a specific area of practice
Scope of practice May perform certain procedures not authorized for NPs May have more autonomy in prescribing medications, including controlled substances
Supervision Must work under supervision of a physician May work independently depending on state laws and regulatory policies

Despite these differences, both PAs and NPs have important roles in the healthcare system and their contributions are essential in providing high-quality, accessible care to patients across the country.

History and Evolution of the Physician Assistant Profession

The idea of a physician assistant (PA) originated in the 1960s as a response to the shortage of primary care physicians in the United States. Dr. Eugene A. Stead Jr., a cardiologist, was the founder of the first PA program at Duke University in North Carolina. The first class of PAs graduated from Duke in 1967, and a new profession was born.

Initially, PAs were mainly trained to assist primary care physicians and provide medical care in underserved areas. However, over time, PAs have become integral members of healthcare teams in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, and specialty practices.

  • 1970s: The first PA programs were established in other states, including Colorado, Washington, and Wisconsin, among others.
  • 1980s: The first national certification exam was created for PAs and the profession began to expand to specialties beyond primary care.
  • 1990s: PAs were officially recognized as healthcare providers by the federal government and more states passed laws allowing them to practice with varying levels of autonomy.

Today, PAs are highly respected members of healthcare teams, with the profession growing at a rapid rate. According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants, there were approximately 123,000 PAs practicing in the United States as of 2019.

Year Number of PAs in the US
1980 20,000
2000 59,000
2010 86,000
2019 123,000

The role of PAs continues to evolve, with more states granting them full practice autonomy and more healthcare organizations recognizing their value in providing high-quality, accessible care.

FAQs: What Is a Physician Assistant Degree Called?

1. What is a physician assistant degree called?

A physician assistant degree is called a Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) or a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies (MSPAS).

2. Is a physician assistant degree the same as a medical degree?

No, a physician assistant degree is not the same as a medical degree. Physician assistants are trained to work under the supervision of licensed physicians.

3. How long does it take to complete a physician assistant degree program?

Most physician assistant degree programs require 2-3 years of full-time study.

4. What courses are typically required in a physician assistant degree program?

Common courses in a physician assistant degree program include anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, medical ethics, and clinical skills.

5. What are the job responsibilities of a physician assistant?

Physician assistants work under the supervision of licensed physicians and may diagnose and treat illnesses, prescribe medication, order and interpret diagnostic tests, perform procedures, and counsel patients on preventive healthcare.

6. How much can I expect to earn as a physician assistant?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for physician assistants was $112,260 in May 2020.

7. How can I become a licensed physician assistant?

To become a licensed physician assistant, individuals must graduate from an accredited program, pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam, and obtain a state license.

Closing Thoughts

Thanks for taking the time to learn about what a physician assistant degree is called! Pursuing a career as a physician assistant can be a rewarding and fulfilling path, offering opportunities to work with patients and assist in their healthcare needs. Keep in mind that the requirements to become a licensed physician assistant may vary by state, and it is always helpful to reach out to individual programs for specific information. We hope this article has helped you answer your questions and provided you with valuable information. Please visit us again soon for more helpful content!