Physician Assistant Programs


Physician Assistant Programs

In today’s workplace, careers in the healthcare industry are growing at a very rapid rate. These careers are lucrative, rewarding, and offer a livable wage upon graduation in nearly every case. Physician assistant programs prepare individuals for a career in this exciting field.

A physician assistant works very closely with doctors, and also works independently in many cases. They have a wide range of privileges and responsibilities, many of which we will review here. We’ll also take a look at common courses required in most physician assistant programs, and review some common sense prerequisites for this rewarding career.

What Does a Physician Assistant Do?

A typical physician assistant has many responsibilities, and these responsibilities vary depending on several factors. The state in which you practice and the type of setting you work in play a large role in determining what duties you are legally allowed to perform. Physician assistant programs will prepare you for these regulations and requirements.

Physician Assistant Programs

In a general sense, a physician assistant (PA) is just that…an assistant to a physician. Assistants perform many duties in order to assist a doctor, support their work and allow them to give more attention to the most acute cases and at-risk patients. This assistance, however, is not merely clerical or trivial. Physician assistants are highly trained medical personnel with the extra skills required to work alongside doctors.

In a typical day, a physician assistant will take histories from new patients, perform routine examinations, interpret laboratory results and treat minor injuries such as sprains. In most areas, physician assistant programs also prepare students to prescribe certain medications, although a few states do not allow this.

A large portion of a PA’s duties depend on the doctor’s specialty. Assisting a general practitioner will involve a great deal of general testing and routine examinations. Assisting a surgeon, on the other hand, involves precise knowledge of many instruments and procedures, and in some cases requires extra training.

All physician assistant programs will remind students that one of their primary duties is to consult with a doctor on any cases outside their scope of expertise.

How Much Does a Physician Assistant Make?

After graduation from any accredited physician assistant programs, and upon passing certification tests, a PA can expect to start their career making approximately $75,000 per year. Depending on specialty and location, this figure may vary.

A motivated PA can increase their earning potential significantly by taking extra classes in a specialized area, such as surgical assisting. Physician assistant programs are available through most schools for these specialized fields, but in some cases a student may have to seek out a different institution for these required extra courses.

In areas where the cost of living is high, and for physician assistant’s working in highly specialized fields, the yearly salary may be as high as $200,000.

Typical Required Courses

While all physician assistant programs are different, there are some courses which can be expected in all programs, since they are integral to a PA’s career. Remember that extra education may be necessary for those who aspire to work in highly specialized areas.

In most areas, physician assistant programs last for approximately three years. A degree in physician assisting is either a Bachelor’s or a Master’s Degree, with more schools moving toward offering only Master’s Degrees in the field to encourage higher levels of physicians assistant expertise.

A degree is usually required before beginning most physician assistant programs. Depending on the area and the school, this may be an Associate’s Degree, a certificate, or even a Bachelor’s Degree.

Part of your time spent studying physician assisting will be in a classroom setting, and another part will be in the field, offering services in clinics and other medical institutions. Some schools divide these portions evenly by having you complete your classroom studies and then go on to clinical work, while others intersperse clinical work with classroom activity.

Clinical work is simply different levels of assisting in a real-world setting. You will most likely begin at the very lowest level and work your way up, progressing according to your learning and demonstrated skill and understanding.

While each school offers different classes, some core requirements are common to all physician assistant programs. These include professional medical issues such as counseling and relating to patients, as well as professional ethics. Specific skills often require classroom and lab work, such as suturing. Anatomy, physical exam skills, patient history, clinical medicine, pathophysiology (the study of changes in normal bodily functions due to disease or injury), clinical medicine and pharmacotherapy are all typical required courses.

Are Physician Assistant Programs Right for You?

Since there are so many different jobs in the medical field, it can be hard to determine which is right for you. If you’re looking into the world of physician assisting, you likely already know that it’s a position that often has more responsibility than a nurse, but less than a doctor or surgeon.

Being a physician assistant is sometimes compared to nursing. However, in reality, the two are very different careers with vast differences in responsibility. A nurse plays a vital role and, often, assists a doctor. However, most nurses are not certified to perform the same level of work as a physician assistant. Nurses, for example, are not allowed to prescribe medication in most states, while PA’s are generally allowed to diagnose disease and prescribe medications for a wide range of common illnesses.

Your own level of comfort with medical procedures should play a large role in determining if physician assistant programs are the right choice for you. Does the idea of being solely responsible for a great deal of patient care, from obtaining medical histories to treating wounds and prescribing medication, appeal to you? If so, then a career as a physician assistant may be ideal.

However, if the idea of shouldering so much responsibility makes you a bit nervous, then perhaps nursing or medical assisting would be a better fit. It’s important to remember that although they have a great deal of responsibility, PA’s are not doctors, and they always have the option to ask a doctor’s help or opinion if a case is beyond their level of expertise.

Helpful Personality Traits

All physician assistant programs will make it clear that the right personality is key to a happy and successful career as a PA. The best medical professionals, from entry-level medical assistants to highly successful surgeons, have a deep concern for the well being of their patients. If you relate well to people and genuinely care about helping them lead healthier lives, then you have the right foundation for a career as a physicians assistant.

This caring personality needs to be complemented by a sharp eye for detail. After all, any medical procedure, regardless of how simple or routine it may be, needs to be carried out with clinical precision to ensure patient safety. Therefore, a detail-oriented personality is also extremely helpful in physician assistant programs.

As you can see, there is a great deal of study, dedication and expertise involved in physician assisting. The best physician assistant programs will prepare you for this exciting, fast-paced and rewarding career by offering a mix of classroom study and real-world clinical experience.  Once you’ve graduated, you will be ready to take the national certification test, prepared and administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Upon successful completion of this test, you can begin your career as a physician assistant.

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