Physician Assistant Schools

Physician Assistant Schools

Healthcare is one of the biggest industries in the country. Any career in healthcare is a wise financial decision, and one of the very best healthcare careers is working as a physician assistant. This position offers high pay, freedom to move between fields of medicine, hands-on patient care and exciting challenges.

In this article, we’ll look at physician assistant schools. These schools prepare you to assist doctors in every setting imaginable, from routine patient care to delicate surgery. We’ll take a look at the varying lengths of time required to obtain a degree, the number of schools currently accredited, and the best ways to advance your career while you’re still in school. We’ll also review the basic job duties of a physician assistant, including potential places of employment and the difference between a physician assistant (PA) and a nurse or medical assistant.

How Long Do Physician Assistant Schools Take?

The amount of time required to obtain a PA degree varies by school. However, on average, you can expect to obtain your degree within two to three years. This assumes, however, that you already have at least 4 years of college under your belt.

Depending the on the school you choose to attend, your degree in physician’s assisting may be either a Bachelor’s of a Master’s degree. This difference is part of what determines the length of time required. In addition to classroom study, physician assistant schools require that students intern at a clinic or hospital before graduation.

Upon graduation from school, you will be required to take the national certification test before you’re legally allowed to work as a physician assistant. This test is prepared and administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) and is officially known as the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam or PANCE. Physician assistant schools will typically either set the testing date up for you, or put you in touch with the closest testing facility.

What Should I Look for in Physician Assistant Schools?

Physician Assistant Schools

When seeking out the best physician assistant schools, the single most important thing is accreditation. Being accredited means that the school has earned the approval of the NCCPA, which means that graduates are recognized as having received proper and thorough training.

Finding out if a school is accredited is usually as simple as reading through their website. However, if you can’t find the information you’re looking for, the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) and the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) offer full lists of accredited physician assistant schools.

Once you’ve found an accredited physician assistant school, the rest is up to your own personal needs. If traveling is not an option, you’ll need a school within easy commuting distance. Some students enjoy the prestige which comes from obtaining a degree from a “big name” school, while others don’t care either way. It should be noted that when it comes to education, accreditation and the quality of your education is much more important than any name.

Currently, there are around 160 accredited physician assistant schools in the United States. These schools all offer programs which have been approved to properly prepare students to take the national certification test. While not every state has accredited physician assistant schools, many states have several.

Prerequisites for Physician Assistant Schools

The majority of students who apply to PA programs have some prior schooling, often a Bachelor’s degree. They also often have prior health care experience, often in nursing, medical assisting or as an emergency medical technician. Physician assistant schools set their own entrance and admissions criteria, so be sure to contact each school directly to learn about their requirements.

What Can I Expect in Physician Assistant Schools?

While individual courses vary by school, some core subjects are common to nearly all physician assistant schools. Following are a few subjects that you’re very likely to encounter during the course of your education.

  • Technical Skills Workshops – Once you’ve learned certain skills through classroom study, they will be further taught and practiced during workshops. Skills you may have the chance to practice include phlebotomy and suturing.
  • Simulated Patients – In order to test your learning, some physician assistant schools use simulated patients. These are volunteers who present a pre-designated set of symptoms, giving you the chance to diagnose them properly.
  • Case Studies – The use of case studies is widespread in many different areas of education, and involves the study of documented cases to learn about different aspects of medicine.
  • Professional and Human Issues – Physician assistant schools usually include at least a few communication courses, since a great deal of medicine has to do with dealing with patients one-on-one. Patients are more likely to take medical advice from someone they connect with, and so learning proper and effective communication skills is essential. Professional issues such as medical ethics are also taught.
  • Physical Exam Skills – PA schools will leave you fully prepared to conduct a thorough physical examination on patients of all ages and with a wide range of pre-existing conditions.
  • Medical History – Schooling will also prepare you to take down detailed medical histories from patients, including family histories. These histories are vital because they give medical professionals insight into a patient’s health concerns, both present and future.
  • Pharmacotherapy – The study of medicinal drugs and their uses is vital for any prescribing healthcare professional. Since all states allow PA’s to prescribe certain medicines, physician assistant schools must ensure that their graduates have a strong working knowledge of pharmaceuticals.
  • Anatomy – One of the first and most basic courses at all physician assistant schools is human anatomy. Any healthcare career depends on a thorough knowledge of the human body and how it works. Internal systems such as cardio-pulmonary, respiratory and skeletal systems are studied in depth.
  • Biochemistry – Biochemistry is the involved study of chemical and hormonal processes in living organisms. In physician assistant schools, human chemical processes are studied in detail.
  • Pathology – Studying disease is a big part of becoming a PA. The correct identification and diagnosis of disease is an essential portion of modern healthcare.
  • Physiology – Physician assistant schools place a great deal of importance on physiology, and rightly so. This is the study of how a human body operates when in proper health, and the precise actions which allow it to operate.

In addition to studying these basic skills, many physician assistant schools give students the opportunity to focus their studies in a particular area of medicine. Popular focuses include  prenatal care, family medicine, gynecology, pediatrics, internal medicine and geriatrics.

For many PA students, their education includes an internship. These are sometimes general internships and are sometimes chosen based on the student’s focus of study. In many cases, doctors and surgeons who are seeking to hire a physician assistant participate in these programs, hoping to find a new employee. Not only are these internships a wonderful way to gain valuable experience, but they can lead directly to employment upon graduation and certification.

Once you’ve made the decision to attend one of the many accredited physician assistant schools, you’ve taken a big step toward creating a fulfilling career with real stability and high earnings potential. Not only will you be given the chance to help patients every day, but you’ll have the freedom to switch fields mid-career if desired. Physician assisting combines the best of both worlds, giving you the freedom of nursing combined with a level of responsibility and salary that is more comparable to that of a doctor.

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