How to become a Physician Assistant

Careers as a physician assistant

7 questions—and answers—on how to get into PA school and become a physician assistant

Today’s health care settings often involve patients interacting with nurses, technicians, therapists and many other medical professionals. One integral member of many medical teams may be a physician assistant. But what does a physician assistant do?

Physician assistants provide patient care in nearly any medical setting or specialty.

A physician assistant master’s degree will help you gain the knowledge and skills to lead as a health care professional. With a PA degree, you will be ready to create healthier futures for patients. If you want to learn more about how to become a physician assistant, read on for answers to these important questions.

  1. What are PA school requirements?
  2. How long does it take to become a physician assistant?
  3. What is PA school like?
  4. What health care fields employ physician assistants?
  5. What does a physician assistant do?
  6. What is the job outlook for physician assistants?
  7. How much does a physician assistant make?

What Are PA School Requirements?

Physician assistant master’s programs are extremely competitive. Just 1 in 3 applicants to PA schools were accepted in the United States, according to a recent study from the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA).

Admission requirements vary, but how to get into PA school generally requires:

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited program in the United States
  • A minimum grade point average of 2.8 or higher
  • Prerequisites in biology, chemistry, psychology, statistics or biostatistics and medical terminology
  • Practical experience and work in jobs like emergency medical technician, lab assistant, medical assistant, paramedic or registered nurse
  • Passing the GRE exam

How long does it take to become a physician assistant?

The first step in determining how long does it take to become a physician assistant begins with gaining admission to a program accredited by the American Academy of PAs (AAPA). Once you’ve been accepted, you can expect to spend the next three years:

  • Pursuing a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies
  • Completing more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations
  • Preparing for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE)
  • Studying for a state licensure exam

How long is PA school will depend on these four steps above, along with your commitments outside of your studies and your program’s degree requirements and coursework.

What is PA school like?

While a physician assistant master’s degree program is shorter than medical school, PA school can be just as challenging and intense. When considering how to become a physician assistant, remember that your experience will involve both classroom instruction and clinical rotations.

Your first year will be primarily classroom instruction, taking graduate courses in:

  • Anatomy
  • Biochemistry
  • Microbiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physiology

Your second year will introduce clinical rotations, where you expand on your classroom instruction and gain hands-on experience in specialty areas such as:

  • Emergency medicine
  • Family medicine
  • Internal medicine
  • Obstetrics and gynecology
  • Pediatrics
  • Psychiatry

Your clinical rotations complete the full picture of how long is PA school while preparing you to take the PANCE exam and work toward your state license.

What Health Care Fields Employ Physician Assistants?

The foundation of what does a physician assistant do is partner with doctors and other members of medical teams. You might find PAs in health care settings such as:

  • Community health centers
  • Correctional institutions
  • Hospitals
  • Medical clinics and offices
  • Nursing homes and long-term care facilities
  • Schools

Physician assistants also work outside of health care settings, with government agencies and branches of the military, for example.

What Jobs Can You Get With a Master’s in Public Health?

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in public health, ample options and job paths are available for using your MPH degree to create healthier lives for everyone. Because of the variety of jobs and demand in the field, you will also find room for advancement as you gain experience in your public health career.

While some of these jobs may require additional education or training, here are just a few job titles that show what can you do with a master’s in public health.

  • Clinical Trials Analyst
  • Director of Rural Health
  • Disaster Preparedness Researcher
  • Environmental Health Director
  • Health Care Administrator
  • Infectious Disease Prevention Analyst
  • Nutrition Advisor
  • Occupational Health Specialist
  • Public Health Analyst
  • Social Worker

What Does a Physician Assistant Do?

Much like a physician, a physician assistant is a vital partner on health care teams in nearly any medical specialty and environment. These medical experts:

  • Diagnose illnesses and diseases
  • Create and manage treatment plans
  • Perform examinations
  • Obtain laboratory and diagnostic studies
  • Write prescriptions
  • Advise on preventative care and health care practices

What Is the Job Outlook for Physician Assistants?

Answers to questions such as, “How long does it take to become a physician assistant?” help you understand what to expect from your master’s degree program. But you’ll also want to know whether your career as a physician assistant has a strong job growth.

As demand for health care services continues to expand, so does the need for physician assistants. In fact, physician assistant jobs are expected to grow 31% over the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That’s great news if you’re considering how to get into PA school and join a rewarding health care career.

How Much Does a Physician Assistant Make?

A physician assistant master’s program allows you to enter the health care field faster than physicians. At the same time graduates from this growing field can also benefit from strong earning potential.

The U.S. average salary for physician assistants is $115,390, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. How much you earn could depend on your area of specialty. These are five examples of physician assistant salaries, according to the AAPA:

  • Emergency medicine — $117,000
  • Surgical subspecialties — $114,000
  • Internal medicine subspecialties — $109,750
  • Pediatric subspecialties — $106,000
  • Primary care — $105,000

Salaries for physician assistants are expected to outpace inflation over the next decade, according to AAPA.

How to Become a Physician Assistant Begins at DMU

Des Moines University’s Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies will help you become a compassionate, knowledgeable expert and leader in medicine as a physician assistant. DMU’s physician assistant master’s program will allow you to:

  • Learn in cutting-edge facilities, including our Iowa Simulation Center for Patient Safety and Clinical Skills, Surgery Skills Lab, anatomy lab and much more
  • Master your skills alongside exceptional teachers and leaders who have decades of experience as clinicians and educators
  • Prepare for another medical specialty with core coursework and electives in our PA master’s degree program
  • Explore how to become a physician assistant at DMU and get ready to pursue a career that is improving medicine and patients’ lives.
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