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 most medical teams is a physician assistant.

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?

1. What Are PA School Requirements?

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

Admission requirements may vary depending on which program you’re looking at. The PA program at Des Moines University requires:

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited program in the United States
  • A minimum cumulative 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
  • Completion of the GRE exam

Learn more about DMU’s admission requirements for the PA program.

2. How long does it take to become a physician assistant?

The first step in becoming 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 two to 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)

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

3. What is PA school like?

While a physician assistant master’s degree program is shorter than medical school, it 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 areas such as:

  • Anatomy
  • Nutrition
  • Microbiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physiology
  • And more

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 your schooling while preparing you to take the PANCE exam and obtain your state license.

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4. What Health Care Fields Employ Physician Assistants?

A physician assistant partners with doctors and other members of medical teams in many health care settings such as:

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

Physician assistants also work outside of traditional health care settings such as government agencies and branches of the military.

5. 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

6. What Is the Job Outlook for Physician Assistants?

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 becoming a PA and starting a rewarding health care career.

7. 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.

Becoming 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.

Get in touch with our Admissions team to get started:

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