Physician assistants are healthcare workers who assist physicians in managing and diagnosing patients, and work under his direct supervision. Main jobs and tasks of a physician assistant include recording medical history of patients, performing medical examinations, analyzing and drawing out conclusions from tests carried, diagnosing illness etc.
What Programs to Pursue?
There are a total of 156 accredited physician assistant programs in US (as in October 2011). Most of the programs among them were found to be graduate courses that required a person to be holding a Bachelor’s degree (or an equivalent GRE or MCAT score) for admission. Once the student is done with the program, he is awarded a Master’s degree in MMSc (Medical Science), MPAS (Physician Assistant Studies) or MHS (Health Science).
However, one needs to hold at least a bachelor’s degree in order to get enrolled in a Master’s degree program. After you are done with it, you can opt for further training, certification, licensure or a Master’s degree. As a great number of educational institutes and colleges have converted their Bachelor’s program into Master’s degree program, very few of them offer Associate’s degree and Bachelor’s degree programs for physician assistants.
- Associate’s Degree: Associate degree programs are offered by a very limited number of educational institutions, and will get you an Associate’s degree in physician assistant studies. However, after completion, the candidate will need to undergo licensure examination so that he can practice physician assistant activities freely. The candidate requires a high school diploma in order to get enrolled in an Associate’s degree program. During the program course, students are taught subjects like Biochemistry, Microbiology, Human Anatomy, Physical diagnosis and Pharmacology.
- Bachelor’s Degree: The Bachelor’s degree course structure is divided into semesters, and includes subjects like science and humanities. Additionally, it includes clinical practice and medical training too. Students who are interested in getting enrolled in a Bachelor’s degree program needs to have a strong background in subjects like physics, chemistry, mathematics and biology. The initial one year of the course focuses on preparing the student for clinical rotations and includes subjects based on human physiology, clinical procedures, psychopathology etc.
- Master’s Degree: A student can take up Master’s degree in physician assistant studies after he is done with the Bachelor’s degree. It requires 2 years for completion. The first year focuses on pre-clinical courses and the end of the program includes clinical rotations in subjects based on pediatrics, internal medicine, psychiatry, orthopedics etc. Talking of the Master’s degree program, a candidate does not require to be holding a bachelor’s degree in order to be eligible to get enrolled in it. However, those having a similar educational background are preferred over individual having a non related one.
Certification and Continuing Education:
National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants is responsible for monitoring and organizing Physical Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE). The student, after completing the Bachelor’s degree program, needs to clear PANCE. Only after that he receives a certificate and makes him PA-C (Physician Assistant – Certified).
However, the candidate needs to continue studying even after he has gained certification. Physician assistants, after clearing PANCE, have to complete 100 hours of medical education after every 2 years. Additionally, the he has to pass a recertification examination after every 6 years, else their certificate will hold no value.
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