As doctors rely more heavily on the services provided by physician assistants, strong employment growth is expected for this career. With the broad training offered for physician assisting, you could seek work in the specialization of your choice, whether that means caring for the elderly or for new-born babies.
Training for physician assisting
The Physician Assistant Education Association, PAEA, notes that associate degrees in physician assisting are rare, representing 6 percent of PA programs in 2010. The average length of a PA program is from 24 to 27 months, with 12 months of classroom study and 12-15 months of supervised clinical rotation.
PA coursework encompasses basic anatomy and physiology; behavioral and social sciences; biochemistry; pharmacology; nutrition; research methodology; clinical medicine and procedures; and medical, legal, and ethical issues. Clinical rotation most often spans general medicine, pediatrics, general surgery and emergency medicine. Specialization options include geriatrics, obstetrics, orthopedics, cardiology, psychiatry, neonatology and family medicine.
Master's degree programs are more common than those leading to bachelor's degrees. According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants, the majority of PA program applicants have a bachelor's degree and about three years of health care experience.
Although doctoral programs exist, they are somewhat controversial in the medical community. Some make the case for a doctoral degree as the entry level degree for physician assistants, and others advocate doctorates as recognition of advanced training and education.
All states have licensure requirements that include completion of an accredited PA program. Programs must meet the same accreditation standards, and graduates must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam to be able to practice as part of a physician-directed team.
Physician assisting careers, outlook and salary
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts faster than average employment growth of 29.5 percent for physician assistants between 2010 and 2020, with high demand in rural and inner-city health care facilities. Salaries tend to be excellent, with the median annual wage for physician assistants at $86,410 in 2010.
Because of the intensity of a physician assistant program and the clinical rotation component, part-time study programs are limited. However, a 2009-2010 survey by the PAEA found that 42 percent of programs offered a distance learning component, and a self-paced module was available for coursework such as medical terminology. You can decide whether online studies in physician assisting offer the right choice for you.