If you have a deep concern for the well-being of others and an inquiring intellect, and you believe the health care field is the place for you, physician assisting could be an excellent career move or even the first step on the path to becoming a physician yourself.
The American Academy of Physician Assistants reports that most programs last approximately 27 months. Programs may require that students have prior health care experience plus a minimum of two years of college coursework with a heavy emphasis on anatomy, biology, chemistry, microbiology and physiology. Also important is the typical core education curriculum for postsecondary students, which can build necessary strengths such as oral and written communication and math skills that are used in scientific research.
The Accreditation Standards for Physician Assistant Education require approximately 2,000 hours of supervised clinical practice in different settings, as well as proven expertise in basic counseling and patient education. Studies should cover these and other topics:
- Core medical knowledge
- Health care delivery and policy
- Medical ethics and licensing
- Medical records, coding and billing
- Problem solving and medical decision-making
- Public health concepts
Even though physician assistants work under the supervision of a physician, they also perform a range of duties that doctors delegate to them. PAs must have extensive medical knowledge and the diagnostic and therapeutic training needed to provide autonomous patient care decisions.
Physician assisting career options, outlook and salary
Employment growth from 2010 through 2020 is expected to be excellent at 29.5 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median 2010 salary for physician assistants, at $86,410, was more than twice the median annual wage for all U.S. occupations.
While nearly one-third of PAs hold a bachelor's degree, the minimum requirement for this profession is a specialized course of post-graduate studies. The BLS also notes that all states require that physician assistants be licensed. There was a proposal to make a doctorate the entry-level degree for physician assisting, but professional organizations instead suggest creating master's to doctoral bridge programs that allow physician assistants to become physicians.
Because of the clinical component required for physician assisting studies, web-based programs are not widely available at the bachelor's degree level. Online master's degree programs allow practicing physician assistants to expand their knowledge, and some programs combine coursework with an on-site clinical component.