Home Jobs & Education How to Become a Physician Assistant in 5 Steps

Many people mistake physician assistants with nurse assistants. Such professionals, however, are more advanced as regards education and clinical experience than other medical assistants. In the US their duties and responsibilities vary depending on the state of practice. How to become a physician assistant? We will provide you with all the information you need to apply for a PA degree.

Commonly, a physician assistant performs the same routine tasks as a doctor. They are thus trained to examine and review patients, interpret diagnoses, and provide treatment along with counselling.  For a more in-depth job description, please access our article about a physician assistant’s daily duties.

How to Become a Physician Assistant in 5 steps

Prior to applying for a PA degree there are also a few essential skills you need to consider as recommended by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Interpersonal & Communication Skills

PAs deal with a wide range of patients and they need excellent people skills. These are particularly necessary to make themselves understood when explaining complex medical terms and conditions.

  • Problem-solving Skills

As physician assistants investigate complicated issues and they need to determine the proper course of treatment for specific problems.

  • Attention to Details

PAs evaluate tests and provide medical prescription to patients as well. That is why they must be focused and detail-oriented.

  • Good Stamina

Working in a medical environment such as a hospital or private clinic can be very stressful as it implies dealing with emergency situations.

How to Become a Physician Assistant in 5 Steps

Becoming a physician assistant requires more than completing formal medical education. So, before applying for a PA degree, keep in mind that gaining healthcare experience increases your changes in this highly competitive field.

1. Acquire Healthcare Knowledge & Experience

Qualifying for a PA program is not easy as many PA schools recommend or even require up to three years of experience. Applicants who have worked as lab assistants, nurses or paramedics, thus, have more advantages.

Most applicants to physician assistant programs have a Bachelor Degree in biology or related sciences. Apart from gaining experience, knowledge in the following areas is required:

  • Physiology
  • Anatomy
  • Biology
  • Pharmacology
  • Healthcare Ethics

As an advice, do a bit of research and learn from other people’s experience. Look, for instance, at tips provided by physician assistants:

“Medical mission trips are a way for healthcare providers to give back to some of the most underserved communities around the world. During these trips, providers offer volunteer medical services to patients who typically do not have access to healthcare. Besides interacting with patients, you are able to see how medicine is practiced around the world.” [Source: 5 Tips of Getting into PA School on www.aapa.org]

2. Obtain PA Degree

Physician Assistant Education Requirements

We refer to a PA degree as to the master’s degree a physician assistant needs to complete in order to practice as a certified professional. This is a postgraduate educational program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc.  – ARC-PA.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 170 accredited PA programs in the United States offering classroom, laboratory and clinic-based medical instruction.

physician assistant education requirements

How long is PA school?

How long does it take to become a physician assistant? Normally, a PA degree can be completed in 2 years of full-time preparation.

3. Pass the National Certifying Exam

The third major step you need to take in order to become a PA is passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam – PANCE. Once you pass the examination from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, you will gain the PA-C credential.

4. Get a License in the State of Practice

Before getting to practice, there’s just one more step to take – getting a license in your state. Every state has its own laws and regulations. That is why the state licensing requirements may vary.

Note that there are two types of requirements: general and specific. Specific requirements stand for certain circumstances such as for PAs who need to be authorized to prescribe medicines. In order to do this, most states require completing a course in prescriptive practice after graduation. These are typically 3-hour courses that must be renewed every six years.

5. Be Ready for Continuing Medical Training & Recertification

In order to maintain your accreditation as a physician assistant, you are required to complete 100 hours of continuing medical training every two years. Also, you will need to take a recertification exam every 10 years.

Physician Assistants Specialties – Postgraduate PA Educational Programs

After becoming a physician assistant you can choose to further advance your skills in the field and specialize in a particular area of practice. The most popular and well-paid areas of practice for advanced PAs are:

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Surgery
  • Psychiatry

If you wish to learn more about how much physician assistants make, you can check out our articles on PA salaries. For updated info, you can also read the PayScale salary survey for this profession.

As there are differences between getting a both a PA degree and a license depending on state, we have chosen to exemplify how to become a physician assistant in two states: Texas and Florida.

physician assistant logo

How to Become a Physician Assistant in Texas

If you are looking for clinical opportunities in Texas, please consider the following educational and licensing requirements.

Becoming a physician assistant in Texas implies graduating from a two-year PA program. Accredited programs can be found at one of the following institutions (not exhaustive):

  • Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center – Physician Assistant Program
  • Baylor College of Medicine – Physician Assistant Program
  • University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth – Physician Assistant Studies Program
  • University of Texas Health Science Center – San Antonio – School of Health Professionals

The PA programs normally begin in June or July. The application deadline is set between September and December.

As concerns the tuition fees for such PA degree, these range from $6,000 to $8,500.

Upon graduation, you need to apply for a license from The Licensure Department of the Texas Physician Assistant Board.  Here is the Eligibility Checklist to consider prior your application:

  • Complete a PA or surgeon assistant program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant.
  • Pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam within 6 attempts.
  • Get a NCCPA Certification.
  • Good moral & character.
  • Mental and physical abilities to perform safely as a PA.
  • Pass of the jurisprudence exam (JP).
  • Two years of practice prior to application (at least 20 hours/ week for 40 weeks).

How to become a Physician Assistant in Florida

As stated by the Florida Board of Medicine, becoming a physician assistant in this state requires the following:

  • Graduate from a PA training program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs.
  • Pass the national examination administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).
  • Hold a certificate issued by the above mentioned commission.
  • Having practiced as a PA within the preceding 4 years.

We hope our post proves useful for all future PA applicants and job seekers in the healthcare area.  For more useful information and guidance, you can follow the American Academy of Physician Assistants official website. If you have any questions, please leave us a message in the comment section below. We will gladly get back to you. Good luck!

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3.

The following two tabs change content below.

Gabrielle Moreno

Hi, my name is Gabrielle, but all my friends call me Gaby. Having a degree in foreign languages, I first intended to develop a career in translations, but then I realized human interaction is more satisfying and got engaged in educational projects. Writing is my second best skill after teaching. I started writing about jobs and education based on my experience of not knowing what career path to choose. Sharing my knowledge and experience is the most rewarding aspect of my work, especially when I see it really touches people. Therefore, I look forward to reading your comments, thoughts and opinions. Feel free to contact me.


Leave a Reply