How to Become a Physician Assistant

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The field of health care can be very complicated and stressful for physicians with the demands and needs of patient care. Physician assistants are important medical personnel that help alleviate the tasks of physicians.

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What does a physician assistant do?

Physician assistants (commonly referred to as PAs) practice medicine while being supervised by a licensed physician or surgeon. They focus on the prevention, maintenance, and treatment of illness and injury by providing many different health care services. They provide therapeutic, diagnostic and preventative health care techniques.

Physician assistants document medical histories, perform physical exams, order and read x-rays and laboratory tests, diagnose and treat illnesses and diseases, write prescriptions, assist in surgery, and recommend preventative health care methods. They also treat minor injuries by splinting, casting, and suturing. In some facilities, physical assistants carry out managerial tasks such as supervising assistants and technicians and ordering medical equipment and supplies.

What kind of training does a physician assistant need?

Physician assistants must complete a 2-year physician assistant program. Each program has different requirements, but generally require a minimum of 2 years of college education and some related health care experience. The programs include clinical training in a variety of areas such as family practice, psychiatry, and prenatal care and gynecology. Many students entering physician assistant programs have at least a bachelor degree and some have previous experience as medical personnel.

All states require physician assistants to be licensed by passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination. Candidates must have graduated from an accredited physician assistant program. To maintain the license, physician assistants are required to complete 100 hours of continuing medical education biannually. They must pass a recertification examination or complete an alternative program every 6 years.

What are the prospects for a career as a physician assistant?

Employment of physician assistants is projected to grow much faster that average for all professions, increasing 27% from 2006 to 2016 (1). Health care facility expansion and the importance of containing costs will drive job growth.

Job prospects are expected to be good, especially in clinics in rural and intercity areas. Job opportunities will be the best in areas that allow physician assists to perform a wider variety of tasks such as prescribing medications. There will also be job openings from the need to replace physician assistants who retire or leave the field for other reasons.

How much do physician assistants make?

As of August 2009, the middle 50% of physician assistants earned annual salaries between $75,337 and $91,010. The highest 10% earned annual salaries of more than $98,684 (2).

A career as a physician assistant is an excellent choice for individuals who are interested in the medical field and have a strong desire to help patients by assistant physicians. Self-motivation, emotional stability, good bedside manner, and being able to make fast and effective decisions in emergency situations are also essential qualities.

Joshua T Osborne

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