Physician Assistant Schools

Physician assistant schools began in 1965 to compensate for a shortage of primary care physicians, particularly in rural areas, inner cities, and institutions. Today, over 75,000 physician assistants are essential members of health care teams. A physician assistant, or PA, after graduating from an accredited program and passing the certification exam, works under the supervision of a physician with authority to examine, test, diagnose, treat, and educate patients. Some physician assistants are also surgical assistants. In all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Guam, physician assistants may prescribe medication.

Physician assistant is one of the fastest-growing professions in the United States. To meet the growing need, the number of physician assistant schools is expanding. Still, the competition for placement in a physician assistant program is intense. Applicants for this intensive and demanding program must have a bachelor’s degree, strong grades and test scores, and extensive hands-on patient-care experience. Physician assistant schools are looking for mature students with the professionalism, stability, dedication, and technical skills needed to excel in this role. Many PA students are nurses, emergency medical technicians, military medical corps members, medical technicians, and paramedics. Accepted students will spend another two to three years earning their Physician Assistant degree.

There are currently 154 accredited physician assistant schools that offer programs ranging from 21 months to 36 months in length. Programming is continuous during that period. The first year is didactic training in medical sciences, behavioral sciences, clinical sciences, and ethics (actual courses vary among programs), using the medical model of education. The next year-plus of training is spent on clinical rotations to build practical skills, gain patient experience, and learn medical systems. While all physician assistant schools offer a generalist education and allow students to work in any field of medicine, some schools offer special programming tracks in surgery, rural medicine, or public health.

Upon completion of physician assistant school, students take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE). With a diploma from an accredited school and a passing score on the PANCE, physician assistants are eligible for state licensure. Physician assistants choosing government work are credentialed. Continuing education begins immediately following licensure and continues for the length of practice. Physician assistants must complete 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years to maintain licensure and must pass the Physician Assistant National Recertifying Exam (PANRE) every six years.

Physician assistant school students are intelligent, motivated, hard-working, and compassionate people who choose to make a difference in the lives of those around them.

Advantages Of Attending Physician Assistant Schools

Physician Assistant Schools Graph

Physician assistants enjoy excellent job prospects and a strong pay scale. Median starting salary for a physician assistant is $74,470 per year. Median salary for an experienced physician assistant is $87,500 per year. The demand for physician assistants continues to grow, offering a degree of job stability.

One benefit of the job is the opportunity to help patients and make a true difference in their lives and your community. Many physician assistants fill an important gap in medical coverage in underserved areas. The ability to make a positive difference in these communities and become an integral part of the community cannot be underestimated. Building a personal relationship with each patient and providing education and care to maximize well-being brings great personal reward and job satisfaction. Working with a diversity of clients can also be exciting and an opportunity to be stimulated by new experiences.

Physician assistants have a great deal of knowledge, including an understanding of anatomy, physiology, and medications. While this know-how is essential for patient care, it is also helpful for knowing and caring for oneself and one’s loved ones.

The work of a physician assistant might be most closely compared to that of a medical doctor or a nurse practitioner. Physician assistant school follows the medical model and so has similarities to a condensed medical school: generally a little over two years of schooling as opposed to four years of medical school and three to seven years of residency for medical doctors. Additionally, physician assistant schools offer general training so that PAs can easily change between specialties, with the supervising physician available for consultation and advice as needed and as appropriate. Medical doctors often need to complete a new residency to change specialties. Compared to medical doctors, physician assistants have less liability due to the supervised nature of their role and personal liability costs in the thousands rather than tens and hundreds of thousands.

The work of a physician assistant might also be compared to that of a nurse practitioner, an advanced-practice nurse who can diagnose and cure patients as well as care for them. The educational requirements for both are roughly the same: some graduate education and usually a master’s degree. Like physician assistants, nurse practitioners examine patients, order and interpret tests, diagnose and treat, prescribe, and counsel, though some specific responsibilities may differ depending on state law. Nurse practitioners, however, are autonomous and are educated in the nursing model. For someone who prefers to be a member of a health care team and enjoys consulting with a physician, physician assistant may be the better option.

Physician assistant as a career might be chosen for the high salary, the job security, and the ability to help people on a daily basis. No matter what your motivation, it all begins at physician assistant schools.

Choosing A Physician Assistant School

Advantages Of Attending Physician Assistant Schools

There are 154 accredited schools in 43 states and the District of Columbia that offer physician assistant programs. As with any higher education, there are a number of factors to consider in choosing the best match. For some students, choosing a school close to their established home is a priority. Others may choose a school that offers special programming in surgery or public health to match their desire for specialization. Still others might choose the most economically sound option or the highest-ranked school.

Approximately 5–10% of applicants are accepted to physician assistant programs. With this intense competition, applicants should consider several options. The American Academy of Physician Assistants(AAPA) website maintains a list of accredited schools organized by state, a good place to start researching different options. Fortunately, specific schools can be easily researched online, starting with the school website. Often, associates in the health care field can be a tremendous resource both about school options and specifics of physician assistant schools. After a potential applicant has established a basis on which to include or eliminate different school options, more direct interaction to winnow options may be useful. A school visit, speaking with the faculty, and evaluating financial aid options can all help evaluate the best student-school match. When decisions are made on a financial basis, it is important to wait for financial aid awards and grant or scholarship information before comparing the cost of one physician assistant school to another.

Types Of Physician Assistant Schools

Physician assistant schools range from state schools to private schools, from community colleges to premier medical schools. For example, the state of California has nine diverse physician assistant schools ranging from local schools to state schools to private schools.

Most programs are at schools of allied health. Physician assistant schools are also associated with medicals schools for their primary program or for clinical teaching. Despite the diversity in setting and variety of general school services offered, all accredited physician assistant programs follow accepted standards for course work and clinical rotations.

Physician assistant schools may offer a certificate, an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, or a master’s degree. While some employers may prefer certain degrees, the critical component to be eligible for the certification exam and be licensed is to graduate from an accredited physician assistant school without regard for the certificate or degree awarded.

Physician Assistant School Accreditation

Choosing A Physician Assistant School

Physician assistant schools are accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA), the nongovernmental organization responsible for defining the standards of educational programming for physician assistants and for evaluating programs. There are currently 154 accredited programs in the United States. Only entry-level programs must be accredited. Accreditation is optional for clinical postgraduate programs.

The standards for accreditation define the type of courses offered, the depth and breadth of curriculum, the specifics for supervised clinical practice experience in a variety of environments, training in health care delivery systems and policy, and instruction in interpersonal and communication skills. For example, one standard is that “The program curriculum must include instruction regarding reimbursement, documentation of care, coding and billing.” Another: “The program curriculum must include instruction to prepare students to search, interpret and evaluate the medical literature, including its application to individualized patient care.” (From the Comparison of ARC-PA Accreditation Standards for Physician Assistant Education, 4th Edition [2010], To the Competencies for the Physician Assistant Profession [2005])

New programs are awarded provisional accreditation to indicate the program’s demonstrated preparedness to align with the standards. Continuing accreditation is granted when a provisionally accredited program demonstrates compliance with the standards, when an established program is in compliance with the standards, or when a probationary accredited program comes into compliance with the standards. Probationary accreditation is issued when a program does not meet the standards. A timeline is established to correct any failures. Accreditation can be withheld or withdrawn when a program does not comply with the standards of accreditation and the educational experience is deemed unacceptable.

Physician assistants must graduate from an accredited physician assistant school to sit for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam and become licensed.

Rankings Of Physician Assistant Schools

U.S. News & World Report ranks physician assistant schools solely on the basis of peer assessment surveys. The survey is sent to deans, administrators, and/or faculty within the field. They are asked to rate physician assistant program qualities on a scale of 1 – 5, from marginal to outstanding. A bit more than half of those surveyed respond. Only accredited programs in good standing are considered. Schools with the highest scores are given top ranking.

Potential physician assistant school students might consider developing their own ranking system using more subjective criteria. For example, many schools post their students’ first-time pass rate on the PANCE. A higher pass rate may indicate a more rigorous or effective program. Students might also consider a school’s cost relative to pass rate or mean starting salary for the school’s graduates to rank the cost effectiveness of a particular program. Students might also look for college blogs and forum boards online. This can be a good way to interact with other applicants, current students, and graduates, who can add a personal component to opinions about schools and offer inside advice on the process, education, and job opportunities.