How to Become a Physician Assistant (PA)

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With the increasing demand for PAs and outlook for PAs more promising than ever, many undergraduate students interested in healthcare are turning to the PA profession. Perhaps you’re thinking about becoming a physician assistant. If so, here is a brief overview of how to become a Physician Assistant (PA)

At UWorld, we are passionate about helping the next generation of healthcare providers fulfill all the requirements to realize your dreams of practicing medicine. If you’re wondering, Is it hard to become a PA? This guide will explore the requirements to become a physician assistant—from undergraduate studies through to clinical practice—in four phases.

Phase 1: Undergraduate Studies

Physician Assistant Requirements

The path to becoming a PA generally begins with a bachelor’s degree. Many students ask, “What do you major in to become a physician assistant?” While there is no specific “Pre-PA” major required to enroll in PA school, undergraduate students find it helpful to choose science majors such as biology or chemistry. However, as long as you meet prerequisite courses, you can receive a bachelor’s degree in any field. Your college performance and GPA are one of several factors PA schools consider for admission into a post-graduate PA program. You may also want to get involved in healthcare in your community by working in a clinic or hospital setting to gain hands-on experience. Your undergraduate GPA, medical experience, and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) performance are all significant components of your Physician assistant school application. However, not all schools require GRE scores to admit you into their Physician assistant program, although they will consider your GRE score if you have one available.

Applying to Grad (PA) School

Most PA schools use CASPA (The Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants) to apply to their programs. The majority of Physician Assistant programs require that candidates take the GRE and have some healthcare experience, though the amount of experience required varies.  You will also need to submit letters of recommendation and a personal statement describing why you want to become a PA.

Remember that each PA program’s admissions committee has its own unique criteria to evaluate a candidate’s likelihood of success in their program, so you should have a solid understanding of the PA program before submitting your application. After, you’ll want to identify your target PA programs and submit a complete application to each one. Then comes yet another crucial step: preparing for your PA school interview.

Acing the PA School Interview

After your application comes the admissions interview, which is arguably the most critical component of the application process. Be sure to research the PA profession and the PA program(s) to which you are applying. Your in-depth knowledge of the profession and their program shows the admissions committee two things: 1) you are passionate about becoming a Physician assistant, and 2) why you have chosen their Physician assistant program to achieve your goals.

Also, make sure to practice commonly asked PA interview questions repeatedly until you feel comfortable with your answers. Consider asking a friend or coworker to give you a mock interview to get a feel for answering questions.

Phase 2: PA School

Complete Your Physician Assistant Program

The answer to the question “How hard is it to become a PA?” is found upon enrollment to PA school. Once in a PA program, you will immerse yourself in your curriculum, consisting of classroom-based didactic education and clinical rotations. It is during your clinical rotations that you will put your classroom education into practice and acquire the experience needed to practice as a trained PA. A typical PA degree program consists of 2,000 or more hours of clinical rotations, providing you with the hands-on training and experience needed to work in various specialties and settings. To become a PA, you must have completed the educational requirements of physician assistant and have extensive training in a clinical practice setting.

Phase 3: PA Certification

Becoming Certified

After graduating from a PA program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA), you must first pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) and obtain your license before you can practice. Passing the PANCE establishes you as a certified PA (PA-C). This designation indicates that you have fulfilled all certifying requirements of physician assistant and can competently practice in clinical settings within any state you are licensed.

Studying for the PANCE

To study for the PANCE, get familiar with the National Commission On Certification Of Physician Assistants’ (NCCPA) latest PANCE content blueprint, which provides information about the content you will likely see on your pance exam. Then, create a study plan you can commit to and prepare yourself thoroughly. For a comprehensive exam prep resource, we recommend our PANCE exam learning platform.

Phase 4: Working as a Certified PA

Applying for a Job

Once you become certified and have obtained a state license, you may begin working as a PA. Use every tool at your disposal, including online job search platforms and your PA school career counselors, to search for a job. You can also ask people you previously worked with on your clinical rotations or prior undergrad experience for recommendation letters or available job postings. Your former supervisors and colleagues know your work ethic/habits, and they can help you get hired or let you know when a position is available. Or, they could serve as referrals for other jobs you are considering.

Working as a Certified PA

After getting your desired job as a PA-C, you may now practice as a certified and licensed Physician Assistant. You may decide to work in any specialty, such as family medicine, internal medicine, general surgery, obstetrics & gynecology, etc. Click on this blog article to read about PA career growth.

FAQs

A PA-C is a state-licensed Physician Assistant. The “C” indicates certification from the National Commission of Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).

A PA-C may choose to work in any medical specialty, including family medicine, internal medicine, general surgery, obstetrics & gynecology, emergency medicine, etc. In most cases, a PA’s scope of practice is broad and uniquely defined in the PA’s and the supervising physician’s delegation agreement and commensurate with their education and experience.

This varies per student, but it generally takes six to seven years for a student to become a PA (four years to earn a bachelor’s degree and three years to complete a PA program). For some students who work outside of school or attend school part time, it can take eight to ten years.

There are a number of reasons why those interested in the medical profession choose to become PAs. Each student has his or her own personal “why I want to be a PA” story but reasons such as high demand, competitive salary, less time in school, work/life balance, and career versatility are notable contributing factors to the growing number of PAs nationwide.

To become a PA-C, you must earn a bachelor’s degree, gain healthcare and patient care experience hours, apply to an accredited PA program, complete a 2–3 year master’s level PA program, pass the PANCE licensure exam.

If you are a recent PA school graduate or currently a PA student nearing graduation, check out the new comprehensive PANCE | PANRE Exam online learning platform courtesy of UWorld, the world’s #1 medical licensure & exam prep provider.

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