Jul 28, 2015


Career Spotlight: What is a Physician Assistant?

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My dear cousin, Amanda, graduated with a degree as a Physician Assistant last year, at the age of 23!  She completed her studies at  Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education in New York.  Weeks after she graduated from the physician assistant program, Amanda was fully employed in a large hospital, delivering babies!  And because she’s young and her job has set hours, she’s actually able to hold a second part-time in another hospital for additional income.

The profession of Physician Assistant is one of the most promising and affordable careers in Medicine. Physician Assistants are increasingly becoming an essential professional force in hospital settings, clinics and other institutions.  If you have been considering pursuing a career in nursing or medicine, take some time to learn more about the physician assistant profession.  It might be the right fit for you!

What is a Physician Assistant?  

Physician assistants are healthcare professionals who are authorized by the state to practice medicine as part of a team with physicians. They are:

  • Certified by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants
  • Licensed, certified or registered in the state in which they practice

Physician Assistants deliver a broad range of medical and surgical services, including:

  • Conducting physical exams
  • Obtaining medical histories
  • Diagnosing and treating illnesses
  • Ordering and interpreting tests
  • Counseling on preventive health care
  • Assisting in surgery
  • Prescribing medications

How Many Physician Assistants (PA’s) are Practicing Today?

AAPA estimates there are 81,000 certified PAs in the country.

Where Can PAs Practice?

All states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have laws or regulations authorizing PA practice.

Where Can PAs Prescribe?

All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands have enacted laws that authorize PA prescribing.

What Requirements Must PAs Meet In Order to Practice?

In order to practice, PAs must have attended one of the accredited physician assistant programs. The PAs then must pass the national certification examination administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. PAs then need to obtain state authorization to practice through state licensure, registration or certification.
To maintain national certification, PAs must complete 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years and pass a re-certification examination every six years.

How Many Accredited Physician Assistant Programs Are There?

There are more than 159 physician assistant programs in the U.S. Programs are accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant ARC-PA is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

  • The typical PA program is 24-32 months long and requires at least four years of college and some health care experience prior to admission. The majority of students have a BA/BS degree and prior healthcare experience before admission to a PA program.
  • While all physician assistant programs recognize the professional component of PA education with a document of completion for the professional credential (PA), 80 percent of physician assistant programs also award a master’s degree. (One hundred thirteen award master’s degrees, 21 award bachelor’s degree, 3 award associate degrees and 5 award certificates.)

How Many Student PAs Are There?

Approximately 12,470 students are currently enrolled in physician assistant programs, and more than 6,000 PA students graduate each year.

What is A PA’s Income?

PAs earn a median salary of $90,000 annually, according to the 2010 AAPA Physician Assistant Census Survey.

What is the Outlook of the Profession?

Approximately 84 percent of all individuals eligible to practice as PAs were in clinical practice at the beginning of May, 2010.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of PA jobs will increase by 27 percent between 2006 and 2016. The BLS predicts the total number of jobs in the country will grow by 10 percent over this 10-year period.

Source:  American Academy of Physician Assistants 

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Angélica Pérez-Litwin

Angélica Pérez-Litwin

Dr. Perez-Litwin is the Founder & CEO of ELLA Leadership Institute, a multi-platform professional development organization designed to advance the careers and leadership of women. She's the creative force behind the LATINAS THINK BIG™ national tour, sponsored and live-streamed by Google.

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  1. Angelica,
    This post hits home!! It has been 1yr since I graduated PA school and I have already accomplished so much! Being a physician assistant has definitely changed my life. I am doing everything I have dreamed about and more. And to think this is just the beginning, is exciting!

    Within 1 year of graduating from an accredited PA program I have had the opportunity to land an excellent full-time job as an OB/GYN PA and a per diem position at another hospital in the Acute Adult ED.

    This is exactly why I wanted to be a PA and not a Nurse practitioner. Just as the young lady said in the video, PAs are trained in every subspecialty so we are licensed to practice in almost every field. In fact, In the emergency room where I work, if there is a shortage of Pediatric providers they can call me to cover. I know with my profession, when it comes to patient care I will never be bored.

    I highly recommend this profession if you are interested in the health field.

    Amanda, RPA-C

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