How to become a Physician Assistant?

Physician Assistant is regarded as one of the top, fastest-growing and lucrative occupations in America. This profession, of a Physician Assistant, has already been ranked at the second position in CNN’s Best 100 jobs of 2010 in America. Looking at the healthcare across the country today, we are all very well aware that there is quite possibly a shortage of doctors in the system. We are also aware of the fact that things will get worse over time as health care reform continues to bring more patients into the system. With this problem on hand, it is an obvious solution to recruit more health care professionals who can take care of the situation right now without having to spend as much time in medical school as the doctors. Although, the PAs can’t necessarily replace the doctors, but they can essentially assist the doctors and perform the same duties as them except for in complicated cases.

To be able to follow through with this solution, a large number of Physician Assistants is called for. This is where the question comes in. How to become a Physician Assistant should you want to be one? In order to help our users make more informed decisions about the Physician Assistant profession and to explain the different stages involved in becoming a Physician Assistant , we have put together this article.

Requirements: Preparing for the enrolment in the Physician Assistant schools  requires a lot of planning. Let’s start with the basic requirements needed to enter this profession. Remember that these requirements may vary by each Physician Assistant Program.

  • Educational Background: A majority of the Physician Assistant Programs require the applicant to have at least a minimum of 2 years of college education or some college degree. Although it is not an absolute requirement to have a college degree to apply for the Physician Assistant program, a majority of the applicants already have a college degree/diploma, a bachelor’s or a master’s degree at the time of their registration.
  • Prerequisite courses: The American Association of Physician Assistants requires applicants to have successfully completed the following courses before registration: Anatomy, Biology, Chemistry, College Math, English, Humanities or Social Science, Microbiology, Organic chemistry, Anthropology or Sociology and Psychology.
  • Health-related work experience: Most of the Physician Assistant programs require their applicants to have several years (or sometimes several thousand hours) of patient contact experience. A lot of applicants gain this experience while working as paramedics, medical technicians (or EMT) and registered nurses. If you’re currently an undergrad who is planning to take the Physician Assistant program later on, a piece of advice to you is to start collecting these hours right now and not wait until your graduation to start collecting them. You don’t need to be a full-time employee to gain these hours, you can gain them whole working part-time or while volunteering as well.
  • Additional Exams: Some of the Physician Assistant programs require their applicants to take the Graduate Record Exam(GRE). If you’re an international student, you may be required to submit your TOEFL scores along with your GRE results.
  • References: Reference letters from your previous employers.


These are some of the common requirements for a majority of the physician assistant programs, it is very important to check your school’s requirements for more details before applying for the program(Reference:  How to become a Physician Assistant ). Check out the following video which gives a good overview of the Physician Assistant profession:

Education: One of the important steps in becoming a Physician Assistant is to graduate from an accredited Physician Assistant program. Currently, there are 159 accredited Physician Assistant Programs . These programs are offered by the allied health schools, medical schools, academic health centres or for four-years in a college. The average duration for this course is about 2 years. The programs are accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). Physician Assistants are trained in courses such as anatomy, clinical medicine, pharmacology, pathophysiology, and physical diagnosis. Part of the program also includes clinical rotation in medicine (such as emergency, family, geriatric and internal), surgery, paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology(Image credit: FreeDigitalPhotos ). Here is a good video, where a Physician Assistant is explaining about this profession:

Note: We found this video to be helpful only until 3:40. You can skip the rest of the video.

License: You are just one step farther away from becoming a Physician Assistant. If you are curious to know how much a Physician Assistant makes, check out the article on Physician Assistant Salary .  Once you have completed a Physician Assistant program, all you need is to pass the Physician Assistants National Certifying Examination(PANCE) in order to receive your national certification. All states require you to pass the PANCE before practicing as a Physician Assistant and to use the “Physician Assistant-Certified” credential. PANCE is administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) and is only open to graduates from the accredited Physician Assistant programs. Once you have cleared the PANCE, you need to do the following things to remain certified:

  • Every 2 years, the PAs are required to complete 100 hours of continuing medical education.
  • They must also pass a recertification examination or complete an alternative program combining learning experiences every 6 years. Also, a take-home examination such as Physician Assistant National Recertifying Examination (PANRE) or Pathway II is to be successfully completed.

Special Requirements: Part of becoming a successful Physician Assistant owes to the kind of person you are. Some of the additional qualities that will prove helpful are:

  • Being self-motivated and possessing a strong desire to serve patients and help the community.
  • Good bedside manner and emotional stability.
  • Good leadership skills with the ability to make correct decisions during emergencies.
  • Strong desire to study and work hard.
  • A passion for lifelong learning to keep up with medical advancements.

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