How to Become a Physician Assistant (PA): Education & Requirements
Should I Become a Physician Assistant?
Getting Licensed as a Physician Assistant
Careers Related to a Physician Assistant
Physician assistants are medical and healthcare professionals who have thousands of hours of medical training. They work alongside (and under the supervision of) physicians and may act as a patient’s primary care provider.
According to the American Academy of PAs, physician assistants can perform most of the functions of a physician: They examine patients, order tests, diagnose illnesses, create and manage treatment plans and prescribe medicine. They may also work in wellness and drugstore clinics and other places patients visit to consult about regular daily health concerns. However, keep in mind that PAs are not doctors and cannot perform all of the functions of a doctor.
Depending on your situation, a PA program may take about three years and is made up of classroom instruction and many hours of clinical rotations. A physician assistant degree is a master’s-level degree; students must have a bachelor’s degree and have completed prerequisite science courses. PA students may enter programs with health care job experience as sports trainers, medical assistants or paramedics.
PA schools and medical schools each require that students have a four-year bachelor degree. PA schools typically take three years after this; medical school, on the other hand, requires four years, plus three to seven years of training as a resident. If you’ve always wanted to be a doctor, medical school is your best choice, since PAs are not doctors. If you primarily want to be in a role where you treat patients under a physician’s supervision, PA school may provide the opportunities you need and not take as long or cost as much.
A physician assistant collaborates with a physician, who consults on cases and signs off on treatment plans. Medical doctors, on the other hand, may choose to have a solo practice. Physician assistants work more on a collaborative basis, as part of a healthcare team, while doctors may be the head of those teams. Both may act as primary care providers.
This is a trickier question, as PAs and NPs have many similarities at first glance, and both require master’s-level degrees. The best way to understand the difference is to understand their origins and differences in nursing and medical care models. Physician assistants are often more focused on the medical model and philosophy, which starts with symptoms or disease and focuses on pathology, diagnoses, pharmacology and treatment; nurse practitioners use the nursing model and philosophy and focus more holistically on the entire person as a whole, which includes the patient’s mental, emotional and physical needs.