6 Common Steps to Become a Physician Assistant (PA)
- Earn a bachelor’s degree.
According to the American Academy of PAs (AAPA), most PA programs require that applicants have a bachelor’s degree before entering a PA program, in addition to about three years of healthcare experience. At a minimum, the agency says a candidate typically needs to complete at least two years of college coursework in basic and behavioral sciences before applying to a PA program. Many programs require a high GPA (typically 3.0 or higher) and prerequisites such as chemistry/organic chemistry, biology/microbiology, physiology, psychology and statistics.
- Gain healthcare experience.
Each physician assistant program has different requirements regarding healthcare experience. However, the AAPA indicates that PA program applicants typically have three years of healthcare experience before applying.
- Apply to the PA program(s) of your choice.
Considerations here include location, curriculum, cost, available financial aid and accreditation. Every state requires that its physician assistants attend a program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) in order to grant licensure.
- Graduate from PA school.
Generally, physician assistant education programs may take about three years for coursework and clinical experience, but each PA program may be different. Be sure to check with your preferred university for coursework and clinical experience sequences.
- Earn your certification.
Pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) and earn National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) certification. The exam is five hours long and contains 300 multiple-choice questions; content areas tested include 95% medical and 5% other tasks, such as taking patient histories, formulating diagnoses and administering pharmaceutical therapeutics.
- Become licensed in your state.
This requires that you have graduated from an ARC-PA accredited school and passed the PANCE. No states have an exception to this rule, according to the ARC-PA FAQs for non-U.S. healthcare professionals. Each state may have additional requirements, so you should research the requirements in the state(s) in which you intend to seek licensure.