All States require that PAs complete an accredited, formal education
program and pass a National exam to obtain a license. PA programs
usually last at least 2 years and are full time. Most programs are in
schools of allied health, academic health centers, medical schools, or
4-year colleges; a few are in community colleges, the military, or
hospitals. Many accredited PA programs have clinical teaching
affiliations with medical schools.
About 136 education programs for physician assistants are
accredited or provisionally accredited by the American Academy of
Physician Assistants. More than 90 of these programs offered the option
of a master's degree, and the rest offered either a bachelor's degree or
an associate's degree. Most applicants to PA educational programs already
have a bachelor's degree.
Admission requirements vary, but many programs require 2 years of
college and some work experience in the health care field. Students
should take courses in biology, English, chemistry, mathematics,
psychology, and the social sciences. Many PAs have prior experience as
registered nurses, while others come from varied backgrounds, including
military corpsman/medics and allied health occupations such as
respiratory therapists, physical therapists, and emergency medical
technicians and paramedics.
PA education includes classroom instruction in biochemistry, pathology,
human anatomy, physiology, microbiology, clinical pharmacology, clinical
medicine, geriatric and home health care, disease prevention, and
medical ethics. Students obtain supervised clinical training in several
areas, including family medicine, internal medicine, surgery, prenatal
care and gynecology, geriatrics, emergency medicine, psychiatry, and
pediatrics. Sometimes, PA students serve one or more of these
"rotations" under the supervision of a physician who is seeking to hire
a PA. The rotations often lead to permanent employment.
All States and the District of Columbia have legislation governing the
qualifications or practice of physician assistants. All jurisdictions
require physician assistants to pass the Physician Assistant National
Certifying Examination, administered by the National Commission on
Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) and open only to graduates
of accredited PA education programs. Only those successfully completing
the examination may use the credential "Physician Assistant-Certified."
In order to remain certified, PAs must complete 100 hours of continuing
medical education every 2 years. Every 6 years, they must pass a
recertification examination or complete an alternative program combining
learning experiences and a take-home examination.
Some PAs pursue additional education in a specialty such as surgery,
neonatology, or emergency medicine. PA postgraduate educational programs
are available in areas such as internal medicine, rural primary care,
emergency medicine, surgery, pediatrics, neonatology, and occupational
medicine. Candidates must be graduates of an accredited program and be
certified by the NCCPA.
Physician assistants need leadership skills, self-confidence, and
emotional stability. They must be willing to continue studying
throughout their career to keep up with medical advances.
As they attain greater clinical knowledge and experience, PAs can
advance to added responsibilities and higher earnings. However, by the
very nature of the profession, clinically practicing PAs always are
supervised by physicians.
represents the highest standard of achievement for veterinary medical
education in the United States. Institutions that earn accreditation
confirm their commitment to quality and continuous
improvement through a rigorous and comprehensive peer review. All PA
educational programs are accredited by one body, the
Accreditation Review Commission on
Education for the Physician Assistant. Be sure to check
with the Commission for updates or changes to the list below.
Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the US Department
of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.