Q. What are the advantages of seeing a PA for medical care?
A. PA education and practice emphasize patient education, preventive care, and chronic care management. PAs’ generalist medical training enables them to provide a wide spectrum of patient care and treat the “whole patient.” For example, during an appointment with a PA working in cardiology, in addition to discussing the patient’s heart issues, a PA might notice a skin condition and either treat it or refer that patient to a dermatology practice. PAs make it easier for patients to get the care they need when they need it. A 2014 Harris Poll found that 92 percent of Americans who have seen a PA or have a family member who has seen a PA said that having a PA makes it easier to get a medical appointment.
Q. What is a PA?
A. PAs are medical professionals who diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications, and often serve as a patient’s principal healthcare provider. With thousands of hours of medical training, PAs are versatile and collaborative. PAs practice in every state and in every medical setting and specialty, improving healthcare access and quality.
Q. What education does a PA have?
A. PAs are educated at the master’s degree level. There are more than 238 PA programs in the country and admission is highly competitive, requiring a bachelor’s degree and completion of courses in basic and behavioral sciences as prerequisites. Incoming PA students bring with them an average of more than 3,000 hours of direct patient contact experience, having worked as paramedics, athletic trainers, or medical assistants, for example. PA programs are approximately 27 months (three academic years), and include classroom instruction and more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations.
Q. What is included in the PA school curriculum?
A. A PA’s medical education and training are rigorous. The PA school curriculum is modeled on the medical school curriculum that involves both didactic and clinical education training. In the didactic phase, students take courses in basic medical sciences, behavioral sciences, and behavioral ethics. In the clinical phase, students complete more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations in medical and surgical disciplines, including family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, general surgery, emergency medicine, and psychiatry.
Q. What do PAs do?
AA. PAs’ specific duties depend on the setting in which they work, their level of experience, their specialty, and state laws. Generally, PAs can:
• Take medical histories • Conduct physical exams
• Diagnose and treat illness • Order and interpret tests
• Develop treatment plans • Prescribe medication
• Counsel on preventive care • Perform procedures
• Assist in surgery • Make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes
• Do clinical research
Q. Where do PAs work?
A. There are more than 131,000 PAs who practice in every medical setting in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. They work in hospitals, medical offices, community health centers, nursing homes, retail clinics, educational facilities, workplace clinics, and correctional institutions. PAs also serve in the nation’s uniformed services and work for other federal government agencies, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Q. How do PAs work with physicians?
A. PAs are committed to team practice with physicians and other healthcare providers. Currently, most state laws require PAs to have an agreement with a specific physician in order to practice. These agreements were included in early PA practice acts 50 years ago when the PA profession was new and untested. Today, PAs are still held to these obsolete requirements despite the PA profession being well established, highly trusted, and essential to the U.S. healthcare workforce. In 2017, the American Academy of PAs passed new policy called Optimal Team Practice (OTP). To support OTP, states should eliminate the legal requirement for a specific relationship between a PA, physician or any other health care provider in order for a PA to practice to the full extent of their education, training and experience; create a separate majority-PA board to regulate PAs, or add PAs and physicians who work with PAs to medical or healing arts boards; and, authorize PAs to be eligible for direct payment by all public and private insurers.
Q. Is there a high demand for PAs?
A. Yes. The PA profession is one of the fastest growing in the country. The demand for PAs increased more than 300 percent from 2011 to 2014, according to the healthcare search firm Merritt Hawkins. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the profession will increase 37 percent from 2016 to 2026, significantly faster than the average for all occupations. The demand for PAs is so high that three quarters of PAs receive multiple job offers upon graduation.
Q. What is the public perception of PAs?
PAs are trusted healthcare providers. A 2014 Harris Poll found extremely high satisfaction rates among Americans who have seen a PA or have a family member who has seen a PA. The survey found that 93 percent regard PAs as trusted healthcare providers and 91 percent believe that PAs improve the quality of healthcare
Q. How are PAs different from nurse practitioners (NPs)?
A. At the practice level, there are likely more similarities than differences between Pas and NPs. However, there are three key differences:
• Pas are educated in general medicine, which offers a comprehensive view of all aspects of medicine. NPs must choose a “population focus,” e.g., pediatric nurse practitioner or women’s health nurse practitioner.
• Pas are trained to practice medicine using a curriculum modeled on medical school education. NPs are trained in the advanced practice of nursing.
Become a PA
Ready to become a PA? Here are essential steps to help you get started.
Step 1: Get prerequisites and health care experience
Application to PA school is highly competitive.
Look into PA programs you want to apply to as early as your freshman year in college.
You’ll typically need to complete at least two years of college coursework in basic and behavioral sciences before applying to a PA program, which is very similar to premedical studies.
The majority of PA programs have the following prerequisites:
Many PA programs also require prior health care experience with hands-on patient care.
You can get health care experience by being a (not an exhaustive list):
• Medical assistant
• Emergency medical technician (EMT)
• Medic or medical corpsman
• Peace Corps volunteer
• Lab assistant/phlebotomist
• Registered nurse
• Emergency room technician
• Surgical tech
• Certified nursing assistant (CNA)
Most students have a bachelor’s degree and about three years of health care experience before entering a program.
Learn more about getting into a PA program:
Step 2: Attend an accredited PA program
Most programs are approximately 26 months (3 academic years) and award master’s degrees. They include classroom instruction and clinical rotations.
As a PA student, you’ll receive classroom instruction in:
• Physical diagnosis
• Clinical laboratory science
• Behavioral science
• Medical ethics
You’ll also complete more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations, with an emphasis on primary care in ambulatory clinics, physician offices and acute or long-term care facilities.
Your rotations could include:
• Family medicine
• Internal medicine
• Obstetrics and gynecology
• General surgery
• Emergency medicine
Learn more about accredited PA programs:
Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA)
Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA)
Step 3: Become certified
Once you’ve graduated from an accredited PA program, you’re eligible to take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).
If you pass the PANCE and maintain your certification, you may use the title Physician Assistant-Certified or PA-C.
• PANCE resources
• AAPA Salary Report
• National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants(NCCPA)
Step 4: Obtain a state license
Before you can practice, you need to get licensed in your state.
All states require that PAs graduate from an accredited PA program and pass the PANCE.
• State licensing requirements
Step 5: Maintain your certification
To maintain national certification, you need to complete 100 hours of continuing medical education (CME) credits every two years and take a recertification exam (the Physician Assistant National Recertifying Exam, or PANRE) every 10 years.