A physician assistant (PA) career has been rated by U.S. News and World Report as one of the fastest growing and most desirable careers for the future. Job opportunities include work in clinics, care for patients in hospitals, and care for patients in nursing homes. Many of the PA job duties are very much like the job of a doctor. Physician assistants see patients, take a history, do a physical exam, make a diagnosis, and decide on the treatment needed. The difference between a physician and a physician assistant is the amount of education required, the physician supervision, and the level of responsibility. Every PA needs to have a supervising physician, someone who oversees his or her work. The PA and physician work together as a team.
Most physician assistant programs require an undergraduate degree in one of sciences, such as biology or chemistry. Many PA programs require certain courses to get into a PA school, such as general biology, microbiology, general and organic chemistry, biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, psychology, and statistics. The PA education is anywhere from two to three years in length after a minimum of three years of college. All PA programs award a certificate of completion at the end of the program. Some programs also award a degree along with the certificate.
Getting into PA school is quite challenging. As of 2000, there were 125 programs in the United States. The class size for each PA program averages thirty-one. In order to be considered, one needs to get good grades in college, at least consistent Bs. Volunteering and working in the health care field, such as in a nursing home, increase one's chances of acceptance into a program. Many prospective students talk with PAs before starting a program so that they get a better idea of what PAs do on the job.
Dawn B. Ludwig
American Academy of Physician Assistants. <http://www.aapa.org> .