Physician assistants do much of the same work that physicians do – they examine patients, diagnose injuries and illnesses, develop and carry out treatment plans, prescribe medicine, and more – although there are some key differences. For example, they do most of these tasks under the supervision of a physician and there are limits in the types of procedures they can perform. But they also don’t have as much schooling; while still intensive, becoming a physician assistant typically requires a master’s degree and a one-year clinical rotation, versus a doctor’s master’s degree and three- to seven-year residency. In this light, becoming a physician assistant might appeal to someone who’s looking to enter the medical field sooner than a physician would.
A greater look at the education path toward becoming a physician assistant follows. We recommend applying to accredited online degree programs. A list of accredited programs is available through the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). The Physician Assistant Education Association also provides a list of accredited online college degree programs for a fee.
Online Master’s Degree Programs for Physician Assistant
The birthplace of the physician assistant profession was at Duke University, which started the first master’s for physician assistants in the 1960s. Today, there are more than 150 accredited physician assistant programs from which to choose. During physician assistant online masters degree programs, students take courses in basic medical, behavioral, and social sciences that cover such topics as pathology, human anatomy, clinical medicine, and physiology. Students are also trained in clinical medicine and patient assessment and become fluent in health policy, professional practice issues, and ethics. Online degree programs for physician assistant may also include supervised clinical practice in areas such as family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine, and pediatrics.
As mentioned earlier, the master’s degree is the standard for becoming a physician assistant. You’ll see some schools offer bachelor’s degrees in physician assisting, although these are often joint BS/MS online accelerated degree programs that offer students an opportunity to earn both their undergraduate and graduate degree in about five years. Attending an accredited online degree program at the master’s level or any joint BS/MS accelerated online degree programs is key. All states require physician assistants to be licensed, which requires passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination, or PANCE, administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. To be eligible to take the PANCE students must have graduated from a physician program accredited by ARC-PA or one of its predecessors.
Online Doctoral Degree Programs for Physician Assistant
There are limited opportunities for advanced physician assistant studies at the doctorate level. This would allow for specialty study in areas such as internal medicine, rural primary care, or medicine. Baylor University, for instance, offers a doctoral program in physician assistant studies for emergency medicine. This program is geared toward Army physician assistants and gives them the opportunity to develop advanced competencies in triage and management of acute injuries and illnesses. Some postgraduate programs are also designed to produce faculty for physician assistant programs who are sufficiently trained to be teachers. Students typically need to be graduates of an accredited physician assistant program and be certified to apply for doctoral programs.
Online Degree Programs in Physician Assistant in the Work Place
Physician assistants work in all areas of medicine, from primary care and family medicine to emergency medicine and psychiatry. The majority, 54%, of physician assistants are employed in physician’s offices, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Hospitals employed 24% of physician assistants, followed by outpatient care centers (9%), the government (4%), and colleges, universities, and professional schools (3%). Employment of physician assistants is expected to grow 30% from 2010 to 2020 because of the growth of population growth and a need for primary healthcare providers such as physician assistants as more physicians enter specialty areas. There will be greater demand in rural and medically underserved areas, notes the BLS, as well as in primary care. As of May 2010, the median annual wage for physician assistants was $86,410, though your exact salary will vary based on your experience, employer, and location.