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Physician Assistant Programs: Physician Assistant Degrees and School

The physician assistant degree program allows candidates to learn the skills and medical knowledge necessary for the role of the Physician Assistant (PA). The physician assistant is a supporting role for physicians and surgeons in a clinical setting, and requires formal training in the field of practicing medicine and successfully passing a licensing examination. Physician assistants are formally trained to provide therapeutic and diagnostic care under the supervision of a physician, and may also be involved with coordinating lab tests, conducting x rays and tracking patient progress charts and notes as part of a patient's therapy or treatment program. Physician assistants are qualified to prescribe medication, and may take on several types of roles and positions in the clinic or healthcare facility.

Physician Assistant Degree Courses and Programs

Some physician assistant schools break up the educational track into two focused years of study; the first year may involve on-campus classes and labs, while the second year may involve clinical work at sites around the campus. This allows students to gain the knowledge and experience they need to be successful in their careers.

Physician assistant degrees are typically comprised of the following courses and curriculum:

  • Behavioral Medicine

  • Fundamentals of Clinical Medicine

  • Genetics

  • Concepts in Evidence Based Healthcare

  • Pulmonary Medicine

  • Cardiology

  • Men's Health

  • Infection and Immunology

  • Endocrine, Hematology, Oncology

  • Pediatric Medicine

  • Neurology

Clinical rotations are often a part of graduate physician assistant degree programs, and allow students to gain in-depth knowledge and training in the areas of: internal medicine; specialty medicine; in-patient medicine; family practice; primary care.

Physician Assistant Programs – Training and Curriculum

Physician assistant degree programs are typically two or more years in length, and all physician assistants must obtain a license after completing an accredited education program. All States in the United States and the District of Columbia have their own rules and regulations to determine the qualifications of a physician assistant, but all candidates must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying examination that is administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). This examination can only be taken by those who successfully complete an accredited physician assistant program, and they are then granted the credential “Physician Assistant-Certified.”

Maintaining Physician Assistant Certification requires continuing medical education every 2 years, and passing a recertification examination every 6 years. A PA must complete at least 100 hours of continuing education, or 50 credit hours per year; this allows them to keep up with current technologies and the state of the medical field, as well as networking with other PAs and physicians in the industry.

Certification in a specialty is another option for those who want to enhance their physician assistant degree and skills. Physician assistant schools offer several specialized programs for PAs who may want to focus solely in the areas of emergency medicine, rural primary care, pediatrics or occupational medicine.

Attending Physician Assistant School

A physician assistant school provides the curriculum and hands-on training needed to excel in this field of health care and medicine. Clinical on-the-job training is typically a part of most physician assistant degree programs, but students can further their skills and knowledge by undertaking an internship or work-study program through a physician assistant school.

Physician assistant schools are typically a branch of the Health Sciences or College of Medicine at a public or private university, and some offer both 2-year and 4-year programs in the field. Most students attending a physician assistant school will need to have at least 2 years of college experience in the fields of health and sciences. A professional physician assistant degree training program may be comprised of 12 months on campus, followed by 15 months on site at different locations around the campus to serve as a student's ‘Clinical Year.'

Career Options and Employment Prospects with a Physician Assistant Degree

The healthcare industry is expected to grow at a rapid pace within the next decade and employment of physicians, surgeons and physicians assistants is expected to rise as much as 27 percent through 2016 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Occupational Statistics Handbook. Physicians and medical care facilities are searching for skilled and highly-trained PAs to support staff members for routine duties and also facilitate with the consultation process.

The median annual earnings for physician assistants were $74,980 in May 2006, and the majority of available jobs can be found in rural and inner-city clinics. The American Academy of Physician Assistants reports a median income of $80,356 in 2006 for those who worked in a clinical practice full-time.

Related occupations include:

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Physician Assistant Programs: Physician Assistant Degrees and School



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