Physician Assistant Curriculum

Information compiled by the team - last updated October 2010

Studying In the field

Studying to be a physician's assistant (PA) involves both academic and clinical preparation in order to provide a range of health care services traditionally provided by physicians. PA instruction covers basic medical and behavioral sciences such as anatomy, pharmacology, pathophysiology, clinical medicine, and physical diagnosis. This classroom and laboratory based learning is then followed by clinical rotations in internal medicine, family medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, emergency medicine, and geriatric medicine. PAs work under the supervision of physicians, but training typically covers a wide range of diagnostic, therapeutic and preventative health care services which prepares them to conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventative care, assist in surgery, and in almost all states, write prescriptions.

The programs that train physician's assistants are intensive medical programs, which must be accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant. On average, PA schools run a little over 2 years (26 months) and award a Master's degree upon completion. After graduation, PAs are prepared to take the national certification examination developed by the National Commission on Certification of PAs in conjunction with the National Board of Medical Examiners. This assures that PAs from a wide range of programs have similar entry-level education and qualifications.

Many programs require certain prerequisites including at least two years of college including a number of general requirements including basic chemistry, biology, psychology, mathematics/statistics, microbiology, genetics, and anatomy/physiology. For exact requirements, students must investigate individual program requirements.


Job opportunities In the field

Job opportunities for PAs have expanded tremendously as the profession continues developing and as health care continues to be one of the largest and fastest-growing industries in the world. The main purpose of a PA is to provide health care services under the supervision of a physician. However, some PAs find themselves as the primary care providers in rural settings or inner city clinics and consult physicians only as needed or required by law. PAs have also expanded from traditional roles in primary care to surgical subspecialties such as orthopedics or cardiothoracic surgery.

It is estimated that more than half of the jobs for PAs are in the offices of physicians or other health care practitioners while a quarter are in hospitals. Other areas include outpatient care centers, educational services, the government or armed services, and employment services. Overall, the American Academy of Physician Assistants projects that 98 percent of 2004 PA program graduates will be in clinical practice as PAs in 2005. The estimated starting salary for a PA is around $65,000 a year. The demand for PAs is extremely high and the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the number of PA jobs will increase over fifty percent between 2000 and 2010.


Check out: Physician Assistant Graduate Programs and Online Physician Assistant Programs

Photo by John of Austin

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