Physician Assistant Schools - Curriculum Overview

In this article we take a look at Physician Assistant Schools with a Curriculum Overview.

What College Courses are Needed to Become a Physician Assistant

Physician Assistant graduate schools usually require students to complete about two years of full-time study. Graduate work is typically completed in two phases: the didactic phase (year one) and the clinical phase (year two).

During the didactic phase the student will spend most of their time in a classroom or laboratory, learning specific skills and information that will serve them in the profession. In the clinical phase, they are usually required to participate in a series of clinical rotations, working with actual patients under the supervision of medical doctors and practicing PA's. In their clinical rotation students apply their theoretical knowledge in real-world situations, while learning about working as a physician assistant within different medical specializations.

Prior to enrolling in a physician assistant school, most students are required to have completed coursework in biology, anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry, biochemistry, and statistics. These courses can be taken as an undergraduate or in a post-baccalaureate program.

Physician Assistant Schools Year 1: The Didactic Phase

Coursework in Physician Assistant Schools in the didactic phase typically includes advanced study in the biological sciences. Some common courses in PA graduate programs include:

  • Anatomy
  • Pharmacology
  • Patient Interviewing
  • Pathophysiology
  • Evidence Based Medicine
  • Physical Diagnosis
  • EKG and Radiology
  • Clinical Laboratory Procedures
  • Preventative Medicine
  • Public Health
  • Clinical Decision Making and Problem Solving

Many of these courses, which most physician assistant schools offer in some sort of sequence, provide students an opportunity to learn practical skills such as how to communicate effectively with patients and take their medical history, how to perform various diagnostic procedures, and how to use all information gathered for the best patient assessment.

Medical ethics is also part of some physician assistant programs, and it is usually part of the didactic phase of the curriculum. This offering introduces PA students to the theoretical side of the profession and prepares them to deal with the legal dimensions of what they will do on a day-to-day basis.

Physician Assistant Schools Year 2: Clinical Phase

In the Physician Assistant Schools clinical phase of their education, students begin field training in the hopes of gaining the practical skills and knowledge that will help them pursue their future career. The clinical environment, which might be a private medical practice, hospital, clinic, or pharmacy, becomes the classroom. PA students move through a series of short but intense rotations in a range of medical specialties including:

  • Family Medicine
  • Internal Medicine
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • General Surgery
  • Pediatrics
  • Psychiatry

Specific requirements vary slightly between physician assistant schools, but most require some experience in core areas such as these. Several of the top-rated programs also offer elective rotations in other medical specialties as well, however, enabling students with an interest in another specialty to gain some experience with it during their graduate study.

In order to graduate from a PA physician assistant program, students need to do well academically during their didactic studies and be able to demonstrate their professional aptitude during their clinical studies.

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