Physician assistants are health care professionals who are licensed, or in the case of those employed by the federal government, credentialed, to practice medicine with physician supervision. As part of their comprehensive responsibilities, PAs conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery, and write prescriptions.
PA education was developed on a medical school model, with the first half of the program being didactic and the second half being rotations in hospitals, clinics, and offices. Because PA programs can be completed in two to three years, graduates have the benefit of becoming practicing clinicians quickly. PA education is generalized; PAs can enter any specialization following graduation and can also switch specialties without any additional education, allowing for a vast array of experiences. After graduation, all graduates take the same national certifying exam.
PA schools require extensive clinical experience, typically between 500-2000 hours. This is typically done by working for one-to-two years in a clinical setting following the completion of undergraduate education.
For more information about the PA profession:
- American Academy of Physician Assistants
- Physician Assistant Education Association - includes a link to the searchable PA program directory.
- Practicing Clinicians - for a side-by-side comparison of the physician assistant and nursing professions.
- Students and recent grads have also found The Physician Assistant Life blog and the Physician Assistant Forum to be helpful resources.