• Physician Assistant

    Physician assistants, also known as PAs, practice medicine on teams with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers. They examine, diagnose, and treat patients.

    Physician assistants typically do the following: 

    • Take or review patients’ medical histories
    • Examine patients
    • Order and interpret diagnostic tests, such as x rays or blood tests
    • Diagnose a patient’s injury or illness
    • Give treatment, such as setting broken bones and immunizing patients
    • Educate and counsel patients and their families—for example, answering questions about how to care for a child with asthma
    • Prescribe medicine
    • Assess and record a patient’s progress
    • Research the latest treatments to ensure the quality of patient care
    • Conduct or participate in outreach programs; talking to groups about managing diseases and promoting wellness

    Physician assistants work on teams with physicians or surgeons and other healthcare workers. Their specific duties and the extent to which they must be supervised by physicians or surgeons differ from state to state.

    Physician assistants work in all areas of medicine, including primary care and family medicine, emergency medicine, surgery, and psychiatry. The work of physician assistants depends in large part on their specialty or the type of medical practice where they work. For example, a physician assistant working in surgery may close incisions and provide care before, during, and after the operation. A physician assistant working in pediatrics may examine a child and give routine vaccinations.

    In some areas, especially rural and medically underserved communities, physician assistants may be the primary care providers at clinics where a physician is present only 1 or 2 days per week. In these locations, physician assistants collaborate with the physician as needed and as required by law.

    Some physician assistants make house calls or visit nursing homes to treat patients.

    Physician assistants are different from medical assistants. Medical assistants do routine clinical and clerical tasks and they do not practice medicine.

    Prerequisite Coursework

    Most applicants to physician assistant education programs already have a bachelor’s degree and some healthcare-related work experience. Although admissions requirements vary from program to program, most programs require 2 to 4 years of undergraduate coursework with a focus in science. Many applicants already have experience as registered nurses or as EMTs and paramedics before they apply to a physician assistant program.

    Physician assistant education programs usually take at least 2 years of full-time study. About 200 education programs were accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. (ARC-PA) in 2014. Almost all of these accredited programs offer a master’s degree.

    Physician assistant education includes classroom and laboratory instruction in subjects such as pathology, human anatomy, physiology, clinical medicine, pharmacology, physical diagnosis, and medical ethics. The programs also include supervised clinical training in several areas, including family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine, and pediatrics.

    Sometimes students serve in one or more clinical rotations in these areas under the supervision of a physician who is looking to hire a physician assistant. In this way, clinical rotations may lead to permanent employment.

    Here is a general list of common requirements:

    General chemistry with lab
    Organic chemistry with lab
    Biochemistry with lab
    1 semester of anatomy and physiology with lab
    1 semester of Psychology
    1 semester of statistics
    Other: GRE (Graduate Requirement Exam) and letters of recommendation

    Relevant experiences: shadowing in a health care setting is typically required and it is advised that students determine the hours of experience required for the schools that they are interested in

    Relevant Tests

    Websites with test-taking and test-prep information:

    Test-taking timeline: 

    Degree Programs

    Look into the best PA graduate programs for you by starting a search by physicians assistant degree type. For example, you could earn a Doctorate of Osteopathic Medicine or a Doctorate Physician Assistant Degree. You can also search for options such as a Master of Science in Physician Assistant or a Graduate Certificate Physician Assistant Program.

    Application Resources