Physician Assistants (PAs) are medical providers who diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications and often serve as a patient’s principal healthcare professional. With thousands of hours of medical training, PAs are versatile and collaborative. PAs practice in every state and in every medical setting and specialty, improving healthcare access and quality.
How are PAs trained?
PA programs are accredited by an independent organization, the Accreditation Review Commission on Accreditation for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA).
Prerequisites for admission to PA school vary depending on the program, but generally include coursework in the basic sciences, including biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology. Many programs require a bachelor's degree prior to starting a PA program. Most candidates have a fair amount of healthcare experience, in either a direct patient-care or non-patient care capacity (such as shadowing or volunteering). Many PA programs require a standardized test, such as the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) as part of the admissions evaluation process.
PAs are trained in the medical model. The average PA program spans 27 months, with the majority of programs awarding of a master's degree after completion of the program. PA programs include both didactic study in basic and medical sciences, clinical and behavioral health sciences, health policy and professional practice, and research methods, conducted through lectures and laboratory work. Students then rotate through supervised clinical rotations, including family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine, pediatrics, women's health/obstetrics, general surgery, behavioral health, as well as additional elective rotations, with an average of more than 1,750 clinical contact hours.
Source: PAEA Reports https://paeaonline.org/research/curriculum-survey/
What does it take to become a practicing PA?
Following graduation from an accredited PA program, individuals must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) through the National Commission on the Certification of the Physician Assistant (NCCPA).
Following passage of the PANCE, PAs must undergo a licensing process in their state of practice. In Colorado, licensure is overseen by the Colorado Medical Board through the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies. For more information, check out the Colorado Medical Board webpage, or check out the resources on the New to Colorado page.
PAs maintain certification through the NCCPA by obtaining 100 continuing medical education hours every 2 years, with 50 hours of Category I credits. PAs must also pass a recertification exam (Physician Assistant National Recertification Examination) through NCCPA every 10 years.