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So You Want to Become a Physician Assistant

A career as a Physician Assistant (PA) can be one of the most rewarding, collaborative and exciting careers possible. For the right people. There’s a lot of school, studying, sacrifice, effort and money that goes into starting a career as a PA so let’s talk about what to expect with this career and lifestyle, and who can thrive in this field.

We are going to assume you already love the idea of working in the medical field. Yes? Good!

Let’s start with the requirements to become a PA in 2020.

PA Requirements:

There are bound to be some exceptions, but here are the most common requirements to starting a career as a PA.

Earn your Bachelor’s degree, hopefully with a nice GPA! Common prerequisite courses include: Physiology, Anatomy, Chemistry, Biology, Microbiology, Statistics and Social/Behavioral Sciences. Most PA schools, though not all, will require the GRE. Having several years of work experience as an emergency medical technician (EMT) or paramedic, registered nurse (RN), lab assistant or phlebotomist, or another related job makes you more competitive to whatever PA school you are applying. PA school is almost always a Master’s degree which means in total, you are looking at about six years of school.

After all the effort to get into a PA program, you have two years of hard work ahead of you in the classroom and clinical rotations. Once you have passed your classes, you will need to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam, or PANCE. PAs must take a recertification exam every 10 years and earn 100 continuing medical education (CME) credits every two years. To learn more about PA credential maintenance throughout your career, visit the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

So no matter where you are in your PA career, Picmonic for Physician Assistants is here for you. We’ve got your back from your first day, studying for your first exam, reviewing tough topics along the way, passing the PANCE or refreshing for your recertification. 

Core Skills of All PAs:

  1. Altruistic Approach. A PA has an important role to provide great service to both patients and supervising physicians. Thinking about, and truly caring about the needs of the people you serve is critical to this job.
  2. Great Educator and Communicator. It’s okay if you aren’t the world’s most effective communicator right now. But, if you are interested in making this a priority and focusing some of your personal development in this area, then you’re on your way! Your training and clinical year in PA school will really help you develop or enhance these skills.
  3. Adaptability. Every day can bring new, exciting or challenging situations. Having complete structure and predictability aren’t common for a PA. If you are a planner, plan to be both productive and adaptable. If you can see your future PA self setting realistic expectations of you and your team and being flexible when needed, you may really love PA life!

Work-Life Balance

Feeling happy and having work-life balance go hand-in-hand. But how you define this balance will determine how happy you feel as a PA.

Before we go on, you need to define what “work-life balance” means to you. Take your time. Ready? Okay, read on.

In 2018, 80% of PAs reported that they felt happy at work. When you consider that around 80% of employees across industries say they feel “disconnected” from their work, or that their job is a “source of frustration rather than fulfillment,” being a PA can provide a tremendous opportunity for fulfillment.

As a PA you will likely also have much more autonomy, as well as more control over your work environment. Both of these factors can impact whether you feel happy at work, and allow for more balance when it comes to your work hours, schedule, specialty area(s), and patients you work with. More on that next.

New Adventures

Being a PA means you can move your career both professionally and geographically. Most PAs, like most physicians, tend to work in higher population areas, but a growing number are taking their career to medically underserved populations. Having options like this is a huge benefit to being a PA.  Then, there’s the opportunity to change your practice and environment. Whether in a hospital, clinic, educational facility, correctional facility, Dept. of Veterans Affairs, community health center or nursing home, your skills and experience are needed and valued across the country in every medical setting. 

Lastly, if you crave a change in specialty or know you like variety, having a career as a PA is perfect. Your career can take you from big city to rural town, hospital to specialty private practice while working in anything from emergency medicine to plastic surgery.

Career Growth

U.S. News & World Report ranked Physician Assistant as the top career in healthcare in 2019. Although training to become a PA is intensive and modeled after quality medical education programs, it takes considerably less time to become a PA than it takes to become a physician. 

Then there is the earning potential. The good news is that most PAs across the country can expect an average base salary around $100,000. A lot of factors go into salaries, like where you practice. In 2018, the AAPA found Alaska had the highest PA base salary at $130,000. Their research also found that emergency medicine PAs had a higher base salary than their counterparts. Additionally, employer type and work setting also impacted what PAs earn. 

PAs are expanding access to care for their patients which will continue to be needed and valued in healthcare. The team-based approach to the medical field is also one of the reasons the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 37% employment growth for the PA field between 2016 and 2026. 

Between the projected job growth, earning potential and ability to adapt your practice to different and exciting specialties, a career as a PA is not only a secure path, but can be a personally and professionally fulfilling one.

Brent Hawkins
Brent Hawkins, MPAS, PA

His career as a physician assistant began in the clinic but has taken him places he never would have imagined. He worked as a PA in family medicine for two years after graduating from the University of North Texas Health Science Center PA Program in Fort Worth, Texas. Over the past ten years, he’s had the unique opportunity to help health professional students in their training through writing, editing, and creating educational content. His time in health-professional student education has allowed him to be involved in video production, medical illustration, and curriculum development. His specific focus is on developing test preparation for PANCE and USMLE.

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