What is a Physician Assistant?
A Physician Assistant can work in many areas of the healthcare field. The opportunities are very diverse and range from rural private practice to being a first assistant in surgery. See U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics information on the most recent trends and data on this career.
Physician Assistant vs. Nurse Practitioner
Essentially these two roles operate in almost identical ways. Both can prescribe medicine. However, a Nurse Practitioner can operate independent of a doctor no matter where he/she works. A Physician Assistant will always be under the direct supervision of a Medical Doctor.
How to Become a Physician Assistant Starting at a Community College
1. Earn an A.S. degree and then go on to a Bachelor’s degree in sciences.
While having a non-science degree is acceptable in PA programs, having a science or medical-related degree gives you a more competitive edge. Essentially you would follow the Pre-Med science course plan which includes BIO 111 and 112, CHE 111 and 112 and PHY 111 (Algebra-based Physics). See the Pre-Med Course Sequences web page.
2. Job shadow a Physician Assistant.
Most PA schools require at least 50 hours of job shadowing. It will be up to you to make that connection with a physician or a medical organization. PPCC does not set up job shadowing for students. You should do this early so that you not only meet an admissions requirement, but also gain in-person experience to see if being a Physician's Assistant is really what you want to do.
3. Transfer to a college/university that has a Pre-Physician Assistant track.
When you find colleges or universities that have programs designed to move you toward this area, make sure that you contact them often to stay current with their application requirements and processes.
4. Anticipate the requirement of taking the Graduate Record Exam (GRE).
This is particularly true if you look at out-of-State PA programs. Preparing for this during the last two years at your university is a good idea. There are always great study guides and test prep resources. It is recommended that you check with your target PA school at least once a year to see the score requirements.
5. Apply to PA schools through the CASPA (Central Application Service for Physician Assistants).
Applications are only accepted one time a year and usually in March or April.
What to Do Now
- Review application requirements for the colleges in which you are interested.
- Make note of the application dates for each.
- Feel free to contact each college for specific questions.
- Contact your PPCC Medical Sciences Advisor as you take prerequisite courses and prepare to apply.
Andrew Rodican's books on getting in to Physician Assistant schools are some of the best resources. These books cover the early stages of preparation all the way through applying to and acceptance into a Physician Assistant school.