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How to Become a Physician Assistant – A Complete Guide

Do you want to learn what it takes to become a physician assistant? If YES, here is a complete guide plus requirements needed to become a physician assistant online?

One cannot overlook the advantages of having a profession, especially if it is a profession that offers a lot of goodies to the practitioner. A profession will give you the opportunity to build your career, skills, knowledge and develop your expertise in a field that interests you. The profession some people chose is to support, deputize and serve as a helping hand to someone whose profession is just a bit superior to their own.

A physician assistant is one of those professions that require the practitioners to serve in the region of assisting someone who is the boss. A physician assistant, just as the name implies is a professional who serves as an assistant to a qualified, licensed and serving physician.

The profession of a physician is often occupied by people that love medical professions but can’t because of one reason or another go through all the process and education it takes to become a physician. A physician spends more years in education and trainings and that is why they are superior to their assistants that on the other hand spend lesser years.

The profession of a physician assistant is an interesting and wonderful profession that requires service to humanity, if you are passionate about people’s health, you can go for the profession but you need to know what the job really entails.

What is a Physician Assistant?

A physician assistant is a medical professional who serves as an assistant to a professional medical physician. A physician assistant works under the supervision of a physician by assisting and supporting a physician in all medical works. He makes the medical work of a physician easier and faster, as he works hand in hand with a physician to ensure the well-being of a patient in healthcare centers.

Although, both the physician and the physician assistant see to the responsibilities of taking care of a patient in a healthcare center, but there are some of the works designed for a physician alone and the physician assistant cannot in any way attempt them because he lacks the knowledge. For example; it is only a physician that can perform surgery on patients in a healthcare centre but the physician assistant can only stay there to assist him during the surgery process.

A physician assistant can work in various medical places like, hospitals, clinics, health faculties and academy arena. He can decide to become a physician by going through the trainings and researches expected of him before he could stand on his own as a qualified physician.

Duties of a Physician Assistant and their Job Description

The duties of a physician assistant might overlap directly with that of a physician, but yet, there is a clear demarcation in their functions and responsibilities, since the physician assistant works under the supervision of a physician.

  • Observing: After all the necessary details of a patient have been collected for registration by a nurse or clinic attendant that is in charge, the first major job a professional physician assistant performs on the patient is to first of all carry out a thorough observation on the patient. A physician assistant will take his time to observe some visible trait and character of the patient, even before going ahead to perform any test on the patient. Even by observing a patient, a physician assistant can get to know and confirm the nature and type of illness a patient is suffering from.
  • Diagnosing: One of the major jobs a physician assistant venture in after observing a patient is to diagnose any patient that patronizes the health centre where he works. After the patient has been registered and a thorough observation has been carried out, the physician assistant will now diagnose the patient to test, examine and determine the disease or illness the patient is suffering from. It is when a physician assistant performs the diagnostic test that the disease or illness troubling a patient would be visible to him and it is after then that he would be able to prescribe medication and even treat the patient.
  • Treating: After diagnosing to validate the exact illness, injury or disease a patient is suffering from, a physician assistant will now go ahead to perform the function of treating the patient. It is during this treatment that the physician assistant will deploy every tactics he knows to cure and save the patient for whatsoever injury or illness he is having. A physician assistant can treat and suture wounds, if the patient is suffering from injuries that are physical, he can gives a patient blood or water drips if there is need for it and he can refer a patient to a specialist or a physician in charge when there is need for it.
  • Prescribing Medications: Apart from the function of observing, diagnosing and treating a patient, a physician assistant can also prescribe medications for patient in a health centre. He will tell the patient of some rules and procedures they need to take into consideration to make them get cured faster of whatever illness is troubling them. He will also give drugs that would cure the patient and educate them on how to use and when to use the drugs.
  • Educating: Apart from the above major functions of a physician assistant listed above, a physician assistant still indulge in the role of educating patient and non patient people that are in his locality. There is need to educate the patient about their conditions, what to be wary of and how to improve their health status. For example, there is need for physician assistant to organize maternity lectures and seminars for pregnant women from time to time, as this will serve as an avenue to make them know of how to keep themselves and their fetus safe.

Equipment and Tools of the Trade for a Physician Attendant

  • Stethoscope: This is a medical instrument used in hearing sounds made by the heart, lungs or intestines. Medical professionals, especially nurses, physicians and physician assistants are trained to use this equipment, as it is related to their professions. It is important for a physician assistant to get a quality stethoscope to make his work effective.
  • Clinical Coat: This is a white coat often wear by a physician and his assistant during clinical works. A typical clinical coat is always long sleeves with knee length, two lower pockets and one breast pocket. It is generally not recommended for a physician assistant because it is always found in most clinics. It is very important for physicians assistant to have a clinical coat, as this is the only generally accepted uniform for them in clinical setting.
  • Thermometer: Thermometer is portable equipment a physician assistant can use to quickly check out for the temperature of a patient. An accurate thermometer can allow the physician assistant to quickly diagnose the potential disease or illness a patient is suffering from.

How to Become a Physician Assistant – A Complete Guide

Labor Market Situation for Physician Assistants

Physician assistants do nearly 80 percent of the work a physician do as well, even with the lesser education and training they have, compared to that of a physician and that is the major reason why the labor market is favorable to them.

  • The role of a physician assistant is very important because physician assistants are very useful in our society today. The physician assistant works hand in hand with a physician and they can even stand in place of a physician whenever the physician is not around.
  • According to the Bureau of labor, statics projects 38 percent growth rate for the profession of a physician between 2012 and 2022. This is an excellent growth for an average occupation.
  • With the craze for being healthy coupled with the prevalence of some new diseases in the whole world has been the major factors contributing to the sky rocketing in the need and labor market for physician assistants. Pursuing the path of a physician assistant might seems to be daunting because of the challenges it entails, especially for the fact that some people see them as less competent but this is not true, the profession is an interesting and a flourishing career path to follow.

Impact of the Internet and Technology on the Profession of a Physician Assistant

With this 21st century that could be termed as internet and digital age, every profession is trying hard to face the reality of life by adopting the full usage of the internet and technology. However, the profession of a physician assistant is not relenting on her oars, as far as internet and technology usage is concerned.

Physician assistants now update their knowledge and trainings even without leaving the four walls of their offices, all they need to do is to just browse the internet and subscribe to trainings and lessons that would improve their knowledge and prepare them to be able to handle their patient.

Professional Bodies and Associations for Physician Assistants

  • The American Academy of Physician Assistants
  • Physician Assistant Education Association
  • Connecticut Academy of Physician Assistants
  • National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants
  • The Massachusetts Association of Physician Assistants

Career ideas/sub-sectors That Exist Within the Profession of a Physician Assistant

Just as nurses and physicians have areas in which they can specialize, so do physician assistants can specialized in one area or the other. Here are some of the sections and career prospect for a physician assistant.

  • Dermatology
  • Urgent care unit
  • Surgery
  • Emergency medicine unit
  • Orthopedics
  • Pediatrics
  • Clinical advisor
  • Clinical service manager
  • Medical practitioner
  • Rural area practitioner
  • Surgical assistant

Factors Discouraging People from Becoming a Physician Assistant

  • The job Title: The title of the profession, physician assistant sounds somehow and seems like a person who plays second fiddle in what he does. Therefore, for some persons who actually attach much prestige to the job titles, it is discouraging for them to venture into such a profession.
  • Lack of Understanding of the Job specification: Physician assistants are medical professionals who are the most quizzed. This is due to the fact that most persons do not know what they actually do. Therefore, anyone who can’t be patient enough to explain his job specifications to patients will be discouraged from venturing into the profession.
  • Lack of Independence: While physician assistants are very important members of a medical team, they are supervised by the physicians. Thus, the inability to make final decisions and accept a role as a person who doesn’t have the final say about everything that happens with the patients is definitely a discouraging factor for people to venture into the profession.
  • Competency and flexibility: Physician assistants are not only one of the most competent medical professionals known worldwide; they are also the most flexible. Therefore, anyone who can accept this role of been flexible and been able to work in different medical fields intermittently would find it discouraging to join the profession.

How Much Do Physician Assistants Earn

The average annual salary of a physician assistant might not be much compared to the strenuous and quality they go through. Though surprising as this may seem, it is instructive to note that, the benefits enjoyed by physician assistants who is similar to that of the physician plays a great role in compensating for the salary. Therefore, the analyses of the physician assistant’s salary in some countries of the world are as follows:

  • In the United States

The salary of physician assistants is estimated based on a number of influential factors in 2015. The type of employment specifically can influence the salary of a Physician assistant. On the average, the annual salary is estimated at $69,410 for a starter. This may differ in some various institutions as follows: General practice: $64,475, Family medicine: $69,733, Radiology: $80,042 etc. in addition to this; there is a befitting package that goes along with the job.

  • In Canada

The average working salary of physician assistants in Canada is not quite different from what is obtainable elsewhere. Therefore, starting out as a physician assistant in Canada can earn one between C$49,132- C$81,444, whereas, the average salary is set as C$37,814 – C$130,370. This salary improves with the number of years of experience put into the job, thus for an experienced person of over 20 years can earn up to C$77,796 – C$133,646.

  • In Australia

While working as a Physician Assistant provides one with a lot of benefits and opportunities in Australia. It is also worthy to mention, that it doesn’t come with a lot of benefits and packages as it is obtainable in the United States. Thus, the average salary of a physician assistant in Australia can be put at an average of AU$80,000.

  • In the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is also one of the countries where the practice of physician assistant is widespread. The earning salaries of physician assistants differ with years of experience. While a physician assistant with 1- 5 years of experience can earn up to £15,205- £30,304 on the average. Having 5- 9 years of experience can earn one up to £19,000- £36,973 on the average. Likewise having 10- 19 years of experience will ensure that one earns £18,422 – £39,150. Etc.

How Long Does It take to Become a Physician Assistant?

Physician Assistants work under the supervision of doctors, surgeons, and other medical professionals to provide support to a healthcare or medical team. It might take one up to 6-8 years before becoming a certified and professional physician assistant.

The breakdown of the number of years is as follows:

  • Bachelor’s Degree first: While prospective physician assistants can major in any area especially as it relates to health science degrees. This undergraduate who may include medical terminology, statistics, healthcare ethics, and quantitative methods can take up to four (4) years.
  • Earning a Master’s degree: After the successful completion of a bachelor’s degree program in any related healthcare degree. Students can go on to obtain a two year master’s physician assistant program in any of the under-listed courses as: Anatomy, Physiology, Clinical medicine, Pharmacology etc.
  • Passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam: After the completion of the Physician Assistance Program in the master’s level, prospective physician assistants must also pass the qualifying exam to scale through as a physician assistant
  • Additional Certification: After successful confirmation and certification as a physician assistant. Physician assistants could advance their career in fields such as nutrition support, vascular access, Ambulatory Surgery Technician etc. to advance their knowledge.

Generally, it takes about six to eight (6-8) years of education, certification/ additional certification to become a Physician Assistant.

Educational Requirements Needed to Become a Physician Assistant

The educational requirements to become a Physician Assistant may vary but are similar in many countries. Therefore, the basic educational requirements in the United States, Australia, Canada and UK are as follows:

  • Bachelor’s degree enrolment: Anyone willing to take up physician assistance as a profession needs to start doing such right from high school days. On completion of high school, enrollment into the college for a Bachelor’s degree in a health related field is not only essential but also critical in the advancement of one’s career.
  • Physician Assistant Program: After the successful completion of a Bachelor’s degree program, it is advisable to enroll into the physician assistant program. Whilst in this program, a prospective physician assistant gets involved in a mixture of laboratory work, practical training and classroom training.
  • Additional Training: This is a specialized training for certified physician assistants which provide them the opportunity to receive a special training in a specialty area of medicine such as: Internal medicine, Geriatrics, Surgery, Occupational medicine and emergency medicine.

Is Certification Required to Become a Physician Assistant?

Just like with other professionals, becoming a certified physician assistant requires some certifications most especially in the United States. The certifications required in becoming a Physician Assistant in the United States and the processes which lead to it are as follows:

  • Certification from relevant authorities: It is mandatory to obtain a certification from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. At this stage, a qualification exam must be passed first to earn the certification. It is only with this certification can a person be successfully regarded as a Physician Assistant Certified (PA-C).
  • Advanced Certification Program: It is also a requirement to obtain the certification from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, which can only be obtained after successful two years’ experience, obtaining the PA-C certification, and completion of the medical specialty program.

Can You Become a Physician Assistant by Taking Online Courses?

Yes, there are courses online to cater for Physician Assistants. This is because the Physician assistant program is one of the fastest growing careers in America and other parts of the world. Therefore the need to get more people enrolled in this program necessitates this drive. Thus there are many online degrees which offer opportunities to students to study both for a degree in the associate, bachelor’s, Masters’ and certificate level for the program.

Though, an online Masters’ degree in Physician Assistance which is in high demand is the most offered by the online program. Thus, since the Physician assistance program requires a lot of on-site practical before certification. Online degree program also requires students enrolled in it to undergo these on-site training also known as “rotations” before eventual graduation. These rotations are supervised by medical professionals and it covers areas such as family practice, pediatrics, surgery, emergency medicine, and many others.

Career Opportunities or Industries a Physician Assistant Can Work in

A Physician Assistant is a well-respected specialist who aids the medical professionals in achieving their tasks and making their works easier. This is so because the professionals in that field are one of the most sought after in the world due to their manpower strength and the quality which they bring to the table professionally. Thus, the professional Physician Assistant has a wide range of industries where he/she can successfully work in:

  • Working under the physician’s supervision: A physician assistant may decide to work under the supervision of a physician or surgeon. This is done by reviewing the patient’s medical histories and also conducts physical examinations to check a patient’s health. Though the specific duties and the extent which they may be supervised differ from state to state.
  • Primary health care provision: This is another area of opportunity in which a physician assistant can venture into. As they can provide these healthcare opportunities for persons living in rural and medically underserved areas.
  • Academics: This is also another area of interest where a physician assistant has lots of opportunities. This is ensured by providing the younger generation and would be professionals with the necessary skills, and expertise to excel exceedingly well in the profession.
  • Pediatrics
  • Family medicine
  • Obstetrics and gynecology
  • Internal medicine outfits
  • Physician’s office

Skills and Traits Needed to Become a Successful Physician Assistant

  1. Communication Skills: It is that communication is the soul of life. Therefore physician assistants must possess this golden quality, as they must be able to explain complex medical issues in a way that patients can understand. They will also be in charge of constant communication with doctors and other healthcare workers to ensure the provision of the best possible patient care.
  2. Compassion: This is a skill that every physician assistant must possess. Because the profession itself is borne out of compassion and the need to always help those in need of medical care. It is expected that all physician assistants are drawn into the profession by a desire to help people, so they should enjoy doing that.
  3. Paying attention to details: Physician assistants must be detailed oriented and focused always. They should also be observant so as to be able to evaluate and treat patients properly.
  4. Emotional stability: The work of a physician assistant is laden with pressure and extremely strenuous. Therefore physician assistants especially those working in emergency medicine or surgery should be able to work under pressure. They must remain calm and emotionally stable in stressful situations in order to provide quality healthcare.
  5. Problem-solving skills: Physician assistants are naturally problem solvers. This is because they need to evaluate patients’ symptoms and administer appropriate treatments. They must be diligent especially in investigating complicated issues, in order to ensure the accurate determination of the best course of treatment for each patient
  6. Inter-personal/ human relation skills: A good physician assistant must possess good human relations skills to be able to cope in the profession. He must be patient, persevering and assuring. This is to ensure that the patients and medical facilities alike are a safe haven for all
  7. Ability to maintain confidentiality: A physician assistant must be confident in whatever they can do. They should realize that they can also perform some assigned roles and should never be unnecessarily timid.
  8. Team player: A physician assistant must be a team player. This is so because most of the times, they have to work with some other members of the allied healthcare team such as nurses, therapists etc. Therefore, for optimal performance and care of patients, physician assistants must be good team players.
  9. Adaptability: Due to the flexible nature of the profession, physician assistants must be willing and able to intermittent changes. This is because, since they have to do with new admissions, emergency consultations and unexpected procedures, they have to able to take on additional responsibilities unexpectedly and also shift gears too.
  10. Hard-working: Physician assistants must be energetic and hardworking, this is because the workload at times may be large, and you may also have to juggle several things at a time.

Career Tips and Advice for Becoming a Better Physician Assistant

  • Earn the necessary certifications: To become a successful physician assistant, you must ensure that you acquire all the certifications that are required of you. This is because it is only through this that your journey towards even making it as a physician assistant can materialize.
  • Seek relevant information: Seeking of information from the right sources is critical to ensuring that you succeed as a physician assistant. Information such as the certifications needed in your country/state, the relevant government agencies you must be familiar with and so on and so forth.
  • Know your area of specialization: As a physician assistant, you have the opportunity of specializing in different medical fields. Therefore, if you want to be a successful, you must be familiar with these areas of interest earlier on in your career.
  • Flexibility is the order of the day: It is important you know that, the career you have chosen is a flexible one and it offers you a wide range of opportunities. Therefore, this should ring a bell in your head to prepare you adequately for the challenges ahead.
  • Follow relevant blogs: The internet today brings information to you even from the comfort of your homes. Therefore as a physician assistant who wishes to succeed, you must maximize this opportunity and ensure that you follow relevant blogs that can provide you with the necessary information you need.

Physician assistants are one of the most important medical practitioners in the world today. While they do not have enough manpower, the demand for them is high and is even more on the increase. So, if you are looking for a profession, that will compensate you well for what you do, and will give you the leverage to grow in it and never get bored, then you should consider been a physician assistant.

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