A Guide to Studying Physician Assistant Abroad
The role of a physician assistant varies by state because the way they are able to practice depends on the state laws in which they practice. Physician assistants (P.A.s) are sometimes confused with medical assistants or nurses. However, physician assistants are much more educationally and clinically advanced than medical assistants, and they don’t attend nursing school for their degree.
Physician assistants are often referred to as “mid-level” providers because they are sort of in between physicians and nurses in their clinical authority, although they are somewhat similar to nurse practitioners in their role.
Sometimes, P.A.s are called “physician extenders” because they can see patients and charge for office visits without a physician’s direct supervision. This allows a medical practice to see more patients, and earn more revenue, with fewer physicians. In many states, however, P.A.s must practice under indirect supervision from a physician, meaning a physician must be in the building or sign off on all clinical orders and prescriptions written by a P.A.
Physician assisting requires a bachelor’s degree and completion of a master’s program in physician assisting from an accredited P.A. school. The program is usually about two years and includes eight clinical rotations lasting five weeks each.
To expedite the process and increase your chances of being accepted into a P.A. program, it helps if your bachelor’s degree is in a science such as biology. Otherwise, you may have to take additional hours of prerequisite lab sciences before applying to a P.A. program.
Physician assistants can work in medical offices or in hospitals, depending upon their specialty. For example, in the case of surgical P.A.s, they may work in the operating room assisting a surgeon in surgery at a hospital or at an outpatient surgery center.
Depending on the state laws, P.A.s may work very independently with minimal physician oversight, or in other states, they may be supervised more closely. In any case, they have more clinical authority and independence than most nurses, but not as much as physicians.
In most states, physician assistants can see patients and diagnose them, prescribe medication, and perform procedures much like a physician would.
Physician assistants can focus on a variety of medical specialties. Some of the most common are family medicine, internal medicine, surgery, orthopedics, and cardiology.
Some medical industry leaders feel that physician assistants are an integral part of the solution to the physician shortage. On the other hand, physicians cite the disparity in P.A. training as compared to physicians. (Physicians attend four years of medical school plus a minimum of three years in residency training, for a total of at least seven years, while the physician assistant training is a total of two years including clinical rotations.)
Average Salary and Compensation
The Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows average salary for physician assistants to be $97,280 annually. However, other salary reports show the average salary to be well over $100,000. According to the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), the average annual compensation for physician assistants is $84,326 in primary care and $97,207 for surgical specialties. Additionally, benefits often include an additional $6,000 to $7,000 worth of retirement benefits per year.
Ready to become a PA? Here are essential steps to help you get started.
Step 1: Get prerequisites and health care experience
Application to PA school is highly competitive.
Look into PA programs you want to apply to as early as your freshman year in college.
You’ll typically need to complete at least two years of college coursework in basic and behavioral sciences before applying to a PA program, which is very similar to premedical studies.
The majority of PA programs have the following prerequisites:
Many PA programs also require prior health care experience with hands-on patient care.
You can get health care experience by being a (not an exhaustive list):
- Medical assistant
- Emergency medical technician (EMT)
- Medic or medical corpsman
- Peace Corps volunteer
- Lab assistant/phlebotomist
- Registered nurse
- Emergency room technician
- Surgical tech
- Certified nursing assistant (CNA)
Most students have a bachelor’s degree and about three years of health care experience before entering a program.
Step 2: Attend an accredited PA program
Most programs are approximately 26 months (3 academic years) and award master’s degrees. They include classroom instruction and clinical rotations.
As a PA student, you’ll receive classroom instruction in:
- Physical diagnosis
- Clinical laboratory science
- Behavioral science
- Medical ethics
You’ll also complete more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations, with an emphasis on primary care in ambulatory clinics, physician offices and acute or long-term care facilities.
Your rotations could include:
- Family medicine
- Internal medicine
- Obstetrics and gynaecology
- General surgery
- Emergency medicine
Step 3: Become certified
Once you’ve graduated from an accredited PA program, you’re eligible to take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).
If you pass the PANCE and maintain your certification, you may use the title Physician Assistant-Certified or PA-C.
Step 4: Obtain a state license
Before you can practice, you need to get licensed in your state. All states require that PAs graduate from an accredited PA program and pass the PANCE.
Step 5: Maintain your certification
To maintain national certification, you need to complete 100 hours of continuing medical education (CME) credits every two years and take a recertification exam (the Physician Assistant National Recertifying Exam, or PANRE) every 10 years.