Physician assistants or physician associates (PAs) typically obtain medical histories, perform examinations and procedures, order treatments, diagnose diseases, prescribe medication, order and interpret diagnostic tests, refer patients to specialists as required, and first or second-assist in surgery. They work in hospitals, clinics and other types of health facilities, or in academic administration, and exercise autonomy in medical decision making. PAs practice primary care or medical specialties, including emergency medicine, surgery, cardiology, etc. according to a legal scope of practice that may vary across jurisdictions. A period of extensive clinical training precedes obtaining a license to practice as a physician assistant, and similar to physician training but shorter in duration, includes all systems of the human body. Renewal of licensure is necessary every few years, varying by jurisdiction. Physician assistants may also complete residency training, similar to physicians’ residencies but significantly shorter, in fields such as: OB/GYN, emergency medicine, critical care, orthopedics, neurology, surgery, and other medical disciplines.
As of August 2015, there were 222 accredited or developing PA programs in the United States, represented by the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA). Most educational programs are graduate programs leading to the award of master’s degrees in either Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS), Health Science (MHS), or Medical Science (MMSc), and require a bachelor’s degree and GRE or MCAT scores for entry. The majority of PA programs in the United States utilize the CASPA application for selecting students. Professional licensure is regulated by the medical boards of the individual states. Physician Assistant students train at medical schools and academic medical centers across the country.
Physician assistant education is based on medical education although unlike medical school which lasts four years plus a specialty-specific residency, PA training is usually 2 to 3 years of full-time study, completed during their post-graduate studies, for a total of 6–7 years of science-based postsecondary education. The didactic training of PA education consists of classroom and laboratory instruction in medical and behavioral sciences, such as anatomy, microbiology, immunology, pharmacology, pathophysiology, hematology, pathology, genetics, clinical medicine, and physical diagnosis, followed by clinical rotations in internal medicine, family medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, emergency medicine, and geriatric medicine, as well as elective rotations. Unlike physicians, who must complete a minimum of three years of residency after completion of medical school, PAs are not required to complete such residencies after they complete their schooling. Despite this, there are residency programs in certain specialties for PAs who choose to continue formal education in such a format.
The Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) simplifies the process of applying to physician assistant programs. By using CASPA, you are able to complete one application via our online website and send one set of documents to our centralized service. CASPA will verify your coursework for accuracy, calculate your GPA, and provide your application to your designated PA programs. For more information follow this link: