Physician Assistants (PAs) are health professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. PAs perform a wide range of medical duties, from basic primary care to high technology specialty procedures. PAs provide healthcare services with supervision by physicians. PAs are formally trained to provide diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive healthcare services, as delegated by a physician. Working as members of the healthcare team, they take medical histories, examine patients, order and interpret laboratory tests and x-rays, and make diagnoses. They also treat minor injuries by suturing, splinting, or casting. PAs record progress notes, instruct and counsel patients, and order or carry out therapy. In most states, physician assistants may prescribe medications. PAs may also have managerial duties. Some order medical and laboratory supplies and equipment and may supervise technicians and assistants. Physician assistants always work with the supervision of a physician. However, PAs may provide care in rural or inner city clinics where a physician is present for only 1 or 2 days each week, conferring with the supervising physician and other medical professionals as needed or required by law. PAs may also make house calls or go to hospitals and nursing homes to check on patients and report back to the physician. The duties of physician assistants are determined by the supervising physician and by state law. Aspiring PAs should investigate the laws and regulations in the states where they wish to practice. Many PAs work in primary care areas such as general internal medicine, pediatrics, and family medicine. Others work in specialty areas, such as general and thoracic surgery, emergency medicine, orthopedics, and geriatrics. PAs specializing in surgery provide pre and post-operative care and may work as first or second assistants during major surgery.
Frequently Asked Questions
As a PA can I specialize in a particular medical area?
Yes. Presently PAs currently practice in the following areas:
- Family/General Medicine
- Internal Medicine
- Emergency Medicine
- Pediatric Medicine
- Occupational Medicine
Do I have to have a bachelor's degree to get into PA school?
Yes. In order to be a licensed PA in the state of Mississippi, you will have to have a Master's Degree from a PA program.
How long is a PA program?
Lengths of programs vary, but typically they are about 27-30 months. The PA program at Mississippi College is 30 months.
What kind of coursework is involved in a PA program?
The first year most of the coursework is basic sciences and the second year is clinical training.
Typical first year:
- Gross Anatomy
Typical second year
- Family Medicine
- Internal Medicine
- Emergency Medicine
- Geriatric Medicine
Specific courses will vary from school to school.
Is there an entrance exam for PA school?
Since PA programs are Masters Degrees they will require you have to take the general portion of the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). Typically the minimum score on the GRE is 1000 (verbal + quantitative).
What kind of GPA do I need for admission to PA school?
That will vary depending on the PA program. Each program can give you that information if you call and ask.
Is there anything I can do non-academically that will help me be admitted to PA school?
Yes! Spend as much time as you can in a clinical setting. Volunteer at an emergency room. Spend time with a physician. Some programs have very high prerequisite patient contact hours before they will consider you. You need to check out the programs that you are interested in and find out their requirements. Get a part-time job in a hospital; go spend time with a PA. There are PAs working at the VA Medical Center in Jackson, MS.
What kind of licensure procedure is there for PAs?
All jurisdictions require physician assistants to pass the Physician Assistants National Certifying Examination, administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA)—open to graduates of accredited PA educational programs. Only those successfully completing the examination may use the credential “Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C).” In order to remain certified, PAs must complete 100 hours of continuing medical education every 2 years. Every 6 years, they must pass a recertification examination or complete an alternate program combining learning experiences and a take-home examination. Some PAs pursue additional education in order to practice in a specialty area such as surgery, neonatology, or emergency medicine. PA postgraduate residency training programs are available in areas such as internal medicine, rural primary care, emergency medicine, surgery, pediatrics, neonatology, and occupational medicine. Candidates must be graduates of an accredited program and be certified by the NCCPA.
What kind of salary can I make as a PA?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the yearly median pay for physician assistants was $90,930 in 2012.
Where are the PA programs in the south?
- Mississippi College (Clinton, MS)
- University of South Alabama (Mobile, AL)
- University of Alabama at Birmingham (Birmingham, AL)
- Louisiana State University Medical Center (Shreveport, LA)
- Baylor College of Medicine (Houston, TX)
- University of Texas Medical Branch (Galveston, TX)
- University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas
- Trevecca Nazarene University (Nashville, TN)
- Emory University School of Medicine (Atlanta, GA)
- Medical College of Georgia (August, GA)
- University of Florida (Gainesville, FL)
- Barry University (Miami, FL)
- Nova Southeastern University (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
- Duke University Medical Center (Durham, NC)
- Wake Forest University School of Medicine (Winston-Salem, NC)
- Methodist College (Fayetteville, NC)
- East Carolina University (Greenville, NC)