Institutions offering physician assistant education programs are being inundated with applications from all over the nation. According to the latest numbers put out by the PAE Association, 12,000 students are studying in PA programs. The high number of students sounds adequate when compared against the 75,000 people working as PAs and the forecast for 39% growth in the decade up to 2018.
Students can choose from amongst 150 PA programs, most of which offer accredited Bachelors and Masters Degrees. A majority are located within medical schools, with course structures that follow those for medical students. But they are not as lengthy, and an average PA program with classroom study and supervised clinical experience can be wrapped up in around 2 years.
The eligibility criteria are quite flexible. Even high school graduates can get into some programs, provided they agree to take on some pre-PA learning followed by the actual PA classes and training. Almost all programs require a bit of prior experience in health care. Regardless of the program or institution, taking the PANCE (Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam) test is a must for those who want to become a certified PA.
The admissions are a tough slog, just like any other competitive medical field. Candidates have to apply to many different programs. But unlike educational admissions for other sectors, this one has a unified applications system called CASPA used by around 120 PA programs. All the student has to do is select all the preferred programs and send in one web-based application.
CASPA is an acronym for Central Application Service for Physician Assistants. They accept applications every year within a specific time-frame, which is not the same as the individual college or university program deadline. After CASPA has collected all the forms, supporting documents, references, etc., students can simply select which institutions should get their application.
Also note that PAs are not restricted to any specific branch of medicine. They can do everything from writing prescriptions to conducting physical exams. They can diagnose and treat illnesses, order tests and study test results to interpret them.
PAs can work in and move between clinics offering any and all kinds of medical services, from family care and pediatrics to gynecology. They can just as well work with surgeons in specialized medicine, including orthopedics and cardiovascular surgery. Emergency care units are another avenue where a PA can take a lot of the load.
All this does not mean that physician assistant education is going to be easy. It’s a tough nut to crack, but offers a very rewarding career with extremely high job satisfaction and salaries closing in on six figures. It is apparently America’s second best job, as per magazine rankings. The AAPA (American Academy of PAs) says that PAs get a mean income of over $93k, assuming they are employed by a clinic and put in 32 hours per week. A full 89% of PAs in an AAPA survey said that they would choose to be a PA all over again, if they were given the chance to start a new career.