The Role of a PA (Physician Assistant)


To become eligible to apply for a physician assistant program, a bachelor’s degree is required along with specific prerequisite course requirements. In addition, most PA programs require direct patient care contact hours (average of more than 2,000 to 3,000 hours) in professions such as a paramedic, EMT, certified nursing assistant, medical assistant, medical scribe, athletic trainer, etc. prior to applying. Standardized exam scores, undergraduate major and GPA’s, interviews, extra-curricular activities, and more also play an important role in terms of being accepted into a program.

The duration of each PA program differs but are generally 27 months long (or three academic years), involving both a didactic and clinical component. During the didactic year, PA students first take courses in general sciences, behavioral sciences, and professionalism/ethics. There is a large emphasis in anatomy and physiology; most PA programs have cadaver labs where PA students are required to fully dissect as a part of the curriculum. The remainder of the didactic year consists of courses in clinical medicine, diagnostic skills, and pharmacotherapeutics that are presented in a modular format. Students work sequentially through each body system one at a time, learning the pathophysiology, evidence-based medicine, diagnostic imaging and treatments specific to each system.

The clinical year component to PA school consists of multiple rotations including general surgery, internal medicine, behavioral and mental health, family medicine, pediatrics, women’s health, emergency medicine, orthopedics, etc. Each rotation lasts for a specified length, generally ranging from 5-8 weeks. PA students must pass a national medical board examination called the PANCE prior to being able to practice. Practicing PA’s are required to take a recertification exam every 10 years called the PANRE.

A PA-C (physician assistant, certified) is a medical professional who is able to practice in a variety of medical settings and specialties. PA’s are able to conduct physical exams, take medical histories, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret labs/tests/imaging, develop treatment plans, prescribe medications, perform procedures, first-assist in surgeries, round on patients in hospital settings, participate in clinical research, and more.

There are more than 131,000 PA’s in practice in the US and District of Columbia. PA’s play an important role in medicine today and it is predicted that there will be approximately a 31 percent increase in demand for PA careers between 2018 and 2028.

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“Physician Assistant Studies Curriculum.” Physician Assistant Studies Curriculum | Center for Physician Assistant Studies | Johnson & Wales University,
“Physician Assistants : Occupational Outlook Handbook.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4 Sept. 2019,