So you think you would like to be a physician assistant! Who in particular, or what activities or experiences have influenced you to consider a career in medicine? What is it going to take for you to train? What options will you have? What is the best career path for you? Will there be a place for you? These are all important and critical questions if you are interested in setting your ambitions and goals on becoming a physician. What you can expect is a career that offers great opportunities for you to make a real difference in the world and in the communities, families, and individuals you will serve. You will be constantly challenged, you will have job security, you will serve others by improving lives – providing care and cures, reducing pain and suffering, and contributing to the advance of inter-professional health care best practices. What makes this career so attractive is that you are fulfilled in the service of others applying the art and science of medicine you so enjoy.
Physician assistants are often referred to as either mid-level providers or as physician extenders and are generally seen as providers that are between most nurses and physicians in terms of their clinical training and clinical authority. Most physician assistants work in medical offices seeing patients; surgical PAs typically work with surgeons in an operating room. Physician assistants can further specialize in such fields as family medicine, internal medicine, orthopedics, cardiology, and surgery. Physician assistants have and are increasingly becoming integral to what is regarded as the best practice clinical team approach to health care. Physician assisting requires a bachelor’s degree and completion of a Master’s Program from an accredited PA school. Students must prepare by securing the prerequisite sciences and by obtaining sufficient experience in clinical settings. The PA training programs typically consist of a year of biomedical didactics followed by a year of intense clinical rotations. While the role of a physician assistant varies depending on state laws that specify the scope of practice allowed, PAs often work very independently with minimal physician oversight. As with Nurse Practitioners, physician assistants are being given broader clinical authority to see patients and diagnose them, to prescribe medications, and to perform many specified procedures much like a physician.
Our experience suggests that many students arrived at the decision to pursue physician assistant training during the later stages of college or after receipt of the bachelor’s degree. Often, the decision is made after the student has been engaged in significant clinical experience. The sources of influence identified typically include: enjoying sciences in school, experiencing illness through personal or family health issues, having a health related experience volunteering or shadowing a physician assistant, and encouragement from role models who are in the health professions. Once you have decided, the path to preparing is rather straight forward – college, clinical experience, PA school, and then directly into your practice career. Many students going into PA training have already decided on a particular clinical or specialty focus they wish to pursue; others make their decision regarding specialty direction as they move through their clinical rotations. There are many possibilities and opportunities; the key is to stay open to considering all that you discover through your training program and direct clinical experience.