Physcian Assistants (PAs) are licensed health professionals who practice medicine with physician supervision. A PA is trained to diagnose and treat illnesses, care for acute injuries, assist in surgery, and provide follow-up counseling and patient education. PAs practice in virtually every medical specialty and exercise a great deal of automony.
Ever though physician assistants work under the supervision of a physician, they may be the primary care providers in rural or inner-city clinics, where a physician is present for only 1 or 2 days each week. In such cases, the PA confers with the supervising physician and other medical professionals as needed and as required by law. Many PAs work in primary care specialties such as family medicine, pediatrics and general internal medicine. In states like Nebraska, which have primary care provider shortages in many rural areas, PAs are helping to fill that gap. Other specialty areas include general and thoracic surgery, emergency medicine, orthopedics, geriatrics, Ob-Gyn, and neurology. PAs specializing in surgery provide preoperative and postoperative care and may work as first or second assistants during major surgery.
- Physician offices and independent practices
- Outpatient care centers
- Colleges, universities and professional schools
The particular work setting and work schedule is largely dependent on the type of practice or facility where the physician assistant works. The work week of hospital-based PAs may include weekends, nights, or early morning hospital rounds to visit patients. PAs may also be on call. Those who work in clinics or individual practices generally work a 40-hour week.
Employment of physician assistants is expected to grow 39 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. Job opportunities for PAs in rural and inner-city areas should be particularly good. The projected demand reflects the expansion of healthcare industries and an emphasis on cost containment, which results in increasing use of PAs by healthcare establishments. Demand from expanding healthcare coverage will also increase the need for primary care providers.
- Ability to learn scientific concepts, especially in the biological sciences
- Good verbal abilities in reading, writing and speaking
- Good math skills, space and form perception, and general coordination
- Ability to relate to a variety of people and make decisions based on data and observations
- Desire to serve patients and be self-motivated
- Good bedside manner, emotional stability
Physician Assistant programs require that a person already has either two years of college study or a four-year bachelor’s degree. The programs usually take two-years to complete and include both classroom and laboratory instruction in subjects like biochemistry, pathology, human anatomy and physiology, clinical pharmacology, clinical medicine, physical diagnosis and medical ethics. PA programs also include supervised clinical rotations through specific areas, such as family medicine, internal medicine, surgery, prenatal care, gynecology, geriatrics, emergency medicine and pediatrics.
All States require physician assistants to complete an accredited, formal education program and pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination, administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants.
Physician assistants should have an enthusiasm for lifelong learning because their eligibility to practice depends on continuing education – 100 hours every 2 years. Every 6 years, they must pass a recertification exam or complete an alternate program combining learning experiences and a take-home examination.
Programs in Nebraska
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Careers with similar educational backgrounds healthcare experience, or responsibilities:
- Nurse anesthetist
- Nurse practitioner
- Occupational therapist
- Physical therapist
- Registered nurse
- Speech-language pathologist
For information on a career as a physician assistant and a list of accredited programs:
- American Academy of Physician Assistants Information Center
- Nebraska Academy of Physician Assistants
For eligibility requirements and a description of the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination:
Career information adapted in part from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handook, 2010-2011 Edition, Physician Assistants, on the Internet at www.bls.gov