How to Become a Physician Assistant

Three Parts:Getting Necessary ExperienceApplying for a Physician Assistant ProgramFinishing the Process to Become a Physician Assistant

Physician assistants (PA) are certified medical professionals who work closely with doctors. They help doctors analyze testing results and treat and diagnose minor injuries, among other duties. The job usually pays well, and it can be very rewarding for people who want to work with patients but don’t want to go all the way through medical school.

Part 1
Getting Necessary Experience

  1. Image titled Become a Physician Assistant Step 1
    Meet the right prerequisites for physician assistant programs. You will need to graduate from an accredited physician assistant school. However, most programs require that you've met certain educational and experience requirements first.
    • Most physician assistant programs are very selective, and they require about two years of college coursework in specific areas. Research the entrance requirements for the physician assistant program you are interested in well in advance. Some programs require a bachelor’s degree (usually in the sciences).[1][2]
    • Generally, physician assistant programs want to see that you’ve taken courses in the sciences in such areas as chemistry, anatomy, microbiology, physiology, and biology. These courses prepare you to work in a health care setting upon graduation, such as a hospital or doctor’s office.[3]
    • It’s a good idea to start researching physician assistant programs when you are a freshman in college. That way you can make sure you take the right courses.
  2. Image titled Become a Physician Assistant Step 2
    Obtain healthcare experience. You will probably need to have healthcare experience before you apply for a physician assistant program. Most programs will require it.
    • You could get such experience by volunteering for non-profit organizations, such as the Peace Corps. Some physician assistant programs require a minimum number of hours in non-clinical volunteer work in addition to other health-related experience. Check with the specific program you are interested in as entrance requirements may vary.[4]
    • You will need to work in non-volunteer areas that give you healthcare experience also, such as a paramedic, a lab assistant, a medic, or a registered nurse.[5]
  3. Image titled Become a Physician Assistant Step 3
    Open an account with the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA). Most of the programs you'll be considering will ask that you apply through this service.[6]
    • CASPA applications take a long time to complete, so apply early. It helps to gather all of your educational and employment information before you apply.
    • Because it's centralized, CASPA simplifies the process of applying to multiple physician assistant programs.

Part 2
Applying for a Physician Assistant Program

  1. Image titled Become a Physician Assistant Step 4
    Apply for an accredited physician’s assistant program. Usually, such programs will last about two to three academic years. At the end, you will be awarded a master’s degree. As of 2010, there were 154 such accredited PA programs in the United States.[7]
    • You will be taught in a classroom setting in areas of the sciences, including behavioral science, anatomy, pharmacology, medical ethics, and other classes.
    • Most programs require candidates to complete clinical rotations as well. These are often at least 2,000 hours, and they could place you in a number of real-life settings, including a family medicine office, or facilities specializing in things like emergency medicine or psychiatry. The clinical rotation usually occurs in the second year of the program.[8]
    • You may want to consider entering an accelerated four-year program. These enable you to obtain a bachelor’s degree and then a graduate level PA certificate in a four-year sequence. To be accepted into any physician assistant program, you will likely be asked for letters of recommendation, and you will need to meet a certain grade-point average threshold.
  2. Image titled Become a Physician Assistant Step 5
    Obtain certification as a physician assistant. You will qualify (and need to) become certified after you’ve graduated from the accredited PA program.
    • The certification exam is called PANCE. It stands for Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam. You will earn the title of PA-C or Physician Assistant –Certified if you pass it.
    • Before sitting for the exam, many people read books and other resources that are designed to help prepare people for taking the exam.[9]
    • You can take practice exams before you take the actual exam. If you don't pass this exam, you will not be able to work as a physician assistant.

Part 3
Finishing the Process to Become a Physician Assistant

  1. Image titled Become a Physician Assistant Step 6
    Obtain a state license. Requirements for state licenses may vary depending on where you live, but all states require that you passed the PANCE exam and graduate from an accredited physician assistant program. All states require licensing for physician assistants.[10]
    • It’s recommended that you obtain a state license application early, and start working on it. The requirements might include such things as fingerprinting and letters of reference.[11] States often handle their licensing procedures through state license boards.[12]
    • The American Academy of Physician Assistants has state chapters. Your state chapter should be able to help direct you in how to find out more about your state’s licensing requirements.[13] Some states might require continuing education credits for licensing. Research your own state’s rules![14]
  2. Image titled Become a Physician Assistant Step 7
    Maintain your certification. Once you become a certified physician assistant, you will be asked to maintain your certification.[15]
    • In 2014, physician assistants started having to comply with a 10-year certification cycle divided into two 5-year segments. Physician assistants have to log 100 credits of continuing certification education every 5-year period.
    • The segments are shorter pre-2014; look up the rules for your own particular situation.[16]
  3. Image titled Become a Physician Assistant Step 8
    Apply for jobs as a physician assistant. The good news is that physician assistants are paid well. And the job is highly in demand due to an aging population. Most work full-time, and they can work long hours.
    • The average physician assistant is paid over $90,000.[17] Physician assistants work in many health care settings, ranging from emergency medicine to doctor’s offices.
    • These programs are competitive; however, the government has reported that employment of physician assistants should grow 38 percent from 2012 through 2022. This is considered faster job growth than the average for most professions.


  • You are never too old to return to school.
  • Shadow a physician assistant.
  • Apply early.
  • It helps if you are bilingual in some areas of the country.
  • According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), the typical PA student is 27-years-old, with a bachelor's degree and three years of experience in providing health care.
  • Military experience (medical) is favorable but not required.


  • Prerequisite classes and degree requirements vary from program-to-program.
  • The application process may cost you lot of money; close to $1,000.

Article Info

Categories: Health Care