What Is the Best Degree Path for Becoming a Physician Assistant?

If you have a passion for caring for patients and would like a job in the healthcare industry but don’t want to spend the years of study – not to mention the high cost of tuition – attending medical school, the role of physician assistant might be right for you. Physician assistants are licensed healthcare professionals who work directly with patients under the supervision of doctors. They perform physical examinations, order tests, diagnose medical conditions, administer treatments, prescribe medications and take notes on patients’ conditions. While medical school isn’t necessary for a physician assistant role, a college education is a requirement.

Undergraduate Options for Aspiring Physician Assistants

Naturally, physician assistants, like medical doctors, need a formal education to develop the necessary expertise to diagnose and treat patients’ medical conditions. Because they prepare for the career through a master’s degree program rather than medical school, they are often able to cut in half the amount of time they must spend in school after earning their bachelor’s degrees.

Getting that undergraduate degree is the first step in the educational path of an aspiring physician assistant. There’s no one right bachelor’s degree to get into a physician assistant graduate program. Some schools offer undergraduate degrees in physician assistant or pre-physician assistant studies, but these majors aren’t the only, or even necessarily the best, options. Students most often pursue a major in the field of science, but the major itself is less important than completing the right prerequisites, which may include:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics or statistics
  • Microbiology Medical Terminology
  • Healthcare Ethics

A Master’s Degree in Physician Assistant Studies

After earning their bachelor’s degree, students should enroll in a master’s in physician assistant studies program at an institution accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. Over two years of full-time study, graduate students will take coursework in medical ethics, pharmacology, pathology, physical diagnosis, human anatomy and physiology and clinical medicine. In addition to their education in the classroom and in the laboratory, students will also gain hands-on experience through clinical training under the guidance of experienced doctors. Before they can practice, physician assistants must attain a state license, which typically requires a passing score on the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination.

Career opportunities in this field are rapidly growing. Physician assistant programs are among the top 10 degrees for emerging industries. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that physician assistant jobs will increase by 38 percent, more than three times the expected growth for all occupations, in just 10 years. With factors like a population that is both growing and aging and an increase in chronic diseases, the demand for more healthcare services will increase – and so will the demand for cost-effective providers like physician assistants. Though these healthcare professionals provide many of the same services doctors do at a more reasonable cost, they still earn a high median salary of $90,930 per year.

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