What Bachelor Degree Do I Need for Physician Assistant Jobs?

Are you passionate about caring for people? Want a job in healthcare that doesn’t take years of schooling and put you in debt? If so, a physician assistant role might be a good fit.

Licensed physician assistants are healthcare professionals who spend their days helping patients. They work under the supervision of doctors but do most of the tasks a doctor does. They diagnose medical conditions and come up with treatment plans. They also order tests and prescribe medications.

While medical school isn’t necessary to work as a PA, you still need a college education. If you’ve asked yourself the question, what bachelor degree do I need for physician assistant jobs, you’ll find the answer here. Read on for more information on the path to becoming a physician assistant and the best degree for PA school.

Best Degree Path for Becoming a Physician Assistant

Undergraduate Degrees for Physicians Assistant Careers

Like medical doctors, physician assistants need schooling to know how to provide patient care. But you don’t have to go to medical school to learn how to provide care. Your physician assistant education includes a bachelor’s and a master’s degree program.

The first step toward your PA career is to earn a bachelor’s degree. Below you will find some of the suggested majors for physician assistant careers.

Biology

One of the best majors for physician assistant careers is biology. Biology majors study the science behind living organisms. You complete courses and lab work that will help your physician assistant education path.

You take foundational biology and cellular biology classes. You study chemistry. You also learn human anatomy and physiology. But it is your lab and research components that prepare you for physician assistant school.

Chemistry

A bachelor’s degree in chemistry is the foundation for your physician assistant education. Your coursework covers a range of topics. You learn about the elements that make up the world we live in. You also learn how matter undergoes change.

How is chemistry a best major for physician assistant careers? Labs and courses you find in a chemistry program prepare you for PA school. You graduate ready for the next step in your physician assistant studies.

Health Science

Any major that includes science courses in biology, chemistry, human anatomy, and physiology are good majors for PA school. Online PA programs, too, want a bachelor’s degree that requires foundational science courses.

This program exposes you to many different science courses and labs. You study behavioral medicine, biology, and ethics. You learn about the healthcare setting and treating patients. This is knowledge you need to work in the physician assistant profession. Because of what you study, it is no wonder why this science is a top undergraduate degree for physician assistant work.

Kinesiology

A kinesiology degree can help you become a physician assistant. This major focuses on how the human body’s movements impact health. This is a good major if you’re interested in physical exercise and how it relates to a person’s well-being and quality of life.

Most kinesiology programs offer courses in science and health. You take courses that cover topics like exercise and body composition. But you also take anatomy and physiology. Your electives might also cover advanced biology topics like human structure and function or neurobiology.

Mathematics

If you’re good at math but wondering what to major in to become a PA, why not major in it? A mathematics major teaches you how to examine the relationships between numbers, patterns, and structures. You take a range of courses that improve your logic skills. You also learn how to problem solve. This skill is valuable to a physician assistant career.

As a math major, you study topics that build upon one another. You take algebra and calculus classes. You also study number theory and statistics. Math is one of the suggested majors for physician assistant careers.

Microbiology

A bachelor’s degree in microbiology helps provide a good physician assistant education. This major gives you a foundation in science. You study microscopic organisms, such as bacteria and viruses. Your labs and coursework prepare you for physician assistant school.

Psychology

Though a soft science, psychology is a good major if you want to work in clinical medicine. To become a physician assistant, you first need a bachelor’s degree. A psychology degree helps.

In this major, you study the science of human behavior. You also learn about mental processes. Your classes include lab components that are helpful in the medical profession.

A Master’s Degree in Physician Assistant Studies

After you earn a bachelor’s degree, plan on getting a master’s degree in a physician assistant program. The program should have accreditation. The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the PA is the gold standard. The Accreditation Review Commission sets the standard for PA education.

In a graduate physician assistant program, you will complete two years of study and coursework for this degree. This specialized graduate physician assistant program covers topics such as:

  • Clinical medicine
  • Emergency medicine
  • Human anatomy & physiology
  • Medical ethics
  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physical diagnosis

Best Degree Path for Becoming a Physician Assistant

How Long Does It Take to Complete Your Physician Assistant Studies?

The typical bachelor’s degree takes four years to complete. Online physician assistant programs can take less time. But the average degree takes 3.5 years to earn.

After you earn your bachelor’s degree, you complete a master’s degree. Graduate PA programs take around 2.5 years to finish. Some students finish earlier. But this happens only if they have a bachelor’s in physician assistant studies. The typical PA program lasts 2.5 years.

5 Steps to Become a PA

If you’re an aspiring physician assistant, it’s good to know the steps to follow to become one. Here are five steps to help you plan your career.

  1. Earn a degree and complete your prerequisites for a PA program
  2. Complete an accredited PA program
  3. Get certified
  4. Become licensed
  5. Maintain your certification

Now, let’s break down each step.

Aspiring physician assistants need a college degree. Most physician assistant programs are competitive. They look for students with knowledge and clinical experience. You need to complete at least two years of prerequisite courses in biology, organic chemistry, and other sciences. Most PA students earn a bachelor’s degree.

The next step is to apply to an accredited program. These programs take about 26 months and award a master’s degree. You will complete 2,000 hours of clinical rotations while earning your degree.

Physician assistants must get certified and licensed. Licensing depends on the state you live in. Be sure to check with your state for licensing requirements. The AAPA is a good resource.

After that, you need to keep up your certification. To maintain certification, you need to complete 100 hours of training every two years. You have to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination every 10 years. The Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam helps you keep your current job or advance to the new one.

Important Qualities of a Physician Assistant

Now that you know what degree is best for PA school, find out which skills you need. Read on to find out what qualities a PA should have.

Compassion

Physician assistants care for patients who are sick or injured. Patients may be in pain or distress. Meeting with patients and their families requires compassion and understanding. You should have a good bedside manner and treat patients with respect. You should also be sensitive and understanding. This calls for compassion.

Effective Communication

A PA must communicate with patients and colleagues. But these two types of people are different. As a PA you work with doctors and communicate complex information. But when you meet with your patient, you must convey complex medical issues in a way that’s understood. You need effective communication skills.

Emotional Stability

As a PA, it is important to remain calm and stable during times of pressure and distress. PAs who work in high-stress departments face many challenges. Emergencies demand quick answers. You have to problem-solve and face stressful situations. You also have to be the face of assurance to patients and staff.

Organizational Skills

PAs should be detail-oriented and organized. It helps also to be observant when you examine patients. You should have strong organizational skills. They help you identify problems and come up with proper treatment plans.

Problem-Solving Skills

Physician assistants must have strong problem-solving and critical thinking capabilities. You must be diligent in evaluating a patient’s symptoms and prescribing medicine. You must also know how to administer the correct treatment. Since you will face complicated medical issues, having good problem-solving skills helps.

Best Degree Path for Becoming a Physician Assistant

Important Information About PA Careers

Below you will find information about the job outlook and salary for PA careers.

Job Outlook

PAs should expect job growth over the next 10 years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports PAs as having one of the fastest job growths. It’s a great time to become a physician assistant.

Jobs for PAs should increase 31% in the next decade. Since the average job growth is 7-8%, you can see why students want to move into this field. But there are certain areas and fields of medicine with the best job prospects.

You can find the most job prospects in primary care. But jobs are also available in specialties. But if you are willing to move to rural regions and underserved areas, you will find many job offerings.

Why PAs Are in Demand

A growing and aging population means people need health services. The baby boom generation is living longer and more active lives. They need more healthcare services.

Also, there is an expected increase in patients with chronic illnesses and diseases. More people have diabetes than ever before. More people are also obese. This increase in health sciences issues also drives demand for health services.

Demand is also driven by budgets. Health services organizations want to cut costs. Hiring PAs to do the same job a physician does means saving money.

Due to savings from hiring PAs, the role might change over time. PAs will do more tasks than assisting physicians. They will do the same tasks physicians do. We should see states expanding what they allow PAs to do on the job over the next several years.

Physician Assistant Salary

A medical assistant or physician assistant career offers job security and good earnings potential. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the average wage for this job is $115,390/year. But the highest 10% of earners make over $162,000/year.

These earnings vary by location and industry. But there are five high-paying industries where PAs can make the best money. Three of these industries offer higher-than-average pay.

  • Outpatient care centers: $124,610/year
  • Hospitals – state, local, and private: $118,600/year
  • Employment services: $115,780/year
  • Physician offices: $113,460/year
  • Educational services – state, local, and private: $110,770/year

There are also top-paying states where a PA can make the best pay. These states include:

  • Rhode Island: $146,880/year
  • Alaska: $145,830/year
  • Connecticut: $141,790/year
  • New Jersey: $140,080/year
  • New Hampshire: $137,330/year

Information collected from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

How to Advance as a Physician Assistant

After you complete your degree and get certified, you can specialize in a niche area of patient care. You find postgraduate physician assistants programs in specialty areas like emergency medicine and psychiatry. But these programs are competitive. To qualify for admission, you must be physician assistant certified by the NCCPA.

A specialty helps you advance. It is important for your career. To advance, you need more education and clinical experience. These two things help you move up in your field as you deliver quality patient care to a specialized group of people. You can get more schooling from a physician assistant education association or a college.

When you advance, you get higher wages and more responsibility. You can take on a leadership role where you mentor other medical professionals. Your continuing medical education helps you become a leader in the healthcare industry.

Best Degree Path for Becoming a Physician Assistant

Work Environment For Physician Assistants

About half of all medical assistants and physician assistants work in physician offices. The BLS reports that the largest employer of PAs are physician offices. In fact, 54% of physician assistants are in these offices.

The second-largest employer is hospitals. They employ 25% of all physician assistants. So, you find the bulk of physician assistants in either doctor offices or hospitals.

But outpatient care centers also hire physician assistants. These facilities hire about 8% of all physician assistants.

Other top employers for PAs include:

  • Educational services
  • Employment services

PAs work full time. Many work beyond the traditional 40-hour work week. It is not uncommon to work nights, weekends, and holidays. You might also be on-call. This means that when emergencies come up, you have to be there.

A typical day for a PA can be demanding. Both physical and emotional. You spend most of your day on your feet. When you deliver patient care, you stand for extended periods of time. Even your clinical rotations demand stamina.

PAs work on teams with physicians and medical professionals. Specific duties are overseen by the supervising physician or surgeon. A PA might work in all areas of medicine, from emergency services to pediatric healthcare.

If you work in rural or underserved regions, you may act as a primary care provider or patient care provider at the only clinic in town. A physician might only be present one day a week. The role can be autonomous.

In other areas, a PA might make house calls or visit nursing homes where they will treat patients. The specialty you choose will influence your work environment. And, while the job is not always easy, it can be rewarding.

BDP Staff
July 2022

Related:

20 Most Affordable Bachelor’s in Healthcare Administration Degrees Online

30 Great Degree Programs for Working Adults

Top 20 Degrees for the Future

Ultimate Guide to Nursing & Healthcare Degrees and Careers

What are the Best Bachelor’s Degrees for Getting into Medical School?

This concludes our article on what undergraduate degree is best for PA school.

Brenda Rufener
Author

Julie McCaulley
Expert

Carrie Sealey-Morris
Editor-in-Chief