What is a Physician Assistant?
Table of Contents
A physician assistant is a medically trained professional who works under the supervision of a physician, and has the ability to examine, diagnose and treat patients. Some physician assistants specialize in a particular area, such as pediatrics, geriatrics, or emergency care, where they can assist physicians with procedures and advanced medical techniques. They are also able to prescribe medication, suture small wounds, interpret medical tests, and prepare splints or casts. In rural or underserved areas, physician assistants are often the patient's first contact for medical care.
How to Become a Physician Assistant
What does a Physician Assistant do?
Under the supervision of a physician, a physician assistant provides high-quality health care services to patients and to the community. Their job description is as diverse as their supervising physician, and their role is regarded as critical to any health care team. They have a variety of responsibilities and duties that include:
- seeing patients
- conducting physical exams
- taking medical histories
- ordering tests
- interpreting tests
- diagnosing illnesses
- treating illnesses
- writing prescriptions
- developing a treatment plan
- giving counsel on preventive care
- making rounds in the hospital or clinic
- assisting in surgery
- discharging patients
It is important to note that individuals who are more interested in patient care tend to gravitate towards becoming a nurse, or a nurse practitioner. People who are more interested in diagnosis and treatment gravitate towards becoming a physician assistant. It would be wise to decide ahead of time what role it is that you want, and take the path that will allow you to fulfill that role.
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How to Become a Physician Assistant
There is often the misconception that a physician assistant and a medical assistant are one and the same. This is not the case, as there are significant educational differences between the two professions.
Medical assistants will typically earn a certificate or an associates degree from a vocational school or college that takes approximately one to two years to complete.
A physician assistant, on the other hand, needs to earn a bachelor's degree, is required to pass the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), then has to apply to a physician assistant program. The physician assistant program will lead to getting a master's degree in Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS), Health Science (MHS), or Medical Science (MMSc). This can take five to seven years of post-secondary education to complete.
Certification is required for licensure, and all physician assistants must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam. In order to stay certified, they must complete 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years, and every six years, pass a recertification exam.
What is the workplace of a Physician Assistant like?
A physician assistant can work in a doctor's office, in a hospital, or for outpatient care centres. Work can be demanding, both physically and emotionally, but can also be rewarding when helping patients. Most work full time, are often on call, and may be required to work nights, weekends and holidays.
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