What is a Physician Assistant Career Like

What Does a Career as a Physician Assistant Look Like?

Of all the health care training options, physician assistants are among one of the fastest-growing in the United States. This Masters-level degree allows students to become “semi-physicians,” responsible for much of the same tasks as a physician, but without the medical degree.

A career as a physician assistant

Although the tasks a physician assistant (or PA) can take on vary depending on the state and the health care organization responsible for employment, a day in the life of physician assistant might include:

  • Assessing patient complaints and medical histories
  • Diagnosing illnesses and injuries
  • Ordering tests and treatments
  • Providing referrals to other doctors and health care professionals
  • Prescribing certain types of medicine
  • Providing routine care
  • Overseeing a team of nurses and medical assistants

At first glance, this list looks very similar to the roles and responsibilities of a licensed doctor. That’s because the role of PAs has evolved to bridge the gap between the number of patients who need medical care and the number of doctors on staff available to provide it. Minor health issues and primary visits can be assigned to a physician assistant, thereby freeing the doctor(s) on staff for more advanced treatment plans.

Most PAs work under the direction of a doctor in this manner, and must report to a supervisor who oversees the care they provide on a daily basis. However, in particularly busy areas (like heavily rural or urban settings), physician assistants may run a clinic almost entirely on their own, checking in with a doctor only weekly or bi-weekly.

This high level of autonomy and responsibility is why many students are driven to become PAs in the first place. Although they are prohibited by law from starting their own medical practices, physician assistants are often the first (and only) health care professional patients will see. This makes them just as valuable to the health care team, and just as valuable to patients who might not otherwise have regular access to a doctor.

Requirements for becoming a licensed PA include graduation from an accredited Master’s-level course (typically at a medical school or university), national and state certifications, and continuing education courses every year. Like doctors, the hours of training and daily work can be long and exhausting; however, your education can be completed faster and you can enjoy more freedoms than most doctors expect.

 

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