Is It Hard To Become a Physician Assistant?

By | December 29, 2013

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You might question this: Is it hard to become a physician assistant? But whether it is hard for you or not depends on your academic ability and personal characteristics, including your determination to become a physician assistant.

This one thing is certain: becoming a PA will be the hardest career for anyone who doesn’t want it.

If you are on the fence about this career or you decide to become one because you feel you have to be a PA (for whatever silly reason), then you can never be more right in saying that it is, indeed, the hardest profession to pursue.

That said, make sure you want to do this and you will have no issues — just minor ones you’ll overcome.

A day in the life of a physician assistant student

Trials and tribulations expected

Assuming that you decide to become a PA for valid reasons, it is fairly correct to say that a student will encounter some difficult situations in completing the program and obtaining credentials.

The hardship will not stop with the job, either. But the rewards will be there, and they make up for all the hardships.

The truth is you will learn more about yourself and your capabilities from the hard situations with patients or the need to study for days in a row to pass an exam.

Career milestones

Below we have listed the requirements that physician assistant hopefuls will need to complete as part of their career milestones.

1. Do well in the undergrad

The physician assistant program is typically offered as a master’s degree, which means you’ll need an undergraduate degree as a prerequisite.

There are specified number of semester hours to be completed for biology, chemistry, English, psychology, medical terminology, and others.



These prerequisites depend on the school and program, so it is to your advantage to have a grand plan rather than taking undergrad courses randomly.

Quantity in terms of semester hours is not enough. You have to show quality, too, and this can be seen from your GPA.

The hard work you put into your undergrad will show. From the looks of it, it won’t be an easy ride for a budding physician assistant, after all.

2. Complete a physician assistant program

Enroll in an accredited physician assistant program. That’s when you officially start becoming a physician assistant.

Around 150 accredited physician assistant programs are offered in the country – whether as associate, bachelor, or master’s degree.

The PA program is usually a 2-year master’s degree program which admits candidates with a bachelor’s degree.

This is what colleges and universities offer, although associate’s and bachelor’s degrees are available, too, with additional specific requirements.

The important thing to remember is that you enroll in a program that is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission for Education of Physician Assistants (ARC-PA).

The first half of the program is typically devoted to a coursework on anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, microbiology, patient assessment, and diagnosis.

The second half allows students to have the actual feel of the profession by clinical rotations to specialty areas of emergency care, surgery, pediatrics, internal medicine, adult primary care, and other medical areas.

3. Be certified

As long as the program is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission for Education of Physician Assistants (ARC-PA), program graduates are qualified to take the national certifying exam administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).

This exam grants the credential of Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C) to qualifiers.

This is a requirement before anyone can practice the profession. Renewal of certification occurs at a 6-year interval.

Within this interval, 100 hours of continuing medical education is required every 2 years to maintain the credential.

4. Specialize

Learning never ends for a professional in the medical and health care field. This is so because the life of people cannot be compromised and a practitioner must always be updated of current biomedical innovations and technological advances.

Like physicians, physician assistants have specialty areas which they can hone for a few more years of focused learning.

Occupational responsibilities and challenges

The job itself is difficult. But as often mentioned, if it’s a job you love doing, it can’t be that difficult.

More than half of physician assistants work in physicians’ offices, but many of them also work in surgical hospitals, specialty care centers, government agencies, and outpatient care facilities.

Here’s a rundown on the daily challenges faced by a PA-C. Under the general supervision of a physician, they:

  • Practice basic primary care for children and adults
  • Perform minor surgeries
  • Suture wounds
  • Administer immunizations
  • Assist surgeons performing major surgeries
  • Provide pre- and post-operative care
  • Practice specialty procedures using up-to-date technology, if they had been trained or certified to perform it
  • Provide primary health care especially in rural areas where there are very few physicians

Is it a difficult and challenging career so far? Yes — But rewarding!

Valuable traits and skills

It would be an understatement to say that the physician assistants’ job demands a strong set of traits and skills.

In fact, an effective physician assistant has a long list to check. Physician assistants must have that ability to integrate all faculties and abilities in application to situations that require the judgment call of the professional.

They must know how to observe, communicate and coordinate their actions with the medical team. The same ability to communicate is necessary in interacting with the patients and their family.

They work in situations and environments which could get stressful. Emotional stability and maturity will be very important traits to a PA.

Observance of ethical standards is required of this position that demands confidentiality and integrity.

Good health and physical strength will make it possible for a physician assistant stand the rigors of the job. A PA can’t be weaker than the patient.

The verdict: ?

Yes, becoming a physician assistant is hard. But it is rewarding, too. If it weren’t so, why are 83,640 professionals working as physician assistants in the US?

And the US Bureau of Labor Statistics sees an increase of 30% from this figure in 2020.

That’s one huge leap; in fact, more than double the average increase seen for all occupations which is around 14%.

As a PA, you’ll receive a nice paycheck, too — their median annual wage in 2012 was $92,460.

And wherever you are, there will be PA jobs. If you prefer the urban setting, New York and California are 2 states with the highest PA employment.

Many states, though, will have rural areas where there’s a shortage of doctors, which means you may serve as a primary care practitioner for those in the region.

I hope this has helped you with the question, is it hard to become a physician assistant?