How do I Choose the Best Physician Assistant Program?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The physician assistant is a health specialist who in most US states can prescribe medication, diagnose conditions, and may work treating patients in a variety of settings. There are many programs that offer training in this specialty. Each prospective student may have different choices to make when it comes to selecting the best.

Programs may include courses to encourage good patient communication skills.
Programs may include courses to encourage good patient communication skills.

Some people will have a lot of local choices, as larger states can have numerous programs. Smaller states may have one physician assistant program, and a few states have none. There are also some online universities.

A physician assistant is trained to practice medicine while directly supervised by a physician.
A physician assistant is trained to practice medicine while directly supervised by a physician.

Tantamount in importance, in deciding on a physician assistant program, is making sure any school chosen is accredited. The Accreditation Review Committee on Education for the Physician Assistant provides accreditation in the US. Other countries may use different accreditation boards to determine which schools they deem acceptable. It can’t be stated more emphatically that this is the most vital part of choosing a school, since attending a non-accredited school will not result in appropriate licensing or certificates.

A physician assistant typically holds both a bachelor's and master's degree in a health-related field.
A physician assistant typically holds both a bachelor's and master's degree in a health-related field.

Once people have found schools and verified accreditation, they should know that choosing a physician assistant program can mean selecting studies that will result in different degrees (bachelor or master) or certifications. Many students that opt for certificate study possess an undergraduate degree in something else. It is often thought more favorable to earn at least a BA in a physician assistant program, though this can vary by state. Higher degrees tend to translate to more lucrative employment opportunities.

Programs additionally may have varying requirements, even if the degree or certificate earned is the same. People will need to select a physician assistant program, or several of them, where they can get in based on requirements or they might need to spend a year or so fulfilling program prerequisites. Some common requirements include having worked for a certain amount of years in the medical field, often as a medical assistant, technologist, or technician.

Once people have found schools that will accept them, they should plan on investigating each school and take some other things into consideration. They should speak with faculty, talk to students to determine level of support given to students in the program and how favorably its students review the school. They can also visit campuses when possible, or at the very least visit campus websites.

Other factors people should think about as they choose the best physician assistant programs for them includes the degree of convenience in attending the school. Will participating in the program mean having to relocate? Some people are able to maintain their current jobs when they head to school, though this is challenging. If it is a goal, students ought to consider an online program if they don’t have an offline program close to home.

Another area of investigation ought to occur if a physician assistant program chosen is out of state or online. Each state typically has a licensing board for these medical professionals, and requirements for licensing in the home state need to be met. Prior to applying, people should check to make sure any programs will match up with home state licensing requirements.

Obviously things like cost can be important too. Programs offered through home state universities are likely to be cheapest while studying out of state may be the most expensive. Many people can receive grants and loans to pursue their studies. All accredited programs, should furthermore allow people to go back and receive master’s degrees if they so desire, at a later point.

The majority of physician assistants work at community clinics, hospitals, or private practices.
The majority of physician assistants work at community clinics, hospitals, or private practices.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

anon80346

Is it a better career move to enter into a masters program vs. a bachelors program at this point in time?

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