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Physician assistants are licensed health professionals academically and clinically prepared to provide health care services with the direction and responsible supervision of a doctor of medicine (M.D.) or osteopathy (D.O.). PAs are capable of delivering a variety of health care services, including physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, prescribe medicine, assist in surgery, and counsel on preventive health care. However, it is important to note that the level of responsibility is based on experience and education by the individual, as well as state law.
Perks of the Profession
What Can a PA Legally Do?
Physicians may delegate to physician assistants medical duties that are within the physician’s scope of practice.
The duties include performing physical examinations, diagnosing and treating illnesses, ordering and interpreting lab tests, assisting in surgery, providing patient education and counseling, and making rounds in nursing homes and hospitals. All states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam authorize physicians to delegate prescriptive privileges to the physician assistant they supervise.
Numerous studies have found that the quality of care that physician assistants provide is comparable to that of physicians.
The physician assistanting profession has only been in existence since the mid-1960s and is still considered a new profession. Because of the overwhelming shortage of health care providers (specifically, family practitioners) projected in the near future, physician assistants are being trained to provide health care services to diverse populations in rural, suburban and urban settings. In fact, it is consistently being projected that the physician assistanting profession will be one of the fastest-growing occupations in the next decade, growing by 30 percent (Bureau of Labor Statistics).
There are many reasons students choose physician assistant as a career:
- Excellent income: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual income for full-time clinically practicing physician assistants in 2017 was $104,860.
- Satisfying professional career: increased flexibility; most physician assistant work in physicians' offices, clinics, and hospitals.
- The career outlook is good: one of the fastest-growing occupations of the decade.
- Fewer years of education: physician assistant programs are currently transitioning to the master's level and are on average 27 months of post-baccalaureate training in an accredited program.
- Predominantly female: the proportion of enrollees who are female continues to rise, a continuous trend over the past decade.
- Essential partners in America's health care workforce: with a shortage in health care providers, health care services are being provided by physicians, physician assistants, and other providers in a teamwork effort.
- Anticipated additional responsibilities: medical professionals are anticipating future opportunities for physician assistants, such as clinical trial researchers, educators of physician assistants, business partners, or practice co-owners, epidemiologists, health care advisors, physician assistant executives or administrators, or public health directors.
To date, there are currently 83,000 practicing physician assistants. Many physician assistants work in the primary care fields, such as family/general practice medicine, general internal medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, and general pediatrics. Others work in general surgery or a surgical subspecialty. Physician assistants work in a variety of career settings. The majority work for physician offices, hospitals, or clinics. Others work in extended care facilities, correctional facilities, or health maintenance organizations.
There are 139 accredited U.S. physician assistant programs (Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant) that graduate 4,600 individuals annually. The average number of seats for each program is between 45-50, with an average length of 27 months. Physician assistant programs have transitioned from the associates' level to the bachelor's level and now are at the master's level. Currently, over 90 physician assistant programs award master's degrees or provide a graduate degree option. Ohio currently has five physician assistant programs awarding the master's degree: Kettering College of Medical Arts, University of Toledo, Marietta College, University of Findlay, and Cuyahoga College/Cleveland State University.
For more information on physician assistant program admission statistics, please visit the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) website.
What does a Competitive Applicant Look Like?
Each year, over 18,000 applications are submitted to physician assistant schools. Of those, roughly 8,000 are accepted and matriculated.
- Average GPA: 3.50
- Average healthcare hours: 1,500 - 2000
5 Most Common Majors
- Health Sciences
- Exercise Science (Applied Physiology)
- Human Anatomy and Physiology: ANT 3100 and 3120
- Biology: BIO 1120 and 1150
- Microbiology: M&I 2200 or BIO 3100/3110
- Chemistry: CHM 1210 and 1220
- Statistics: STT 2640
- Medical Terminology: BIO 1010
- Psychology: PSY 1010
- O-Chemistry: CHM 2110 and 2120*
- Biochemistry: BMB 4210 or 3220*
- Physics: PHY 1110 and 1120*
- Genetics: BIO 2110*
- Additional Psychology (Abnormal or Developmental): PSY 3110 or 3410*
For electives, courses in English, sociology, psychology, and anthropology are recommended. Wright State University offers all the courses necessary for an individual to meet the prerequisites to any physician assistant program. Most of the required courses are offered twice per year.
*Only some schools require this prerequisite coursework
The GRE is an exam made up of three areas of verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. Each area is divided up into 2 sections or tasks.
They are broken up as follows:
|Verbal Reasoning||30 minutes per section||analyze & evaluate written material, analyze relationships in parts of sentences, word association||130-170 in one-point increments|
|Quantitative Reasoning||35 minutes per section||arithmetic, algebra, geometry, data analysis||130-170 in one-point increments|
|Analytical Writing||30 minutes per section||analyze an issue, analyze an argument||0-6 in half-point increments|
- Baldwin Wallace University
- Case Western Reserve University
- Kettering College of Medical Arts
- Lake Erie College
- Marietta College
- Mount St. Joseph University
- Ohio University
- Ohio Dominican University
- University of Dayton
- University of Findlay
- The University of Mount Union College
- University of Toledo
When should I apply to physician assistant programs?
Many PA programs (over 70%) require applicants to apply through the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA). Applications submitted through CASPA must be submitted no later than October 1 (some schools allow November 1st for their application deadline) of the preceding year. If you are applying to a school that does not use the CASPA application service, it is important that you become familiar with the application process and deadlines for that school. For more information or assistance, please see the Pre-Health Advisor.
How do I go about applying to physician assistant programs?
It is important to be familiar with each individual PA program's admission process. Most schools will require an application be completed through CASPA which can be found online at www.caspaonline.org
Do you have to take the GRE?
Some PA programs, but not all, require an applicant to submit a GRE score. For information on when and where you can take the GRE, visit the website www.ets.org or call 1-800-473-2255.
How many letters of evaluation are required for physician assistant programs?
Most schools require 2 letters of recommendation for each applicant; however, programs may differ and it is important for a student to be familiar with the program requirements they wish to apply to. Letters of recommendation can be from professors, health care supervisors/employers, pre-health advisors, or other individuals that can evaluate the overall character of an applicant (letters from friends and family members are not allowed). Letters can be directly attached to the CASPA application or sent directly to the school.
Is an applicant interviewed?
Many schools will invite competitive applicants for an interview and facility tour. It is during the interview that the admissions committee gains an understanding of an applicants overall character and interpersonal skills. For assistance in interviewing, contact Career Services or see the Pre-Health Advisor.
What types of extracurricular activities and work experience should I have in order to be a competitive applicant?
- Extracurricular activities that can demonstrate your ability to work in a team setting, such as athletics, charity organizations, student volunteer groups, etc.
- Significant exposure in health-related settings, such as an EMT, nurse's aid, nurse, x-ray technician, or respiratory therapist.
When will I find out if I am accepted into a physician assistant program?
Often, competitive applicants are invited for an interview and asked to complete a supplementary application. After the interview is complete, the admissions committee reviews the list of applicants and will either make an acceptance offer (by phone or through written communication), place the applicant on a waiting list, or deny the applicant admission. Some schools accept using a "rolling admission" procedure, while others wait until all applicants are reviewed before offering any acceptances.
Does Wright State have a student organization for students interested in a career as a physician assistant?
Students interested in pursuing a career as a physician assistant should join the Wright State Premedical Society. This organization will provide mentoring, educational speakers, volunteer and community service, and social activities. Students should also participate in Pre-Health Seminars and activities throughout the year. If you are interested in getting involved, please contact the Premedical Society President or the Pre-Health Advisor.
Pre-Professional Health Program Coordinator: Rob Cowles