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Grad Program: Physician Assistant

Basic Information

Physician assistants are involved in a broad range of medical services, working in private practices, hospitals, nursing homes, student health services, health maintenance organizations, and public clinics. Physician assistants are formally trained to assess patient needs and make referrals to the proper physician. They also care for patients when a doctor is unavailable, write prescriptions, administer drugs, treat minor injuries, and handle administrative tasks. Most physician assistants work in primary care fields, such as pediatrics and family medicine, although some work in specialty areas as well.

Physician Assistant graduate programs range from one to three years in length. Typically, students spend the half of the program in the classroom with the second half spent doing clinical work in various medical environments. Programs focus on learning to evaluate, diagnose, and manage acute and chronic conditions in patients. Students will be required to understand basic principals of anatomy, pharmacology, clinical medicine, health care, and clinical decision-making. A good deal of time is dedicated to developing an understanding the human body, but it’s equally important that students learn the skills needed for handling the psychology of their patients – especially those in trauma.

While Physician Assistant graduate programs are shorter than graduate programs in allopathic (M.D.) and osteopathic (D.O.) medicine, they offer the opportunity to be intimately involved in primary care of patients.

Degree Information

The P.A.-C. (Physician Assistant-Certified) degree is conferred by accredited Physician Assistant programs. It takes one to three years to complete.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program
  • What is the school's educational mission or focus? What medical specialties can students pursue?
  • Where will I do my clinical rotations? What is the quality of the associated hospital, clinic, or teaching facilities?
  • Is the school’s setting rural or urban? How does the school’s location influence the patient-base?
  • How is clinical time divided?

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