Physician assistants work alongside physicians providing various types of therapeutic practices under the physician's supervision. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that these assistants should not be confused with medical assistants who primarily perform clerical tasks. Becoming a physician assistant requires both formal education and licensing. Many assistants become professionals in this field after obtaining their bachelor's degree in another field. There are more than 140 accredited physician assistant programs in the United States, according to the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant.
Some schools that specialize primarily in health care programs offer physician assistant programs. For example, A.T. Still University's (ATSU) Arizona School of Health Sciences offers a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies. The program is designed to last 26 months and consists of two major components. Through the first 14 months, students complete their primary coursework and laboratory work, followed by a 12-month period of clinical rotations. Admission to the program is competitive and the school typically admits 65 to 70 applicants each year out of about 2,000 applications. Other similar schools include the Western University of Health Sciences in California, Georgia Health Sciences University and Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine in Illinois.
Some four-year universities offer physician assistant study programs also. Midwestern University in Glendale, Arizona, offers a Master of Medical Science in Physician Assistant Studies. The program is designed to last 27 months and requires the completion of a bachelor's degree and prerequisite coursework before admission. The school admits around 90 students each year. In 2009, graduate from the program reported a median salary of $77,800. Students can complete the didactic phase of the program at the Glendale campus and then finish the remainder at associated medical sites around the nation. The program is offered with four different tracks of study: a research track, a bioethics track, a clinical specialty track and one in health professions education. Other schools include Southern Illinois University, Butler University, Louisiana State University and the University of Nebraska.
Technical Colleges and Professional Schools
Technical colleges and professional schools also offer an opportunity to become a physician assistant. The Pennsylvania College of Technology (PCT) offers a bachelor's degree in physician assistant studies. Because it is a bachelor's degree program, the admission requirements differ from master's program like those at ATSU and Midwestern University. Students must apply for admission to the school and meet minimum prerequisite experience requirements, exposing them to the health care field and the work of physician assistants. As a bachelor's degree program, the PCT program requires the completion of various general education courses in addition to physician assistant studies. Additional coursework is required during the summer semesters of the final two years of study to complete the program in four years. Other professional schools include the New York Institute of Technology and the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Community and Junior Colleges
There are many different community colleges and private junior colleges that also offer physician assistant preparation programs. For example, San Joaquin Valley College (SJVC) also offers a physician assistant program at the undergraduate level. Students are required to have completed 60 credit hours of college coursework, including necessary prerequisite coursework and 2,000 hours of direct patient career, which can include volunteer work. Students graduate from the program with a Master of Medical Science (M.M.S.) degree. The school also has a collaborative program that it administers in conjunction with San Francisco University that allows students to complete the physician assistant program in one year. Other community and junior colleges include Riverside Community College in California, Red Rocks Community College in Colorado, Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland and Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio.
2016 Salary Information for Physician Assistants
Physician assistants earned a median annual salary of $101,480 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, physician assistants earned a 25th percentile salary of $86,130, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $121,420, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 106,200 people were employed in the U.S. as physician assistants.