Physician’s assistants, or PAs, hold numerous responsibilities including conducting physical exams, diagnosing illnesses and prescribing medications. Although it takes less time to become certified as a PA than to become a doctor, stringent guidelines govern the training and certification of PAs. One major step to becoming certified is passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam, or PANCE. Preparing for and studying for this exam is a difficult and time-consuming endeavor.
Before Applying to a PA Program
Adequate preparation before applying to a certified PA program helps you with the preparations for the exam. Most PA students have a BA or BS degree from a four-year college, and have at least three years of experience in the health care field. During the Bachelor’s degree, taking at least two years of science courses, both basic and behavioral, is recommended. Many aspiring PAs gain experience in the field by working as a nurse or paramedic. These educational experiences help you learn and apply relevant knowledge.
Choosing a PA Program
Most of the more that 159 accredited PA programs in the United States last between two and two and a half years. During this time, you take a body of coursework to prepare you for success in the field. While you choose your school, look at the success rates of recent graduates. Find out if the school provides a final-year course dedicated to preparing for the PANCE. These are signs that the program helps prepare its students for the demanding PANCE.
The National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, NCCPA, provides a document with sample questions. The NCCPA designs and administers the actual PANCE. In this short document, the NCCPA explains the type of knowledge each question is designed to assess. It also provides the correct answers and explains why the other responses are inaccurate. Go through this document with a fine-tooth comb to familiarize yourself with the way questions are worded and the reasoning needed to answer the questions.
Take the short practice exams provided by the NCCPA. Each of the practice tests contains 120 multiple-choice questions. Although you do not receive the answers to the questions, you get detailed feedback on your strengths and weaknesses. Identifying your strengths and weaknesses can help you focus your study time.
Several companies provide practice tests and flashcards to help you study for the PANCE. Before purchasing any commercial materials, research how they are set up and organized. Some materials are organized by the content areas tested on the exam. Once you have your results from the practice exams, you can focus your energies on specific content areas, and not spend time reviewing material you already know.
- American Academy of Physician Assistants: The PA Profession
- American Academy of Physician Assistants: Quick Facts
- American Academy of Physician Assistants: Becoming a PA
- National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants: Certification Exams
- National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants: PANCE
- National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants: Content Blueprint
- National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants: Content Blueprint Task Areas
- NCCPA: Practice Exams
- Duke University Medical Center Library: Resources for PA Students
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