How Long Does it Take to Become a Physician's Assistant & Do They Have to Go to Med School?

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Physician assistants can specialize in areas like occupational medicine.
Physician assistants can specialize in areas like occupational medicine. (Image: Photos.com/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Physician assistants are medical professionals authorized to provide medical care and treatment under the direction of the physician they work for. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is one of the fastest growing career opportunities in the health care field. The bureau expects jobs to increase by 39 percent from 2008 to 2018. The length of time it takes to become a physician assistant can vary, depending upon the background of the aspiring assistant.

Training

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, physician's assistant training programs typically take about two years of full-time study to complete. This does not mean, however, that it only takes two years to become a physician's assistant. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that many physician assistants bring additional experience and education to the table when they apply for physician's assistant training programs. Training programs in this field typically include studies in areas like pathology, clinical pharmacology, clinical medicine and medical ethics.

Other Education

Admission to a physician assistant training program is competitive, like medical school. Physician assistants are not, however, required to attend medical school to work in this field. Many do, however, already have education and experience in a healthcare-related field like nursing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that most applicants to physician assistant training programs already have a degree, meaning that aspiring physician's assistants may need to consider pursuing a four-year degree prior to embarking upon a formal training program in this field.

Certification

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, all 50 states and the District of Columbia require certification to legally work as a physician's assistant. The National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants offers a Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination that is used to qualify aspiring assistants for entry into this field. Continuing education is required every two years to maintain the certification and recertification is required every six years.

Specialization

All-in-all, it takes two years of specialized training to become a physician's assistant, but if you have yet to obtain a college degree, it can take up to six. Once employed as a physician's assistant, you can take additional coursework and training to specialize in one area of medicine, much like physicians do. Potential specializations include ares like pediatric medicine, emergency medicine and occupational medicine.

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