Physician assistants (PAs) are non-physician providers who practice medicine as part of the health care team. PAs are able to examine, diagnosis and treat patients similar to their physician counterparts. The PA profession has been around for approximately 50 years making it a relatively “new” profession when compared to physicians and nurses. The profession originated out of a need to “provide care to remote populations where none existed and to meet military and public health needs”. Therefore, it is not surprising to see that as the demand for health care services grows, the demand for PAs to help meet that need is also growing. According to the 2016-2017 edition of the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the PA profession is projected to grow 30% from 2014 to 2024, which is much faster than the average for all occupations (7%).
PA education is a combination of didactic and clinical curriculum, and it usually takes at least 2 years of full-time study. Physician assistants are licensed by each state and must pass a certifying exam in order to practice. State laws require PAs to hold an agreement with a supervising physician. It is not mandated that the physician be onsite at all times, but that there is collaboration between the physician and the PA.
Acceptance into a PA program is competitive. It requires academic excellence, commitment to service and a passion for medicine. There are numerous resources available to help someone get accepted into a PA program, but what should someone expect upon entering a PA program? Approximately 180 PA students were surveyed to better answer this question. The single question posed to the PA students was, “What is the one thing that you wish you knew before PA school”. There were a variety of responses. Instead of attempting to summarize the multitude of responses, listed below are a few quotes that cover the recurring themes. Enjoy and I hope I sparked an interest for the PA profession!
“I honestly do not know. I knew it was going to be rigorous, I knew how to study, I knew I couldn’t be totally prepared, and I knew how to work hard. But even with that knowledge, it was hard!”
“Don’t be scared to find new study habits….PA school is different than undergrad, so it is OKAY to find new ways to study.”
“I wish I had known to balance my school work and free time more effectively. There will be a million and a half things to worry about during those 2 years, and it’s over before you know it! So take the time to enjoy life and take care of yourself along the way.”
“Calm down. PA school is created for the vast majority of students to complete the program, pass the PANCE and practice successfully as physician assistants. Trust the process, and do not let anxiety dominate your experience.”
“One thing to always remember is this will be the hardest and most challenging 2 years of your life but they will be rewarding in ways you never knew was possible!!”
“I wish I would have had a better understanding of the ‘big picture’ – that PA school is important, didactic year is stressful, and clinicals are exhausting…but it’s only the beginning! We are signed up for a lifetime of learning and each step of PA school should be a step in that direction. Don’t let the details or frustrations of one test or rotation cloud your excitement and vision for the future!”
“Learn how to lean on each other for support. To say I got through PA school by myself would be a big lie. In PA school, you find your study groups and sometimes even your best friends. There will be days when you need someone to encourage you, motivate you, study with you, eat, laugh, cry and breathe with you. Your classmates are not your competitors. Your professors are not there to fail you. Everyone is there to help you so you can be the best provider you can be.”