The Path to Becoming a Physician Assistant

Updated on August 25, 2022

The two most widely-recognized healthcare providers are doctors and nurses. Working as a team, thousands of doctors and nurses have helped millions of patients recover from illness and injury over the years. But the list of healthcare providers goes beyond doctors and nurses. Due to the growing demand for medical professionals, there’s been a rise in what is referred to as mid-level practitioners. Generally speaking, mid-level practitioners act as something between doctors and nurses. Examples include nurse practitioners, pharmacists, and physician assistants.

As the name suggests, a physician assistant works alongside doctors to treat patients. In the United States, a PA typically works with a specific doctor. They can be found in hospitals, clinics, and anywhere else you find doctors and nurses.

The path to becoming a physician assistant is difficult, but the hard work will pay off once you’re able to practice medicine. The following serves as a step-by-step guide for those thinking about becoming PAs:


In order to get into an accredited PA program, you must first earn a bachelor’s degree. Most people who go on to become PAs will major in a science-based program such as chemistry or biology. While the typical bachelor’s degree takes four years to earn, it’s not unusual for aspiring PAs to spend an additional year earning their undergraduate degree. The extra year is used to cover the prerequisites required for admittance into physician assistant school.


Most physician assistant schools require applicants to accumulate 1000 hours of healthcare experience (HCE) and patient care experience (PCE). It’s not unusual for prospective PA school students to spend a year after earning their bachelor’s to build up the necessary amount of experience. How much of each will depend on the school, but PCE is typically valued more for PAs since their jobs typically involve direct work with patients. However, since the required experience hours vary from school to school, it’s essential for aspiring PAs to check.


Those trying to get into medical school take the MCAT. But those trying to become physician assistants take the PA-CAT. Given the high-stakes nature of the entrance examination, it’s not unusual for candidates to take a PA CAT practice test before taking the real one. Once you pass the PA-CAT, it’s time to submit your application to the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA). Once your application is submitted, the waiting begins. You should know within six weeks whether or not your application has been approved.


You’ve been accepted into a physician assistant program. Congratulations! Now the hard work really begins. It’s safe to say the next two years or so will be one of the most challenging periods of your life. The reason why is obvious: PAs are entrusted with tremendous responsibilities involving the health and wellness of patients. There’s no room for error. But you didn’t make it this far if you didn’t have what it takes. Don’t give up!


You graduated from physician assistant school. Once again, congratulations! But the hard work isn’t over. You must now take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam and pass. You’ll have five hours to answer 300 questions covering a wide range of topics within the medical field. You can expect to receive your PANCE test results within a month.


Now it’s time to look for employment opportunities. The demand for PAs has never been greater, so landing a job shouldn’t be difficult. In fact, you might be bombarded by recruiters working hard to fill the gaps in healthcare facilities around the country. With this in mind, you might want to think about the possibility of relocating in order to land the best-paying PA position. However, it’s safe to say wherever you go, there’ll be an opening for a PA waiting on the other end.

While doctors and nurses get a lot of credit – and rightfully so – they’re far from the only healthcare providers working hard to treat patients. Physician assistants are included in the mix. Thanks to the evolving nature of modern medicine, demand for PAs is at an all-time high. With this in mind, those thinking about a career in healthcare should seriously consider becoming a PA.

Julie Steinbeck is a freelance writer from Florida. She enjoys covering topics related to finance, health, and travel.

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.