How to Become a Physician Assistant Certified (PA-C)

Become a Physician Assistant

Additional Resources…

A career as physician assistant (PA) requires a master’s. If you make the decision to become a PA as a high school or lower division college student, you may have a shortened path.

You can also wait to begin training once you have a degree in hand. Wherever you are currently in your education, the following steps can serve as a resource.

  1. Get a good academic foundation. Take four years of science and math (including anatomy and physiology if it’s offered). Score well on the ACT or SAT exam, especially if you will be entering a physician assistant program as an undergraduate.

  2. You may want to join a club that is focused on pre-med or pre-health. One good one is HOSA, the Health Occupations Student Association.

  3. Health care experience is generally a must. If you’re a high school student, it may not be required for admission, but it’s always a good idea. You can begin with job shadowing or volunteering.

    Courses for grad students generally require more health care experience. How much experience is required will vary from program to program. A short stint as a medical assistant or certified nursing assistant (CNA) will be adequate for some schools.

  4. Begin researching programs. Combined bachelor’s/ master’s programs are designed for undergrads, and they may allow you to finish a little sooner. They will also be easier to enter.

    You can also complete an undergraduate program in one of any number of fields, but a health or science field is preferred. Before you can be accepted to a master’s program, you’ll need prerequisites in some very specific areas. Typical prerequisites include anatomy and physiology, biology and chemistry. Maintain high grades.

    Whatever type of program you pursue, make sure it is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (or ARC-PA).

  5. Wrap up your studies, and fulfill licensing requirements.

  6. Find that first job independently or complete a residency in a specialty area. When you go out into the workforce, utilize connections (from fieldwork and professional organizations) as well as job boards. Also check the site of the HRSA.

Personality Traits

The ARC-PA, in conjunction with professional organizations, has identified a set of competencies for PAs. These include professionalism (including self-reflection and commitment to ethics) and communication and interpersonal abilities.