How long does it take to be a physician assistant (PA)? Most US physician assistant programs last for about two to three years. This includes classwork and clinical (hands-on) training. PAs must complete a minimum of two thousand hours to become eligible to sit the certification exam PANCE. If you count the total no. of years from undergrad then PA training takes about seven years to complete. But most PAs choose to further sub-specialize. This can from one to two years extra depending on the specific sub-specialty. For finding out the details you can also visit the aapa.org website.
What do I need to do to become a physician assistant?
Get an undergraduate degree first. It is preferable to get it with either biology or chemistry as a major. Next, you need to appear for the GRE or PA-CAT, depending on the college you wish to apply to. A minimum GPA is required by most PA programs. This can be anywhere from 2.7 all the way up to 3.2 depending upon the college. After enrollment, you would have to go through about 1.5 to 2 years of course work followed by a clinical rotation year. Next, you would need to sit for the PANCE exam and get your certification as a PA. And this is the entire roadmap.
Which is a better career choice, a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant?
This question is one that I get fairly often from undergrad students. Students are perplexed between the various careers in healthcare that are very distinct in actual practice but they seem very similar to the general public. This question is also asked fairly commonly as one career requires huge amounts of student loans while the other doesn’t.
Pathways of being an NP vs a PA
The Two are very different careers. Let me explain by first mentioning the pathways associated with both professions. To become a Nurse practitioner (NP) you have to go through a four-year undergraduate training program to become a registered nurse (RN) first. This degree awarded is called a bachelor’s in Science in Nursing (BSN). After you graduate from the program you will need to at least practice for a year before you can apply to become an NP. An alternative to this can be a Masters of Science in Nursing or Doctor of Science in the Nursing pathway, through which you can avoid the minimum one-year working requirement. The NP program lasts for about two to three years depending on whether you want to pursue a master’s or a doctorate.
The PA degree on the other hand requires a bachelor’s degree to start. Bachelors in biology and chemistry as I mentioned above. Next, you need to undertake all the steps I mentioned above to get yourself registered as a certified PA.
Costs of being an NP vs a PA
The costs are the next big difference in both careers. While Nursing schools are available in both public and private institutions in the US, the costs are significantly lower when you compare them to PA schools. Most nursing schools can have fees ranging from $6000 to $10,000 per year depending on their status as either public or private. This is quite good when you keep in mind the starting salary of an RN is between $65,000 to $80,000. On the other hand, PA schools can cost as much as $75,000 to $80,000 per year for a total of three years. The starting salary for a PA is around $75,000. The starter salary of a nurse may seem lower when you compare them to a PA but the salary of RN increases with seniority and at the higher level are almost the same as PA. But there are more costs to a PA school. PA is a graduate-level program which means you need an undergrad. BSN is an undergrad-level degree.
This means that you would be taking on higher loans for a PA program when you compare them to a nursing program altogether. A typical PA student graduates with an overall debt of $420,000 to $550,000 depending on the college after seven years of training. A similar nursing student graduates with a loan of about $60,000 to $80,000 depending on the college. This includes fees for BSN as well as NP. Most NPs also have the opportunity to work alongside getting their master’s or doctorate while PA students don’t get this luxury.
Most students get lured into PA programs because they think they would be able to practice independently. But this is not true. While most PAs can see patients and prescribe medications, they are still not able to practice independently and require oversight by an attending physician. You can check out our article on ‘Physician assistant roles’ here.
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