How to Become a Physician Assistant in Alaska
As the United States population continues to age, the demand for well qualified healthcare professionals is projected to grow at a rapid rate. One such profession especially in demand is the physician assistant (PA). A physician assistant is a licensed healthcare professional licensed to practice medicine under the supervision of a physician. Medical doctors today are often becoming overwhelmed with large numbers of patients and need qualified providers to perform many of the same tasks and procedures.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for physician assistants is projected to grow at a rate of 38 percent, or what they call “much faster than average.” The average growth rate for all occupations combined is only 11 percent.
Job Duties and Scope of Practice
A physician assistant’s job duties are almost identical to a medical doctor’s. Most physician assistants work full time at around 40 hours per week. Medical doctors frequently work 60+ hours a week, so a career as a physician assistant may be a good choice for you if the hours of a medical doctor sound daunting. A physician assistant can, in addition to many other tasks:
- prescribe medicine
- check patient histories
- performs physical exams
- order tests such as MRIs and blood tests
- diagnose patients’ conditions
- chart patient progress
Physician Assistants are found in every medical specialty, and their chosen area of expertise can vary depending on their education and goals. According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants, “each PA’s scope of practice defined by education and experience, state law, facility policy and the needs of the patients at the practice” (aapa.org).
Therefore, each state’s laws define the PA’s scope of practice a little differently. Usually, the physician on duty determines the duties or privileges of the PA.
In Alaska, according to the Alaska State Medical Board guidelines, a certified physician assistant is allowed to perform “any task for which they are appropriately educated, trained, and skilled to do as long as they are authorized by their collaborating physician to perform that task”(Alaska State Medical Board).
Clinical experience – the physician assistant position was originally created for paramedics coming back from WWII who needed a career. Thus, that spirit continuues today. Most physician assistant students are required to have clinical experience, as an EMT, medical assistant, or nurse, for example, prior to admission. Although some schools consider volunteer hours in a hospital or clinic sufficient for admission. Check with your local admissions department for details.
Degree – Almost all physician assistant schools offer a master’s, usually a master’s of science degree. To become a physician assistant, you will need a master’s degree, and therefore a bachelor’s degree before being matriculated into any physician assistant programs in Alaska.
Certification – Before acquiring a license, all graduates of physician assistant schools in Alaska must pass the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) certification exam. All 50 states including the District of Columbia and the American territories use this test as one of the main criteria required prior to licensure. After passing the exam, a physician assistant earns the title, PA-C, a widely recognized and respected title in the medical community.
Continuing Education – As part of maintaining certification with the NCCPA, all certified physician assistants must log 100 continuing medical education (CME) units and submit a $130 certification maintenance fee every two years. These credits are obtained online. The NCCPA defines CME as consisting “ . . . of clinical and professional education activities that maintain, develop or increase the knowledge, skills, and professional performance and relationships that a physician assistant uses to provide services for patients, the public and the profession” (Continuing Medical Education).
Physician Assistant Salary in Alaska
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for physician assistants in 2012 was $90,930 or about $43.72 per hour. According to salarybystate.org, in 2010 the average physician assistant salary in Alaska was about 16 percent lower than the national average. However, do keep in mind the cost of living is quite lower in Alaska compared to the rest of the United States.