How to Become a Physician Assistant in Arizona
If you are looking to join more than 1,800 physician assistants employed in Arizona, you could be part of a booming industry. Physician assistants are in high demand nationwide, including Arizona. The industry is expected to surge by 38 percent between 2012 and 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2013.
Physician assistant duties
Physician assistants, also called PAs, are licensed health care professionals who work under the supervision of a doctor. In Arizona, PAs can legally perform many of same tasks that doctors perform, such as conduct physicals, diagnose and treat illnesses, order lab work and therapeutic procedures and counsel patients about preventative care. Physician assistants may perform any tasks delegated by the supervising physician as long as the task is within the PA’s skills, including being able to prescribe, dispense and administer drugs and medical devices. Some PAs also assist with surgeries. In Arizona, physician assistants are not allowed to perform surgical abortions.
As the nation’s aging population expands and faces prevalent chronic diseases as well as a continuing physician shortage, physician assistants are expected to step in to fill that medical gap. Most insurance companies now cover physician assistance services, making it easier for PAs to pick up the tasks of primary care providers, particularly in routine care. PAs may work in any health care setting under a supervising physician, including doctors’ offices, hospitals and clinics, patients’ homes and nursing homes. More than half of physician assistants in Arizona are employed in doctors’ offices.
Physician assistant salary in Arizona
In May 2013, the median annual salary for physician assistants in Arizona was $103,610, somewhat higher than the rest of the nation, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nationwide, the median annual wage is $92,970 with the top 10 percent making $130,620. In the Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale area, the median salary is slightly higher at $106,370.
Physician assistant programs in Arizona
While physician assistant training is intense, programs take only two years to complete, making the profession an attractive option for those seeking to become healthcare professionals.
Physician assistant programs are specialized, so they aren’t widely available. There are three physician assistant schools in Arizona: A.T. Still University School of Health Sciences, Midwestern University and Northern Arizona University. All three programs, ranging from 24 to 27 months, lead to a master’s degree and are accredited by the national Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, or ARC-PA.
The first year of each program is devoted to academic work followed by a second year of clinical rotations in various medical disciplines, including family medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine, women’s health, emergency medicine, mental health and surgery.
Admission to physician assistant programs in Arizona requires a bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited college or university. Required pre-requisites can include human anatomy and physiology, microbiology, biochemistry, genetics, statistics, medical terminology, 40-50 science credits and hands-on lab work.
Certification of Physician Assistants
Applicants for physician assistant licenses in Arizona must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam, or PANCE. The test, administered by the National Commission on Certification of PAs, or NCCPA, is multiple choice and covers general medical and surgical knowledge. In addition, applicants must pay a license fee and answer a lengthy questionnaire that covers previous healthcare positions and such issues as military service, and convictions for drug use, moral turpitude or insurance fraud.
Physician assistants are required by the Arizona Regulatory Board of Physician Assistants to complete 20 hours of continuing education each year.