How to Become a Physician Assistant in California
Physician assistants diagnose illness and treat patients under the supervision of doctors and surgeons. PAs can evaluate patients, educate their families and provide many of the services that a physician can provide. To practice in California, PAs must receive accredited education and obtain licensing. Note that PAs are not the same as medical assistants who perform routine clerical and medical tasks. PAs are allowed to practice medicine, medical assistance are not.
Physician Assistant Education
According to the Physician Assistant Board of the California Department of Consumer Affairs, prospective PAs must successfully complete specialized medical training that includes classroom lectures, laboratory work, and clinical experience.
Although this differs slightly by school, admission to physician assistant programs in California generally requires from 2 to 4 years of undergraduate study, preferably focused on science, as well as previous healthcare experience. Consequently, many applicants already have a bachelors degree and may have held medical jobs. For example, they may have held positions as paramedics or registered nurses.
Going through physician assistant schools in California typically takes at least two years of full-time study. The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. notes that the state has 12 institutions that offer accredited PA programs, including Stanford University, UCLA, and Samwell Merritt University.
Courses in PA education typically cover such subjects as human anatomy, physiology, pathology, clinical medicine, pharmacology, and medical ethics. Supervised clinical training include such areas as internal medicine, emergency medicine, pediatrics, and family medicine. Occasionally, students may work under the supervision of a doctor who is wanting to hire a PA. This arrangement often leads to a job upon graduation.
Physician Assistant Licensing
Before they can practice in California, successful graduates of PA programs must obtain a license. The credential requires passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE), which is administered by the national Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Maintaining this license requires at least 100 hours of continuing education every two years. In addition, PAs must complete a recertification exam every 10 years.
Physician Assistant Job Duties
Physician assistants perform many routine medical tasks to allow physicians and surgeons to concentrate on more difficult matters. PAs review medical histories and perform examinations on patients. They order diagnostic tests, such as x-rays or blood work, and then interpret the results. They may then diagnose the patient’s medical conditions, prescribe courses of treatment, and record the patient’s progress.
Such prescriptions may consist of drugs, including controlled substances, if given advanced approval by the supervising physician. However, only a physician may recommend the medical use of marijuana.
The supervising physician may also give the PA written authority to perform surgical procedures under local anesthesia even without the presence of the doctor. PAs can perform surgical procedures with other forms of anesthesia only if the supervising physician is personally present. A PA may act as the first or second assistant in surgery under the supervision of a physician.
PAs may also research effective treatments as well as conduct or participate in programs that educate groups, or patients and their families about disease prevention and maintaining good health. Physicians assistants may specialize in such areas as primary care, emergency medicine, or mental health. Their duties may vary according to their specialty. For example, a PA in pediatrics examines children while those in geriatrics focused on senior adults.
In rural or other areas that are under-served by physicians, a PA may act as a primary care provider and consult with physicians only a day or two a week
Physician Assistant Salaries
According to the State of California Employment Development Department, in 2014, the physician assistant salary in California ran $102,537 per year, or $49.29 per hour. The lowest quartile earned less than $83,386 annually while the highest quartile made $119,362 a year.
The county with the highest-paying positions was Santa Cruz, with a median annual $132,990, or $63.94 per hour. The county with the lowest wages was Santa Barbara with median annual pay at $90,124, or $43.33 hourly.
Physician Assistant Outlook
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics sees jobs for physician assistants increasing by 38 percent from 2012 to 2022. This is faster than the 20 percent growth expected for all health diagnosing and treating practitioners and much higher than the 11 percent increase projected for all occupations in all industries.
Much of the demand will be due to an aging baby-boom population. As they get older, the seniors are going to require more healthcare. Because PAs can perform many of the duties of a doctor, they are more cost-effective for routine procedures. In addition, health insurance reform is getting more people access to medical care. This will further increase job possibilities for physician assistants.
With such high demand, job outlook is expected to be excellent particularly in inner-city and rural clinics, which traditionally have had difficulty in attracting and keeping medical staff.