How to Become a Physician Assistant in Hawaii
As the United States population ages, the need for healthcare services will also rise. Because of this, numerous healthcare positions will be in great demand. One of these positions over the next decade will be that of physician assistant, which practices medicine under the direct supervision of a physician. Considered to be one of the fastest-growing jobs in today’s economy, it offers a high salary, excellent benefits and job opportunities virtually anywhere in the country. For people interested in physician assistant programs in Hawaii, a unique combination of education and training is involved.
Job Duties of a Physician Assistant
While unable to do everything a physician does, physician assistants are able to do many medical procedures routinely connected to doctors. They can meet with patients and review their medical histories, perform physical exams, order x-rays and blood tests, prescribe medications, immunize patients and even set broken bones or close incisions if working for a surgeon. In rural areas where healthcare services are scarce, physician assistants often act as primary care physicians, since a doctor may only be available 1-2 times per week. Yet even in these situations, they must confer with doctors as required by law before providing treatment to patients.
Becoming a physician assistant requires several years of higher education at schools that have accredited PA programs. In Hawaii, students interested in this career first obtain a Bachelor’s degree, then move on to a Master’s degree PA program. The Bachelor’s degree can be in any subject of a student’s choosing, although it is recommended that the degree be in a field such as biology, chemistry or nursing. However, many students have entered this field with degrees in everything from communications to philosophy to geography. Once the Bachelor’s degree is completed, students move on to the Master’s program. To gain admittance to a Master’s degree program, students must take the Graduate Record Examination and have experience working or volunteering in a clinical setting where they have had direct interaction with patients. Physician assistant schools in Hawaii such as the University of Hawaii offer programs for aspiring physician assistants, and are fully accredited by the American Medical Association’s Committee on Allied Health Education and the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, better known as ARC-PA.
Licensure and Certification
Once a student completes their studies, they must become certified in order to practice in Hawaii. Completion of the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam, known as PANCE, is required by the Hawaii Board of Medical Examiners. The exam, consisting of 300 multiple-choice questions, takes five hours to complete and costs $475 to take. Students can register for the exam online, and it covers a variety of subjects including:
–Performing physical exams
Upon successful completion of the exam, students will receive a certificate and be given the title of Physician Assistant-Certified (PAC).
To apply for a license to the Hawaii Board of Medicine, students must complete an application, send their PANCE scores to the board, pay an application fee of $150 and send a copy of their diploma showing graduation from an accredited program along with a letter from a supervising physician. To maintain certification, a PA must complete 100 hours of continuing education every two years and take the National Recertifying Exam every tenth year at a cost of $350. To renew a license, physician assistants must submit an application along with their current certification and pay a $120 renewal fee.
Salary and Job Growth
While it takes much time, effort and dedication to become a physician assistant, the salary and benefits offered with the job make it a worthwhile endeavor. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for a PA is slightly under $91,000. As of 2012, the average annual physician assistant salary in Hawaii offered its approximately 190 physician assistants working for doctors and surgeons was $77,000. Most work in hospitals or in private practice doctor’s offices and work full-time schedules that can include nights, weekends and holidays. In some cases they are often on-call, and are expected to report to work with little notice in the event of an emergency.
As physician assistants gain experience, their salaries can increase substantially. Many experienced physician assistants working for private practice surgeons or other specialists can average over $125,000 per year, making this one of the fastest-growing and lucrative jobs in today’s economy. Employment in the field is expected to grow by 38-40 percent through 2022, largely due to the baby boomers aging and the growing emphasis on preventive care for chronic diseases such as diabetes. So for people who have an interest in healthcare and want a career that closely mirrors a doctor, becoming a physician assistant is an outstanding choice.