How to Become a Physician Assistant in West Virginia
The recent expansion of health insurance in the United States has highlighted the need for more medical professionals across all levels of medicine, from nurses to physical therapists to physicians. One career that is gaining momentum in this climate is the physician assistant. Physician assistants (PAs) are nationally certified and state-licensed medical professionals who have completed an intensive three-year course of study. They work alongside doctors in many settings, including offices, hospitals, and clinics, and are able to do many of the things doctors do, like prescribe medications, order tests, and do minor surgical procedures.
Most Physician Assistant programs require an earned Bachelor’s degree, and many require significant prior healthcare experience, usually two to three years. In addition, these programs require applicants to have certain pre-medical coursework, including chemistry, physiology, anatomy, microbiology, and biology.
There are many ways to gain the experience required for admission to an accredited PA program. Those working in emergency medicine as paramedics, EMTs, or emergency room technicians can fulfill the requirement. Another avenue is work as a registered nurse, medical assistant, or certified nursing assistant (CNA). Finally, service in organizations like the Peace Corps or military medical services can qualify as well.
Course of Study
PA programs usually award the master’s degree and require three years of study, which includes both classroom instruction and clinical rotations. Subjects of instruction include anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, microbiology, pathophysiology, behavioral science, and medical ethics. Clinical rotations, totaling 2,000 hours or more, emphasize primary care in a variety of settings. Typical rotations could include family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, general surgery, emergency medicine, or psychiatry.
There are a number of accredited physician assistant programs in West Virginia. The three physician assistant schools in West Virginia are: Alderson Broaddus University, the University of Charleston, and West Liberty University. All three programs grant the Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies. The program at Alderson Broaddus is fully accredited and the other, newer, programs have accreditation pending status.
Physician assistants must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE). The test is a multiple-choice, computer based exam that assesses general medical and surgical knowledge. After passing this test, Pas then need to gain a state license in order to practice. The state of West Virginia requires that PAs receive their degree and pass the National Certifying Exam. Licenses are available through the Board of Medicine in Charleston.
To maintain certification, PAs need to complete 100 hours of continuing medical education (CME) credits every two years and pass a national recertifying exam every 10 years.
Physician assistants perform many of the same duties as doctors. They can see patients, take medical histories, perform physical examinations, order tests and lab work, make diagnoses, and prescribe medications. They can also assist in surgeries and perform minor surgical procedures themselves. Most PAs work in primary care settings, but they can also specialize in many of the same fields that doctors do, including dermatology, surgery, oncology, cardiology, and psychiatry, to name a few.
While PAs are permitted to prescribe medication in all 50 states, some states place restrictions on the type and amount of drugs that can be prescribed. In West Virginia, PAs are limited to prescribing only a 72-hour supply of certain classes of drugs.
With a growing demand for their services, physician assistants can expect to make a good living wherever they settle. Data for physician assistant salary in West Virginia show a median of approximately $86,000 per year, with the lowest figures at approximately $68,000 and top salaries over $100,000.