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Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Physician Assistant?

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A physician assistant is a medical provider who has been licensed to diagnose diseases and illnesses and treat them by providing prescriptions to patients. This professional also provides health education and counsel to various patients according to their health needs. A physician assistant works under the supervision of a licensed doctor.

If you are passionate about joining the medical field, you could do it as a physician assistant. You will not only get to work in primary care but in psychiatry and primary care as well.

So, what does it take to join this profession? Here are four things that you need to have to successfully work as a physician assistant:

Formal education

You need to have at least gone through a four-year degree course in related sciences before joining a physician assistant degree program. You can go through any degree program first so long as it is closely related to science or medicine in particular. However, before you make your graduate school application, you need to ensure that your first degree is regionally accredited first. An undergraduate degree that would help you transition to this profession include biology, sociology, nutrition, or psychology. Physician assistant programs run for approximately three years.

During the first year, you have to learn courses such as anatomy, medication, and other health courses. In the second year, you get to focus more on courses such as gynaecology, behavioural medicine, and general surgery. While going through these courses you will also be exposed to clinical practice where you will gain experience in the real medical field. So, if you still want to become a physician assistant, you need to have followed this road map first!

Relevant certification

The medical field is regulated globally. Therefore, for you to practice as a physician assistant, you need to get a license first. You only get to apply for a license after you graduate with your physician assistant degree. This certification is what gives you the power to legally practice medicine. You are required to complete the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination which is also referred to as the PANCE exam. Once you complete this exam, you become permitted to use the term Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C).

For you to sit for this examination, you need to send a formal application and pay a fee of about £500. Afterwards, you need to schedule an exam 180 days after you make this payment. The exam involves different topics in the field of medicine and takes approximately five hours to complete. During this time, you will have to answer about 300 multiple choice questions which have been clustered in five blocks. Should you fail, you are five more times to take the test after which you will be ineligible to take it.

Emotional stability

The medical profession is not for the faint-hearted! This is because you will have to deal closely with illness, high-stress situations, and sometimes death. When you maintain calmness in all these situations, you survive the emotional rigours that come with this profession. Having emotional stability also impacts patient safety. When you are stable regardless of the situation at hand, you will make better decisions that will contribute to improved patient outcomes.


You need to have the value of compassion for you to make it a physician assistant. But, what is compassion in this context? According to researchers, it is the ability to show sensitivity to the suffering of others and attempt to eliminate and prevent it.

Research has also shown that when patients are cared for by a health professional that shows compassion, they recover faster. Thus, you need to show empathy and care for people’s suffering. While it is not possible to learn compassion, it needs to come from deep within you. Therefore, before you embark on the journey to become a physician assistant, you need to first evaluate yourself to see whether you have this trait within you.


When you become a physician assistant professional, you encounter a lot of challenges that will shake you to your core. However, the profession is rewarding in terms of monetary and other benefits. Therefore, you need to figure out whether you have what it takes to make it in this field. Apart from the relevant degree and certification, you will require emotional stability and compassion.

Tommy Williamson did his degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. He has an ongoing interest in mental health and well-being.

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