Fortunately, the path to becoming a physician assistant isn’t quite as confusing as that of a nurse practitioner, but if you want to become a PA you still need to do some planning ahead. Where you are on your educational path will determine how long it takes you to become a physician assistant.
Regardless of where you fall currently in your education, there are a few things you need to know that will help you become a physician assistant most efficiently.
First, most schools require multiple prerequisite courses before applying. Make sure you know which courses are commonly required by PA programs and complete them before submitting your application. Ideally, these prerequisite courses are completed as part of your bachelor’s degree to maximize efficiency. If you have not completed these prerequisite courses, this will increase the amount of time it takes for you to become physician assistant. These courses must be completed before applying to a PA program.
Second, many PA programs require that students have hands-on patient experience before applying. Amount of experience varies from 500 to 2,000 hours. Factor the time it will take you to complete this extensive experience into how long it will take you to become a physician assistant. In order to get this much hands-on patient care experience, you may also need to factor in obtaining a medical certificate such as becoming a medical assistant into your educational plan.
The following outline will give you an idea of how long you can expect it to take to become a PA depending on your current level of education.
I am currently a high school student…
If you are currently a high school student, you have two paths you can take to the physician assistant career. First, you can attend an accelerated physician assistant program designed specifically for students graduating from high school. These programs usually take about five years to complete and award students both a bachelor’s and master’s degree.
If you don’t choose to attend an accelerated program specifically for recent high school grads, your next step is to get a bachelor’s degree. Make sure you complete courses required for application to PA programs during your undergraduate education. Getting your bachelor’s degree will take four years. Then, you will have to attend a physician assistant program. This will require an additional two years. So, if you are currently in high school and choose not to attend an accelerated program you can expect it will take you at least six years to become a physician assistant.
I am currently a college student or I already have a bachelor’s degree…
If you currently have, or are working on your bachelor’s degree, your next step is to apply to a physician assistant program. PA programs typically take between 24 and 27 months to complete. So, it will take you about two years to become a physician assistant. If you want to work during your PA program, some schools offer a three year part-time option.
Planning ahead for your PA education is imperative. In addition to completing basic educational requirements like getting your bachelor’s degree, you should become familiar with the course and experience requirements of your programs of interest. PA programs are very competitive so having these essentials in order is a must.
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