Working in neurosurgery as a physician assistant

November 11, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Student on placement in the operating theatre Working as a physician assistant in neurosurgery can be an exciting and challenging choice for a PA. The field of neurosurgery often brings in a variety of patients from those with non-emergent conditions to life and death situations. But it is not always an easy job. 


What does a neurosurgery PA do? 

The brain controls everything from personality to motor skills to your ability to learn. Various types of conditions can interfere with proper brain function. In some cases, surgery is required to treat neurological conditions. For example, tumors in the brain or malformations of vessels may require brain surgery. Certain types of head injuries may result in bleeding or a blood clot, which also requires surgical intervention.

A neurosurgery physician assistant works together with a neurosurgeon to treat patients with neurological conditions, which require surgery. A physician assistant in neurosurgery may take medical histories and perform physical exams. They may also review diagnostic tests, such as CT scans, MRI’s and blood work.

Physician assistants may also educate patients on their condition and explain treatment options. During surgery, a PA may assist with procedures, close wounds and help as needed. After the procedure, physician assistants may monitor patients and follow-up as they continue to recover. They commonly check sutures, prescribe medication and write discharge instructions.


Training to become a neurosurgery physician assistant

The training to become a neurosurgical PA starts the same as other specialties. After graduating from high school, individuals who are interested in working as a physician assistant need to attend a PA program. Depending on the school, there are different admission requirements. Some schools require a bachelor’s degree or at least an associate degree. Other programs may only require completion of some college classes, such as biology, math, and English.

In addition, certain PA programs require applicants to have experience working in the medical field. The number of hours needed varies.  Check with the admissions department of the schools you are interested in for specific requirements.

Once you get accepted to PA school, plan to spend about two years completing classroom work as well as clinical rotations. All states require physician assistants to be licensed, which involves taking the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam.

As you would imagine, neurosurgery is a complex field and a PA would benefit from a postgraduate residency in neurosurgery. During residency, you will have the opportunity to focus on neurological conditions and surgical interventions.


Advantages and disadvantages of working in neurosurgery as a PA

Working in neurosurgery can be extremely interesting and complex, which some people may love. It also may provide you with the chance to save someone’s life or greatly improve their level of functioning, which can be gratifying. On the downside, expect to work all hours and be on call at times. Also, surgery on the brain can last several hours, so having good stamina is essential.


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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives, and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.