Should you do a physician assistant residency?

August 28, 2014

Pre-physician assistant clinical exposure in Tanzania Although a residency is not required to become licensed as a physician assistant, postgraduate training is becoming more popular. Learning more about what residencies are, and how they can benefit your career, is the first step in deciding if postgraduate training is right for you.

Residency or fellowship?

The words “residency” and “fellowship” are sometimes used interchangeably when it comes to PA training. In many instances, the two are the same. Both are considered postgraduate training, which means additional training after graduating from an accredited physician assistant program.

A physician assistant residency, or fellowship, is a similar concept to the residency a physician completes after medical school. Although postgraduate programs for physician assistants will vary, most combine clinical experience and classroom lectures. The concept of a residency for physician assistants is relatively new, but more programs are arising all over the United States.

As reported by the Association of Postgraduate Physician Assistant Programs, the majority of physician assistant residency programs are related to surgical specialties, such as cardiac surgery and orthopedic surgery. Postgraduate training is also available in emergency medicine, critical care, dermatology, OBGYN and oncology. The lengths of physician assistant residencies vary, but most are about a year or slightly longer.

Getting a physician assistant residency or fellowship

There are not enough residency or fellowship spots for all physician assistants who graduate, so competition to get a spot is often high. Individuals interested in postgraduate training can locate programs through the Association of Postgraduate Physician Programs.

Program requirements often vary. The process usually involves completing an application in addition to submitting a resume, transcripts, letters of recommendations and personal narrative on why you want to participate in the program.  

Advantages of residency or fellowship

Deciding to complete postgraduate training as a physician assistant depends on a few different factors. For example, for those interested in becoming surgical physical assistants, residencies and fellowships are often the norm.

In addition, there are both benefits and drawbacks to postgraduate training that need to be considered. Fellowship programs are formalized educational programs, which usually allow physician assistants the opportunity to gain experience faster than they would on the job as new graduates. In postgraduate training, a physician assistant has the chance to learn additional skills in his or her area of interest and improve clinical judgment.

An obvious benefit to postgraduate training is that it may increase employment opportunities. Some healthcare facilities prefer to hire physician assistants who have completed residencies, especially those in surgery and emergency medicine. Along with increased opportunities, physician assistants with postgraduate training may be offered higher salaries after they complete their residencies than those without the training.

A downside to completing a residency program is that the salary for a resident is often lower than what a physician assistant would make during his or her first year on the job. For example, a typical residency or fellowship stipend is between $45,000 and $70,000 a year. Although starting salaries for new grads will vary, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the starting range for a physician assistant is often between $70,000 and $85,000 a year.