I Want To Become A Physician Assistant… Where Do I Start?

June 24, 2016

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Pursuing a career as a physician assistant is a great choice if you are interested in a healthcare specialty that allows you to work in a wide range of medical disciplines and have more contact time with patients. Physician Assistants fill a pressing need in the healthcare system today and are in great demand in hospitals across Australia, which means you would not have any problems finding steady, high-paying employment after you graduate.  

As a fairly new specialty in Australia, there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding this field. Many people are under the mistaken notion that these are medical professionals who ‘assist’ qualified doctors. This is not true. A physician assistant is in fact a fully licensed medical professional. To do away with the ongoing confusion surrounding this role, the term ‘Assistant’ has been replaced by ‘Associate’.

If you want to become a physician assistant, the first thing you need to do is understand what the role involves so that you can make a more informed choice as to whether or not this is the right path for you.

Step 1 – Understand the role of a physician assistant

While physician assistants do enjoy a fair amount of independence, they usually work under the supervision of the attending physician.

In a hospital setting, where each doctor attends to several patients at a time, it is not possible for a physician to spend a whole lot of time with each patient. Under these circumstances, a physician assistant acts as the go-between, spending more face time with patients, supplementing and extending the services provided by the physician they are working with.

Some of the more common tasks that a PA undertakes during a working day would include:

The exact scope of a PA’s responsibilities can vary significantly depending on the healthcare setting as well as the PA’s rapport with the supervising physician.

Step 2 – Explore opportunities for gaining hands-on experience

There’s no better way to understand the exact nature of the job than by getting some hands-on experience. There are two ways you can do this – shadowing physician assistants and doing a medical placement. Both of these experiences will allow you to get a first-hand look at a day on the job as a PA. You will get a better understanding of all the responsibilities you will be expected to shoulder and all of the ups and downs that go with the role.

In addition to giving you a clearer idea of what the profession entails, shadowing physician assistants and doing a medical placement will also give your PA school application a tremendous boost.

Step 3 – Enrol in a PA programme

To qualify as a PA in Australia, you need to complete a two-year accredited program. You will then need to sit for a certifying exam in order to obtain licensure. After you are qualified to practice, you are required to complete about 100 hours of continued education every 2 years in order to maintain your license.

Application to physician assistant school is highly competitive and admission boards of almost all programmes require applicants to have obtained some work experience under their belt. This is where your shadowing and medical placement experience can be an invaluable asset.



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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.