The Scoop on Physician Assistants
A Physician Assistant is more than a pretty face in a lab coat that gets the Doctor coffee and doughnuts.
What in the World Does a Physician Assistant Do?
A Physician Assistant (PA) works alongside a Doctor in clinical settings to provide care to patients at the Doctor's direction. Unlike nurses and other medical professionals a PA is allowed to provide a great deal of medical care at the DELEGATION of the Doctor, but not with the Doctor looking over their shoulder.
This means that you could be doing everything from taking vital signs and medical histories, to getting x-rays, taking blood, interpreting the results of tests, examining x-rays and recommending treatment. You could also counsel patients on the best course of action to deal with an illness and you could even refer patients to a specialist for further care.
Because a Physician Assistant assists physicians there is a chance for you to work with many different Doctors in many different specialties. In this way the profession is highly specialized because you would need to know how to assist certain physicians in a certain way.
What Kind of Training do I need (A.K.A. - Will I have to go to School?)
The training program to become a PA can be found in many places but entry can be competitive. PA training programs are housed at health centers, 2 and 4 year colleges and vocational schools. Because the field is so highly specialized the program lasts anywhere from 2-4 years depending on the school and the student. Also, because of the high specialization of the field many applicants to these training programs already have Bachelor's Degrees (usually in a science or medical field.)
As a part of your schooling you would attend class and participate in a rotation with a Doctor who you will "PA" for until you graduate.
After finishing school you will be required to get a license to practice as a PA and this means you'll have to pass a written exam AND a "skills" test. After completing the exams you will receive your license, but it will require continuing education to renew and you will have to retake the "tests" every 6 years. However, you can now go looking for work!
How Do I get One of These Jobs Anyways?
The easiest route to getting a job as a PA is through your rotation at the end of school. Most PAs who take a rotation end up with full-time employment under the same Doctor that they did their rotations with. However, that is not the only way to get a job.
You have to go where the Doctors and patients are. In many hospitals and health clinics there are Doctors all over the place who needs PAs to help keep up with their caseload. Also, every health clinic, Doctor's office, nursing home and convalescent home has Doctors who will need the assistance of a PA. So, if you go where the patients and Doctors are you should be ok.
Advancement in the field usually means getting more advanced training in very specialized areas like Neurology or Cardiology. Also, this increases your pay, but based on how the job works you'll always be supervised by a Doctor. Further advancement might mean teaching the Art of being a PA at a college or training program or going back to school yourself and becoming a full-fledged Doctor. Either way, there's room to grow your wallet and your stature.