The Tiber Health Master of Science in Medical Sciences (MSMS) programs offer students rigorous academic preparation for a wide variety of interesting and fulfilling health career paths. 65% of students received admission into medical school after completing the program. But others go on to pursue different paths. Physician associate (PA) programs are one popular option. This article looks at what PAs do, what the job outlook is, and how our MSMS can help you prepare.
Wait, Isn’t It “Physician Assistant”?
If you’re not familiar with the term “physician associate” yet, don’t worry. The American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) voted to change the title of the PA role to “physician associate” in May 2021, and the new name has only begun to roll out across the country.
Part of the reason why the AAPA voted to change the PA job title is because “physician assistant” is frequently confused with “medical assistant.” Medical assistants provide basic clinical and office support to nurses, doctors, and PAs in medical offices. While medical assistants are very important to the overall functioning of healthcare facilities, they are entry-level workers who usually have a certificate but no degree. PAs, as we’ll discuss, hold a master’s degree and a license to practice.
The name change from “physician assistant” to “physician associate” is a work in progress. Each board that licenses PAs must adopt the new title. Because not all boards have done that yet, you will still see PAs referring to themselves as “physician assistants” if that is still the legal job title where they work. We’ll be using “physician associate” (or just “PA”) throughout this article, since that will eventually be the legal name for this role everywhere.
What Do PAs Do?
PAs are highly trained members of healthcare teams who can examine, diagnose, and treat patients under the supervision of a physician. While the scope of practice may vary by state, PAs generally have more responsibilities than a nurse practitioner. PAs can specialize in different areas of medicine, such as pediatrics, mental health, or surgery.
Specific PA duties may include:
- Taking patient medical histories
- Performing patient exams
- Providing treatment, including wound care, setting bones, or administering vaccinations
- Advising patients on managing health conditions
- Ordering tests, x-rays, or scans
- Conferring with physicians and other healthcare professionals to ensure follow-up care
PAs in many states also have the legal authority to prescribe medication. However, they may be restricted from prescribing some medications, such as specific types of pain medication, without a physician’s direct approval.
Where Do PAs Work?
PAs can work anywhere healthcare is needed, from hospitals and schools to long-term care facilities. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that as of May 2021, 51 per cent of the nation’s 139,100 PAs worked in physicians’ offices. 23 per cent worked in hospitals, and the remainder were split among outpatient care facilities, educational facilities, and government employers.
The U.S. BLS also provides insight into which states employ the most PAs. As of May 2021, the top five states for PA employment were California, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Florida.
PAs are especially critical to healthcare in areas impacted by the shortage of primary care physicians. PAs can provide essential services to patients in clinics where the supervising physician may only be present one or two days a week. The PA will perform exams and treat patients independently, and the physician will review cases with the PA later or follow up with cases where treatment outside the PA scope of practice is needed.
What Is the Job Outlook for PAs?
The BLS projects that job openings for PAs will grow very rapidly from 2021 to 2031. The overall job growth rate is projected to be around 5 per cent over that period, while the number of PA jobs is projected to grow 28 per cent—more than five times as fast. This rapid growth reflects the rising demand for healthcare. Note that these are national projections, however, and that demand for PAs will vary by job market.
Salaries for PAs also vary by job market, but as of May 2021, the median annual salary for PAs was $121,530.
How Do I Become a PA?
PAs in every state must complete a master’s degree through a program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant and then obtain a license to practice. They need to regularly renew their licensure with professional development and pass a periodic recertification exam. Exact requirements will be determined by each state’s licensure board.
In addition to medical coursework, PAs in training complete clinical rotations in a variety of specialty areas, including emergency medicine, internal medicine, and more.
How Does the Tiber Health MSMS Help Me Get into a PA Program?
PA programs are very competitive and rigorous graduate degrees. If you haven’t achieved the GPA necessary to apply to a PA program, earning your MSMS with us can help. Our curriculum mirrors the first year of study at an LCME-accredited medical school, covering much of the same ground as the first year of a PA program. By succeeding in the MSMS, you can show admissions committees you have the academic ability to complete a PA program, too.
Plus, our program offers an innovative, technologically empowered learning environment that gives you constant data about your performance. You’ll know exactly where your strengths and weaknesses are so you can focus on where you need to improve most.
We offer the MSMS on-campus at eight partner schools across the US. Two of those partner schools, Southern California University of Health Sciences and Jacksonville University, also offer the MSMS online. You can complete the program in as little as 11 months of full-time study, though online students complete the program part-time over 20 months.
Get Started on Your PA Pathway
Ready to start your journey toward a career as a physician associate? Find a Tiber Health MSMS program near you today!