Do I need a license?
First, yes, you do need a license in the state of employment to practice as a physician assistant. The best source of information for all states’ licensing requirements is available for members at the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA). Students currently enrolled in an ARC-PA program can join for a one-time $75 fee. Your membership for this price is valid for the duration of your schooling to become a PA. Benefits include a subscription to their clinical journal, the Maxwell Quick Medical Reference book, and unlimited access to other study material, such as Medical Biochemistry.
For students pursuing a bachelor’s degree, the AAPA offers a Pre-PA Affiliate Membership for $100. Some of the benefits include articles on Application Timelines, interviewing for a PA school, and preparing a Personal Statement. The latter is generally a requirement of the application process.
The initials ARC-PA stand for the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant. From this site, you can find a directory of all (254) accredited institutions in the United States.
Different States = Different Rules
Some states allow a graduate PA to work without a license under certain circumstances. In North Carolina, an unlicensed PA can perform various tasks, but not a medical act. Unfortunately, the NC Medical Board does not define a medical act. However, the PA’s scope of practice would be limited – disallowing him/her to prescribe medications, medical devices, and perform any medical procedures.
It is not possible to summarize the PA requirements for all 50 states; therefore, we will highlight the four states with the most employed PAs.
The state sits at the top of the list with 13,270, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
In NY State, the selected program requires approval by the New York State Education Department. Another option is to complete your PA training at an accredited institution by ARC-PA. One good reason to be familiar with the state laws where you plan to work – before choosing a PA program.
Supervised training is a critical component of a PA program, of which NY specifies a minimum of 40 weeks or 1,600 clock hours of supervised clinical work. Other criteria include approved coursework in infection control, as well as the prevention of HIV and the hepatitis B virus. Finally, applicants must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).
The state occupies the second spot with 10, 890 working PAs per the BLS data of May 2019.
Any PA planning or working permanently or temporarily in California must have a license. In addition to the requisite training and state examination, the Physician Assistant Board (PAB) requires a criminal history background check and fingerprint submission to the Department of Justice and the FBI. You must also file detailed medical forms, which include any psychiatric or rehabilitation treatments.
Before licensing, the sunshine state requires you to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). The PANCE exam consists of 300 multiple- choice questions spread over five-60-minute sessions or blocks. All states have this mandatory test.
The Lone Star state has 8,040 PAs, according to the BLS. Individuals working in the profession must have a Texas license and supervision by one or more physicians. Similar to many other states, you must submit fingerprints as part of a state and national criminal check. These are sent to the Texas Department of Safety (DPS) and the FBI. Additional criteria for new graduates include the completion of a form by your PA Program Director, certification by NCCPA, and pass the Jurisprudence (JP) Exam. The exam covers license renewal requirements, continuing education rules, the scope of practice, and investigations of complaints. A grade of 75 or better is a pass.
On top of being a person of integrity and professional character, being mental and physically able to function as a PA, you need at least 20 hours a week for 40 weeks before applying for your state license.
The state ranks fourth with 7,200 working physician assistants (BLS).
The government website lumps twenty occupations into one link for the license applications. The jobs range from an orthotist (specialist in braces and splints) to athletic trainer to an acupuncturist. Medical physicians and surgeons, as wells as PAs, are on the same list. A click away is the Pennsylvania Licensing System (PALS). From there, a few more clicks, and you should arrive at the Medical Physician Assistant license requirements.
Again, a Criminal History Records Check (CHRC) is necessary for every state you lived or worked in for the past ten years. Applicants living, working, or taking PA classes within the state for ten years may direct the CHRC to the Pennsylvania State Police. Those working, living, or training outside PA for the past ten years may provide a CHRC from your current state and an FBI Identity History Summary Check.
As illustrated, the application demands are rigorous and lengthy. Therefore, it is prudent to prepare in advance of completing your PA studies and clinical work to prevent delays. It is essential to collect all the appropriate documentation and forms to ensure a smooth transition from graduate to licensed PA.