Physician assistants must meet the licensure requirements of the state where they work or plan to seek employment. There are prevailing statutory and regulatory laws for each state. The following elaborates on the commonalities when applying for your initial license. Keep in mind that there is no reciprocity for PA licensure – working for the federal government is the sole exception. Therefore, a PA license in California will not allow you to become a PA in Maine.
Individuals on the path to a state license should begin their research at the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) site. As a non-profit organization, since 1974, the NCCPA has set standards for the certification of PAs. In this endeavor, it assures their patients that these professionals meet the highest standards of knowledge and clinical skills.
The NCCPA provides a directory of state licensing boards for all 50 states and U.S. territories. They are also a source of information that is helpful before applying for licensure. For example, prospective candidates must earn a PA degree from an ARC-PA program (Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant). Their website maintains a list of 260 accredited PA programs in the United States. Not selecting an accredited program will have grave consequences upon graduation when you apply for a state license.
According to the American Academy of PAs (AAPA), all states require that you pass PANCE or Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam. The test is a five-hour multiple-choice (300 questions) consisting of five blocks of 60 questions with a time limit of 60 minutes each. The NCCPA administers the exam, which has a $550 fee paid in advance. You may apply for the exam within 90 days of the expected completion of the PA program. There are practice tests of 120 questions available at the cost of $50 each. In 2019, 93% of first-time takers passed the PANCE; it was 98% in 2018!
After passing the PANCE, PAs receive an NCCPA certification, which is valid for two years. A ten-year certification process consists of five two-year cycles requiring 100 Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits every two years. All states will require verification of your NCCPA certification, along with a list of other documents that will accompany your state license application. You may need to file a signed and notarized Criminal Offender Record Information Form (CORI) in some states. It is a database of criminal activity within a state for anyone who has had a criminal court appearance. Massachusetts requires a CORI as part of your license application papers.
Other requirements may include a state and national criminal records check, which means the submission of fingerprints. To apply for a PA license in Oregon, you have to provide fingerprints to the State Police and the FBI.
As mentioned above, recertification demands CME credits to qualify for the PANRE (Physician Assistant National Recertification Exam). This multiple-choice test measures the PA’s general medical and surgical knowledge. Applicants are eligible to take the four-hour 240 questions’ exam during the final two years of their ten-year cycle. Certification is not synonymous with the state license – typically, renewal is every two years. North Carolina, in contrast, requires a PA to renew the license each year by his/her birthday. The process may commence two months before the person’s birthday. Anyone more than 30 days delinquent in renewing will receive a failure to register notification by certified mail. After 30 days of no response, the license is inactive, which prevents the PA from practicing legally in North Carolina.
For a PA to practice legally in the United States, she/he needs to have a license issued by the state where employed. Even the federal government, namely the Veterans Health Administration, states that current and continuous certification from the NCCPA is mandatory for all applicants. A job posting for a PA Gastroenterology at federalgovernmentjobs.us does not specify that applicants have a state license.
Therefore, each change of state for your place of work as a PA will require compliance with the respective medical board licensure regulations.
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