Physician assistants are clinical specialists in direct, one-on-one patient care. In a physician–physician assistant team, it is commonly the physician assistant who will clock in more hours directly caring for a patient. For this reason, direct health care experience is an important part of your preparation for a career as a physician assistant. The required health care experience may be as few as 80 hours but a more common range is 250 to 1000, even up to 2000, hours. It is not uncommon for a pre-physician assistant student to work for a year or two prior to application to a physician assistant program. That said, it is also important not to delay your application too long because many programs set a limit of five to ten years on prerequisite courses.
Since physician assistants are the experts in direct patient care, your pre-physician assistant preparation should specifically include direct patient care and health care experiences:
- Direct patient care experience: Volunteering or work that involves direct, hands-on, patient contact through such roles as medical assistant, certified nurse’s aide, physical therapy assistant, rehabilitation assistant, EMT, paramedic, community health care worker, or volunteer patient assistant
- Other health care related experience:
Volunteering or work at a hospital, clinic, or health care non-profit through such roles as medical secretary, laboratory technician, program coordinator, patient greeter, research intern, or medical scribe.
Paid work in the health care field usually involves more responsibilities than volunteering. Hence, physician assistant programs commonly require that some of your experience comes through work. Community service, internships, and leadership experience also help you to prepare for your future responsibilities as a physician assistant.