Online Physician Assistant Degree Programs

Did you always want to be a doctor, only to be scared off by the prospect of studying non-stop for up to eight years aftercollege, incurring huge student loan debt, and not being qualified to actually draw a paycheck in your chosen profession until you're pushing 30? If this sums up your near-career in medicine, you don't have to give up the dream. Becoming a physician assistant can offer you the chance of pursuing those same goals and earning a good salary in the process--but without all of that post-graduate toil. Instead of the long, grueling path that medical students must follow, physician assistants learn highly specialized, non-invasive skills. They are trained to help provide excellent patient care under the direct supervision of a licensed doctor.

An Emerging Role in Health Care for Physician Assistants

For better or worse, managed care and centralized medical practices have changed the way that doctors handle patient care. Functioning at its best, this new approach is more efficient than the traditional care model, employing a team approach. Instead of paying a visit to a single doctor, you visit an office where your needs are met by highly skilled and specialized nurses and physician assistants working under a doctor's supervision. These vital support personnel help doctors make the most of their time, while keeping costs low for patients, health insurance companies, and HMOs. The physician assistant's role on this team is to take the patient's history and begin the diagnostic and treatment process.

This process begins with an examination of the patient, but as a physician assistant you will also order lab tests and x-rays, interpret test results, and make diagnoses. Physician assistants also perform first aid such as debriding and suturing wounds, wrapping or splinting injured joints, and putting casts on broken bones. In all but one state (Indiana), physician assistants can write prescriptions for non-controlled drugs. Doctors also have a high degree of latitude to delegate additional responsibility to their physician assistants, including the ability to prescribe controlled drugs and assist in surgery or even, in some states, perform minor surgery unsupervised. In essence, the physician assistant's role is to handle relatively routine medical matters so that the doctor has more time to deal with serious or difficult-to-diagnose medical problems.

Physician Assistant Salaries

Many physician assistant programs can qualify you for a full-time job after two years of study, but most also require that you have completed two years of college and have prior employment in the health care field. As of 2007, there are 137 accredited physician's assistant degree programs in the United States. Most offer master's degrees, as most applicants already have a BA. Some programs offer bachelor's or associate degrees. You must also pass an exam administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants before being licensed to practice.

Job Outlook for Physician Assistants

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the medical assisting field to grow much faster than other careers over the next ten years, because doctors need larger support teams to accommodate record numbers of patients. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, physician assistants earn an average of nearly $80,000 a year, with first-year earnings typically over $60,000.