There are a host of PA specialties that a physician assistant can take on to enhance their portfolio and find their niche. Becoming a physician assistant is tough, with increasing competition in both Canada and the US, as shown by physician assistant acceptance rates in the US and Canada. You can also seek professional physician assistant application help to stand out from the competition. Once you have secured PA certification, it is recommended to keep developing your medical portfolio over time. This way, you will maintain a highly rewarding career known for its considerable job satisfaction. Motivated PAs can look forward to accessing a myriad of PA specialties and significant career advancement.
In this article, we will discuss what it means to be a PA, the scope of the practice, the various PA specialties, and why they are important.
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What Is a PA?
Physician assistants (PAs) are health care professionals who work under the supervision of physicians to provide high-quality medical care to patients. They are trained to perform a variety of tasks, including taking medical histories, conducting physical exams, ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, prescribing medications (depending on state law), and assisting with surgeries. PAs work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, and private practices, and they may specialize in certain areas of medicine. They also work with patients of all ages.
Are you wondering about the differences between PA vs MD? Watch this video:
If you are aspiring to become a PA, you may want to look at the easiest PA schools to get into. You can also gather information on physician assistant programs in the US or Canada to know your options and make the right decision.
What Does Training to Become a PA Involve?
PAs are educated in a program that is similar to medical school but typically shorter in duration. After completing a PA program, PAs must pass a certification exam before they can practice medicine. They can work autonomously but not as an independent practitioner, such as an MD. There are several PA vs MD similarities & differences, though both come with heavy responsibilities.
Typically, PAs take on, but are not limited to, the following responsibilities:
PAs are an important part of the health care team and play a critical role in providing medical care to patients. They work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, and private practices. They may specialize in certain areas of medicine, such as primary care, surgery, emergency medicine, and many more.
Scope of the PA Practice
Physician assistants are trained professionals who take on the daily responsibilities of a physician or MD to offload their burden, allowing them to focus on research and other areas of medicine. PAs enable doctors to focus on academic endeavours, complex problems, or patients who require more time. They are an extension of the physician and have the knowledge and skills to perform their delegated medical tasks. They contribute to reducing physician burnout by helping to manage various levels of responsibility.
The relationship that a PA builds with their supervisor also has a major part to play in a PA’s clinical role. A physician can judge how well a PA is accomplishing their tasks and give them more responsibilities, based on state law and the scope of the practice.
A career as a PA is a valid and rewarding option in and of itself. It should not be considered a steppingstone to becoming a doctor. In fact, although not a strict PA school requirement, physician assistant programs are looking for candidates who are really dedicated and committed to becoming PAs. Emphasizing and conveying your enthusiasm in this regard is one way to really stand out in your application documents and when you’re asked the “why you want to be a PA” interview question.
Nevertheless, being a PA is not the end of the road. Physician assistants can continue to grow as clinicians, take on a different specialization if they have completed one, become educators, authors, researchers, policy experts, or entrepreneurs. Additionally, business start-ups, journalism, advocacy, volunteerism, and consulting are also aspects of medicine that physician assistants can get involved in.
Furthermore, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment of PAs will grow by 28% in the next decade, which is much faster than the average growth rate of 5%.
What Are PA Specialties?
One way for physician assistants to advance in their careers and potentially follow different directions in medicine is to choose a specialty. They can even switch and stack multiple specialties to develop their portfolio. To specialize in a certain area or practice in a sub-specialty, PAs will be typically required to complete a fellowship or residency. Training requirements and the timeline for these depend on the field. Furthermore, knowing about specialties can also help you answer the popular “why do you want to be a PA interview question” when you’re in the application phase of the process.
PAs can specialize in many different areas of medicine:
Internal medicine is a medical specialty that focuses on the diagnosis, treatment, and management of chronic and acute illnesses in adults. PAs who specialize in internal medicine may work in hospitals, clinics, or private practices, and may provide care for patients with a wide range of medical conditions.
Some of the specific responsibilities of PAs in internal medicine may include conducting physical exams, ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, managing chronic conditions, treating acute illnesses, providing preventive care, and educating patients.
PAs in internal medicine work closely with physicians and other health care professionals to ensure that patients receive the best possible care.
Surgery is a medical specialty that involves the treatment of diseases or injuries through surgical procedures. PAs in this specialty may wish to train at the best medical schools for surgery. They assist surgeons during procedures, prepare patients for surgery, and follow up with patients after surgery. They may also be responsible for ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, prescribing medications, and managing post-surgical care plans.
Some of the specific responsibilities of PAs in surgery may include:
PAs in surgery work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, and private practices, and may specialize in certain areas of surgery, such as general, orthopedic, or cardiovascular surgery. They play an important role in the medical team, providing the necessary care to patients before, during, and after surgery.
PAs who specialize in emergency medicine work in hospital emergency rooms or urgent care centers, where they assess and treat patients with a wide range of conditions. PAs in emergency medicine work in high-stress, fast-paced environments, and must be able to make quick decisions and provide timely care to patients. Their responsibilities can include pre-hospital patient care, patient triage, ground/air transport of patients, urgent care, working in main emergency department/critical care units, and taking on administrative functions.
Some of the specific responsibilities of PAs in emergency medicine may include:
PAs who specialize in pediatrics focus on the medical care of children and adolescents. Typically, PAs in this area of medicine treat, examine, and diagnose young patients. They also review and update patient records. They assist physicians in tasks like treating injuries, giving vaccines, doing blood work, and other major typical PA tasks, such as coordinating with the physician, prescribing medication, educating the parents, and more.
As in a family medicine residency, PAs provide comprehensive care to patients of all ages, from newborns to older adults. Their responsibilities include diagnosing and treating illnesses and injuries, making hospital and nursing home rounds, ordering and interpreting lab tests, managing patients with chronic conditions, performing physical examinations, performing minor surgical procedures, providing patient education, and making home visits.
Dermatology is a medical specialty that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of conditions that affect the skin, hair, and nails. PAs who specialize in dermatology may work in hospitals, clinics, or private practices, and may provide care for patients with a wide range of skin conditions.
Some of the specific responsibilities of PAs in dermatology may include:
Oncology is a specialty that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. PAs who specialize in oncology may work in private practices, hospitals, or clinics, and treat patients with different cancer types. They may work with patients undergoing chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and other cancer treatments. Specializing in oncology also involves delivering difficult news to families and patients, which requires a lot of compassion, empathy, and patience.
PA specialization in neurology involves training in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions that affect the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and nerves.
Some of the specific responsibilities of PAs in neurology may include:
PAs who specialize in psychiatry provide mental health care to patients, including diagnosing and treating mental illness. They assess patients by carefully interviewing them and other people who may know them. They also need to make sure there are no underlying causes, such as brain tumor or hypothyroidism, for a patient’s psychological problems. PAs specializing in psychiatry may have to order labs or consultations, prescribe medications, devise a plan for patients, and conduct follow-ups.
PAs may also choose to specialize in other areas of medicine, such as cardiology, gastroenterology, or pulmonology.
Benefits of PA Specialties
While PAs are trained in a variety of medical specialties, some may choose to pursue additional education and training in a specific area of medicine to become a specialist PA. Specializing allows PAs to focus their efforts on a specific area of medicine and gain expertise in that field, leading to a sense of accomplishment, which is a top job satisfaction factor. It allows PAs to have a greater impact in their patients’ lives by being able to provide more targeted care. Specializing may also allow PAs to work with a particular patient population or in a specific setting, which can be personally rewarding. Specialization, like training and development activities for employees in any field, can lead to professional growth and advancement. By pursuing additional education and training in their chosen specialty, PAs can take on more responsibility and specific roles. Moreover, specializing can lead to job opportunities and potentially higher salaries.
Here are some of the reasons a PA should have a specialization or even multiple specializations:
PA specialties help your portfolio grow. If you have a strong foundation, having one or more specialties is a cherry on top of your PA journey. A strong foundation means a sharp and credible resume, which you can create with the help of our Physician Assistant Resume: Samples and Writing Guide.
1. What are the responsibilities of a PA?
A PA may be responsible for taking medical histories, conducting physical exams, ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, assisting with surgery, providing preventive care, educating patients, managing patient care plans, and participating in research.
2. Why should I have a specialization?
Having a specialization allows PAs to provide more comprehensive care to patients, increase their knowledge and skills, enhance their career prospects, meet the demand for specialized care, and stay current with advances in medicine.
3. Can a PA have more than one specialization?
Yes, a physician assistant can have more than one specialization. A lot of PAs specialize in multiple areas of medicine to improve their portfolio.
4. What does specializing in pediatrics entail?
Typically, PAs who specialize in pediatrics treat, examine, and diagnose young patients. PAs are also responsible for treating injuries, giving vaccines, doing blood work, and other major typical tasks like coordinating with the physician, prescribing medication if allowed, educating the parents, and more.
5. Is PA a competitive field?
Yes, becoming a physician assistant is quite competitive both in the US and Canada, as shown by physician assistant acceptance rates in Canada.
6. What more can I do after becoming a physician assistant?
After getting certified as a physician assistant, you can choose a specialization and work toward it. If you already have a specialization, you can take on another. Additionally, you can continue to grow as a clinician, or become an educator, author, researcher, policy expert, or entrepreneur. PAs can also venture into business start-ups, journalism, advocacy, volunteerism, and consulting.
7. I am a PA who wants to specialize in oncology; will I have to deliver bad news to patients?
Yes, being a PA who specializes in oncology, you will often have to deliver difficult news to patients and their family members. It requires a lot of compassion and patience, attributes necessary for all medical fields, especially oncology.
8. Can I prescribe medications as a PA?
A PA’s ability to prescribe medication depends on the individual provinces and states across Canada and the US. In general, PAs are authorized to prescribe medications as part of their scope of practice, but they must do so under the supervision of a physician or other licensed health care provider.
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