As Dr. Reid B. Blackwelder, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians puts it for The New York Times, the days of being a solo family physician in a small town are over. Medicine is now a team sport.
An increased demand for healthcare services from a growing and aging population, widespread chronic disease and shortage of physicians demands this kind of team — including a higher number of trained professionals who can provide care without sacrificing quality.
Who can fill this need? Here comes the physician assistant.
Physician assistants — also known as P.A.s — practice medicine on a team under the supervision of physicians and surgeons.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook for physician assistant careers is at 38 percent growth from 2012-2022, much faster than the national average of 11 percent.
Which is why it makes sense, that according to The New York Times, P.A. programs are increasingly competitive. Unlike medical school, there is no M.C.A.T. or residency, two years of professional school and a great starting salary.
“Like nurse practitioners and other ‘physician extenders’,” The New York Times reports, “P.A.s now carry out many duties once handled by doctors: They perform physical exams, diagnose illnesses, assist in surgery, order lab tests and prescribe medication.”
A bachelor’s degree in biology with coursework in pre-medicine subjects like human anatomy, microbiology, general physiology, immunology and chemistry build a strong foundation for graduate study in P.A. school.
Other important qualities include compassion and communication skills. Assumption alumna Megan McCann — a student in the P.A. training program at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS), with whom Assumption has an articulation agreement — attributes part of her success in graduate school to her involvement at Assumption outside of the classroom.
“Staying involved on campus contributed to the success that I continue to have in my education. By staying involved, I have developed many life-long skills including time management and a hard work ethic,” McCann said.
In addition to staying involved on campus, biology students with P.A. aspirations should talk to their advisors to ensure they’ll have the necessary prerequisites for success in graduate school. Also, getting to know biology professors — particularly the ones who have experience in medicine (See our pre-medicine student checklist here) — makes great resources, contacts and mentors for career success.