how to become physician assistant in california

Last Updated on August 30, 2023

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how to become physician assistant in california

Requirements to Become a PA
Because the word “assistant” is in the job title, it can be easy to assume that physicians assistants don’t need a whole lot of education. Maybe a two-year degree, right?

In most cases, a physician assistant will need a master’s degree from an accredited institution (two years of post-graduate education after completing a four-year degree). Essentially, you’re looking at six years of rigorous education in total to become a physician assistant.

Most applicants to PA education programs will not only have four years of education, they will also have at least a year of medical experience. Admission requirements will vary depending on the specific program, but you can expect to need two to four years of undergraduate course work with a specific focus on a related science.

For work experience, many people entering a PA program will have worked as a registered nurse, an EMT, or a paramedic.

Generally, there are five steps to becoming a PA:

Complete your bachelor’s degree (a science or healthcare related major is usually best);
Gain experience either working or volunteering in a healthcare setting;
Apply to ARC-PA accredited programs;
Complete a 2-3 year, master’s level program;
Pass the PANCE licensing exam.
Grand Canyon University Bachelor of Science in Health Care Administration
Purdue University Global Bachelor of Science in Health Science
Champlain College Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration
What Does a Physician Assistant Do?
What is a physician assistant, anyhow?

As the name suggests, a physician assistant helps doctors, surgeons, and other medical professionals with a wide variety of tasks. They serve multiple functions that help the hospital or clinic continue to move forward efficiently. To help the doctor perform their work, a physician assistant will review patients’ medical information, conduct basic examinations, give treatment, and educate or counsel patients according to their needs.

While doctors commonly perform the diagnosis and create a treatment plan, PAs may be required to conduct these tasks depending on the specific job. In rural area, a physician assistant may be the primary care provider and merely communicate with a physician when needed.

They will work in all areas of medicine, from primary care to emergency service and psychiatry. The amount of work they put in, and the amount of oversight needed from physicians, will vary depending on the job and state or regional regulations.

Should I Become a Physician Assistant?
To become a physician assistant, you need the right formal training and experience. However, there are certain traits and characteristics that will make you more successful and allow you to have a long, rewarding career.

First of all, you must be emotionally stable, as you will deal directly with illness, death, and high-stress situations. Maintaining a calm demeanor will help you get through the emotional rigors of a physician assistant career. You should also be detail oriented and work well with little to no instruction. However, you must also work well in groups, as you will need to collaborate with doctors, nurses, patients, patients’ families, surgeons, and medical professionals of all types.

Throughout your career, a strong sense of compassion will help you be the best physician assistant possible. You need to help solve people’s medical problems, and being able to listen with genuine kindness will help you clearly diagnose and treat patients. Add in a strong dose of problem solving and you have the makings for a world-class physician assistant.

Physician Assistant Education
We briefly explored a physician assistant education path, but now we’d like to take a deeper look at this topic to help you understand the details of getting the right education to become a PA.

Step 1: Four-Year Science or Medical Degree
Almost all prospective physician assistants will have completed a four-year (bachelor’s) degree in a related science before entering a PA degree program. Technically, a prospective physician assistant can have a four-year undergraduate degree in any field, but you will be better served if you choose something that closely relates to medicine or science. Ensure your bachelor’s degree is regionally accredited in order to make your application to graduate school as seamless as possible.

Common undergraduate degrees for physician assistants include:

Step 2: Physician Assistant Program
You must ensure that your physician assistant program is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Asssistant (ARC-PA). View a list of accredited programs here.

Most programs will take two to three years to complete. During your years of study, you will learn more detailed and focused information about health, medication, anatomy, and the health care industry. Throughout your classes, you will get both medical science and clinical experience, with courses covering diagnosis techniques, emergency medicine, pharmacology, and pathology, and well as many other topics.

Around the second year of studies, you will begin to focus on even more detailed topics, such as general surgery, gynecology, and behavioral medicine. Once you complete the physician assistant education, you should be well prepared to pass the licensing exam and become a full-fledged PA.

Online Physician Assistant Programs
One of the best options is to seek your education online. There are many top-notch online programs that can prepare you for this rewarding career, and most are built to fit the busy schedule of a working professional or single parent.

Admission requirements will vary depending on the specific program. However, you can expect the programs (at least the high-quality, ARC-PA accredited programs, which is what you should be seeking) to require at least a 2.75 GPA from previous studies, if not a 3.0.

Other admission requirements will include some or all of the following:

Pre-requisite courses in General Chemistry I with lab, General Chemistry II with lab, Organic Chemistry with lab, Human Anatomy or Anatomy and Physiology I, Human Physiology or Anatomy & Physiology II, General Biology with lab, Biochemistry, Microbiology with lab, College Algebra or Statistics, Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Anthropology or Sociology, Medical Terminology
Patient care experience gained via work or volunteer time as a CNA, EMT, CMA, medical technician, or in hospice care
Shadowing of a physician assistant
Community service
GRE scores
Admission essay
In-person interview
Letter(s) of recommendation from previous instructors or medical professionals
Previous experience in the medical profession
Basic life support certification
Background check
Drug screening
Best Online PA Programs
There are limited only programs that deliver a high-quality physician assistant education, but this one is our favorite.

The University Of Texas Rio Grande Valley
The Master in Physician Assistant Studies Bridge Program (MPAS) is an online program that allows practicing physician assistants with a Bachelor’s degree to seek a Master’s degree in Physician Assistant Studies allowing them to continue working while completing their course of study. The awarded degree will be a professional Master’s degree in Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS).

Getting Licensed as a Physician Assistant
No matter where you live in the United States, you will be required to complete specific licensing to become a physician assistant. All states and the District of Columbia will have their own licensing system, so the specifics may vary, but you will be required to complete this step regardless of location. Therefore, after graduation, you will need to complete the licensing requirements to become legally eligible to work.

All candidates for physician assistant careers will need to complete the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination, also called PANCE, which is administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). When you pass this exam, you can legally use the designation Physician Assistant-Certified, or “PA-C” for short.

To even be eligible for the exam, you will have to graduate from an accredited school. To take the test, you will have to submit an application and a $500 payment in advance. You may schedule the exam anytime within the 180 days after payment.

The examination will involve many different topics related to the profession. The test takes five hours to complete and includes 300 multiple-choice questions that are given in five blocks of 60 questions. You will also have an allotment of 45 minutes total for breaks during your testing.

You will have six years after completing schooling to pass the exam. During these six years, you may take the test up to six times if needed. If you take the test six times and fail, or if the six years after graduation is completed, you will be ineligible to take the test again. If this happens, you will have to complete an unabridged program all over again to become eligible. In other words, study hard, focus during your studies, and learn as much as possible so you pass the test quickly.

In addition to the examination for licensing, state law requires you hold an agreement with a supervising physician. This agreement will include required collaboration between the assistant and the physician, although the doctor does not need to be working on site with the assistant at all times.

Throughout your career, you will need to continually educate yourself on the latest techniques and information about the physician assistant profession. This is a good idea in all careers, but in the career of a physician assistant, it is actually required. To maintain certification, you must complete 100 hours of continuing education every two years, and you must re-certify every ten years.

Building a Career as a Physician Assistant
Your career as a physician assistant can lead you down many different paths, allowing you to move into careers that have more responsibility, more training, and an even higher income. The obvious step for most physician assistant is to pursue their doctorate and become a physician themselves. You can also branch into specific areas of expertise, such as surgery, cardiology, urology, or some other form of medical expertise. As you gain experience in the medical profession, you will have a more opportunities for moving into different careers.

Related Careers
Are you thinking about a career as a physician assistant but aren’t quite sure if it’s the right fit for your needs? There are actually a lot of careers that have similar requirements and expectations, and one could be the right choice for you.

Similar careers include anything that involves the medical profession, including medical assistants, pharmacy assistants, and physical therapy assistants. The good news for these careers is that they can be entered with as little as a two-year degree, making them more attractive to many people who are just starting a college education and want to dive into a career faster. The downside, of course, is that with less education comes a decreased chance of high pay. Other careers that offer similar education levels and higher pay include nurse practitioner, registered nurse, or doctor.

Physician Assistant Salary & Job Outlook
While every student needs to consider factors like personal goals, passions, interests, and traits, you should always take a look at the numbers when it comes to expected salary and future available jobs.

How much does a physician assistant make? Fortunately, if you complete the steps to becoming a PA, you can expect to make a strong income while having a very stable and in-demand career. According to information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, physician assistants make an average of over $98,000 per year, and the best in the business can expect to make even more. The top 10% of PAs average almost $140,000 a year, giving them a strong income for many years. Even the lowest 10% average about $62,000 a year, which is well above the $36,200 national average for all jobs.

The expected job growth makes the career even more interesting. The BLS says that physician assistant jobs will grow by a whopping 30% between 2014 and 2024. To put this in perspective, jobs that deal with diagnosing and treating health issues will grow by 17%, while the total across-the-board job growth will be about 7%. So not only can you expect a fantastic income, you will have a great chance at landing and keeping a job for your entire working career.

While every area of the country needs physician assistants, some areas offer better opportunities. High-population states, including New York, California, and Texas, obviously have many opportunities for physician assistants, but Maine actually has the highest concentration for this career. The BLS says that Maine holds 1.59 physician assistant jobs for every 1,000 workers. Maine also has a high annual mean wage, sitting at $102,550. However, for specific metro areas, Rochester, Minnesota, which is home to the world-famous Mayo Clinic, has the highest concentration of physician assistants with 2.59 for every 1,000 workers.

best pa schools in california

There are many PA schools out there and this makes it difficult to choose the best one. If you want to become a PA in South California, here are the 13 best PA schools in Southern California to choose from.

  1. California Baptist University – #1 Best PA Schools in Southern California
    California Baptist University provides a qualitative two years of PA education in a conducive faith-based environment. It was founded in 1950 and recognised as one of the best PA schools in California. The school offers 80 majors, 50 minors, 5 doctoral programs, 30 masters, and 150 major concentration studies. Additionally, the medical faculty is known to be structured according to the world standard.

Also, you will be able to mix your studies with other scholarly activities and community services. Furthermore, the CBU PA program is housed in the new 11-acre Health Science Campus, where students can enjoy the best learning laboratories and study spaces.

Meanwhile, best of it is that, in 2018, the World Report and the US news ranked it as the best university in the region. Here are more info:

Program tuition & fees – $113,240
Total Enrollment – 11,045
Program Accreditation: ARC-PA
Accreditation Body: WASC Senior College and University Commission

  1. Marshall B. Ketchum University – #2 Best PA Schools in Southern California
    Marshall B. Ketchum Is one of the best physician assistant schools in California. It is a nonprofit private university based in Fullerton, California. It was initially established as a multidisciplinary institution in the year 2012. Also, in 2011, the college of pharmacy and PA studies was added to it.

The PA program runs for 27 months leading to a bachelor’s degree. After that, you can go for a master’s in medical science.

It has been ranked as one of the best private Physician Assistant schools in the region. Also, it has a low student-teacher ratio (8:1). This is combined with community service outings and a family-like atmosphere where faculty knows you personally by name and give you one-to-one attention when needed for you to do well in your studies.

You can combine your studies with community service opportunities like educating children, conducting health screening and serving at local food banks. Meanwhile, below are additional information you should know:

Tuition fee per year – $40,863
Total enrollment – 739
Accreditation Body: WASC Senior College and University Commission

  1. Southern California University of Health Sciences – #3 Top PA Schools in Southern California
    The Southern California University of Health Sciences was established in 1911, and it is known as the leader and pioneer of innovative chiropractic education.

The college is structured in a manner that students spend long hours in small groups learning basic science concepts and problem-solving skills.

All graduates from this college tend to be sound in critical analysis, communication, professional therapies, integrative health care and outcome-focused studies. Here is more info:

Tuition fee per year – $37,006
Total enrollment–1,386
Accreditation Body: WASC Senior College and University Commission

  1. Touro University California – #4 Top PA Schools in Southern California
    Touro University California Is also one of the best physician assistant schools in California. It is a privately owned, Jewish funded private university. It was established in the year 1997.

The is aimed at increasing access to better health opportunities by underserving populations. Also, it aimed at producing and recruiting quality physicians to serve the community. It is one of the best physician assej2istant schools in Vallejo, California.

Also, Touro University offers degree programs in professional courses like; nursing, education, pharmacy, public health, physician assistant studies and osteopathic studies. Also, it offers a dual program of Master of Physician Assistant Studies and Public Health.

Also, learning is student-centred as attention is entirely given to the students. More info:

Tuition fee per year – $30,140
Total enrollment – 1,378
Accreditation Body: WASC Senior College and University Commission

  1. Western University of Health Sciences – #5 Top PA Schools in Southern California
    Originally known as the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific. The Western University of Health Sciences was established in 1977 in Pomona, California.

Also, the university offers a bachelor’s degree program in physician assistant, nursing, physical therapy, veterinary medicine, biomedical science and dental medicine.

Besides the well-built and conducive learning environment, the school also offers different medical facilities such as:

Eye care facilities
Travel health centre
Dental centre
Medical centre
Students of Medical Physician Assistant Studies from the Western University of Health are the best among the best in clinical sciences. They are also excellent in communication skills which is helpful for the dissemination of information to their patients.

The evidential proof of the success of her students has earned her one of the best physician assistant schools in the region.

Tuition fee per year – $23,556
Total enrollment – 3, 792
Accreditation Body: WASC Senior College and University Commission

  1. Stanford University – #6 Top PA Schools in Southern California
    Stanford University is another one if the best PA schools in California. It is not just any private university. It is a world-recognized and well-respected private university. Also, it was established in the year 1885. Initially, it was called Leland Stanford Junior University.

Also, Stanford University is known as a place of diverse undergraduates’ programs that lead to master’s and PhD programs.

The Physician Assistant program offered by the school runs for 30 months. It is done in incorporation with courses like clinical anatomy and simulation lab.

Meanwhile, only 25 -30 students are being admitted yearly into the PA studies at Stanford University.

The institution offers world-class services to its PA students, and they are:

Counselling and health resources
Academic support
Career support
Wellness advising and student life
Housing support
Legal issues and dispute resolution support
Scholarship support
More info:

Tuition fee per year – $52,479
Total enrollment – 17,249
Accreditation Body: WASC Senior College and University Commission

  1. University of the Pacific – #7 Top PA Schools in South California
    The University of Pacific is a Methodist private university established in 1851. It is in San Francisco and Stockton, California.

The institution offers various degree programs like; law, medical sciences, liberal arts, international studies, dentistry, education, engineering, music and pharmacy.

Additionally, it offers a 27 moths PA program. And, students from this university are also trained in; physical examination, patient performance, counselling, provision of treatment, and completing medical histories.

Meanwhile, his additional service earned it one of the best PA schools in the US.

Furthermore, the school has an acceptance rate of 72% and 66%, respectively.

Tuition fee per year – $48,904
Total enrollment – 6447
Accreditation Body: WASC Senior College and University Commission

  1. Dominican University of California
    The Dominican University of California is an independent institution established in 1890 in San Rafael.

With over 130 years of preparing students for professional lives, it has earned it a reputation for being one of the best PA schools in the country.

Its excellent involvement in research, academics, outreach and community services has earned it a reputable name.

Dominican offers more than 60 majors, minors and concentrations.

Physician assistants will be taught how to be insightful and professional enlighten individuals.

Meanwhile, the course runs for 28 months. Additionally, you will be given a chance to have a real-world experience by participating in nine clinical rotations.

Additionally, as a PA student, you will be well equipped with the knowledge of social responsibility and civil skills. These give her students a hedge over others. This institution is regarded as the best PA school in San Rafael.

Tuition fee per year – $37,420
Total enrollment – 1,837
Accreditation Body: WASC Senior College and University Commission, The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA)

  1. Keck University School of Medicine
    Keck University School of Medicine was established in the year 1885. The institution is among the best 10 physician assistant programs in the US.

Basically, Keck University is aimed at advancing physician assistant education and providing medication to medically deprived populations.

The admission process is a holistic one, so you must be diverse to get admission here.

The course runs for a 33-month calendar program. Meanwhile, the program takes place in various clinical facilities and employs primary care.

Also, the faculty is student-centred at the ratio of 2:6:1.

Tuition fee per year – $22,176
Total enrollment – 748
Accreditation Body: WASC Senior College and University Commission

  1. Charles R. Drew University
    Charles R. Drew University is a nonprofit private university established in 1966. CDU PA program, which was the first PA program in the state of California, was first started in the school in 1971. This made it to be among the best PA school in California.

In addition to that, the school offer bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, associate degree and postbaccalaureate certificates.

The instruction only accepts 26 PA students. This is done following the institution’s mission of proving individualised attention and adequate resource for each student.

Also, as part of the CDU PA program, there is usually heavy urban involvement to enhance diversities.

Additionally, students are trained on the principles of community engagement, health equality and cultural sensitivity. They are also trained to be able to reach out to medically underserved communities.

Tuition fee per year – $46,272

Total enrollment – 48,321

Accreditation Body: WASC Senior College and University Commission

  1. Chapman University
    Chapman University is a privately owned institution that started in 1861. The institution offers diverse programs in education, technology, liberal arts, computer, business and medicine.

Also, it offers both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Physician assistants. Meanwhile, the master’s Programme runs for a period of 24-month, full time, year-round cohort model.

The institution aimed at producing exceptional PAs that can do well in clinical rotations and do well in collaborative health care.

Additionally, the students are also taught global ethics, culturally and ethical principles enabling them to make a positive global impact.

Tuition fee per year – $54,924
Total enrollment – 9,850
Accreditation Body: WASC Senior College and University Commission, and The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc (ARC-PA)

  1. Loma Linda University
    Loma Linda University is also one of the best PA schools in California. It is an Adventist Private university located in Loma Linda, in California. The University was established in 1966.

Basically, the institution is known as the best PA school in California and is passionate about raising PAs with the best Healthcare skills.

The PA program begins in the autumn quarter. It is broken down into phases. The first phase consists of 12 months of didactic practices. This first phase gives them a foundation of biological science.

Meanwhile, the second phase, which consists of 12 months of clinical clerkship in different medical specialities. This gives them intensive patient care experience.

The school offers about 100 certificates and programmes.

Tuition fee per year – $31,680
Total enrollment – 4,462
Accreditation Body: WASC Senior College and University Commission

  1. University of California Davis
    The University of California Davis granted a public and land granted university located in Davis, California.

The university was established in 1961 as the world’s leading PA institution. The university is one of the Rank 1 classified universities in the country due to its high standard of research. It is among the best PA schools in the world

Additionally, the institution offers several academic funding programs like scholarships, short term loans and long-term loans.

Also, it offers a major in Physician Assistant, veterinary and nursing.

The university is primarily aimed at producing students who are committed to excellence all around.

Tuition fee per year – $11,442
Total enrollment – 36,634
Accreditation Body: WASC Senior College and University Commission

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