Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences Program

MEDEX Physician Assistant Track

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1. What are Physician Assistants (PAs)?
Q2. What is the job outlook for PAs?
Q3. What can I expect to earn as a PA?
Q4. How is a Physician Assistant educated?
Q5. What are the prerequisites for applying to PA programs?
Q6. Why can’t I get my entire PA training in Alaska?
Q7. Why can’t I take the Masters Degree option at UAA?
Q8. Can I attend the UAA Bachelors program & complete my Masters Degree with UW...?
Q9. Why do I need medical experience before I can be accepted?
Q10. How do I get admitted?
Q11. What areas of medicine can Physician Assistants work in?
Q12. Where do PAs "draw the line" as far as what they can treat...?
Q13. Can PAs prescribe medications?
Q14. What's the difference between a PA and a physician?

Q1. What are Physician Assistants (PAs)?

A1. Physician assistants are health care professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. PAs employed by the federal government are credentialed to practice. As part of their comprehensive responsibilities, PAs conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery, and in virtually all states can write prescriptions. Within the physician-PA relationship, physician assistants exercise autonomy in medical decision making and provide a broad range of diagnostic and therapeutic services. A PA's practice may also include education, research, and administrative services.

Q2. What is the job outlook for PAs?

A2. According to the findings published in AAPA's Information Update: Projected Number of People in Clinical Practice as PAs as of January 1, 2006, 91 percent of 2005 PA program graduates were estimated to be in clinical practice as PAs in 2006. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the number of PA jobs will increase by 50 percent between 2004 and 2014. The BLS predicts the total number of jobs in the country will grow by 13 percent over this 10-year period. The physician assistant profession was ranked the fourth fastest growing profession in the country.

The PA profession was also ranked by CNN and Money magazine in May 2006 as one of the top five jobs in the country.

Q3. What can I expect to earn as a PA?

A3. Results of the 2009 AAPA Physician Assistant Census Survey for Alaska indicate that the mean total income from primary employer for PAs who are not self-employed and who work at least 32 hours per week for their primary employer is $102,701. The comparable mean total income for PAs who have been in clinical practice for less than one year is $80,000.

Q4. How is a Physician Assistant educated?

A4. Physician assistants are educated in intensive medical programs accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). The average PA program curriculum runs approximately 26 months. There are currently more than 130 accredited programs. All PA programs must meet the same ARC-PA standards.

Because of the close working relationship PAs have with physicians, PAs are educated in a medical model designed to complement physician training. PA students are taught, as are medical students, to diagnose and treat medical problems.

Education consists of classroom and laboratory instruction in the basic medical and behavioral sciences (such as anatomy, pharmacology, pathophysiology, clinical medicine, and physical diagnosis), followed by clinical rotations in internal medicine, family medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, emergency medicine, and geriatric medicine.

Upon graduation, physician assistants take a national certification examination developed by the National Commission on Certification of PAs in conjunction with the National Board of Medical Examiners. To maintain their national certification, PAs must log 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years and sit for a recertification every six years. Graduation from an accredited physician assistant program and passage of the national certifying exam are required for state licensure.

A PA's education doesn't stop after graduation, though. PAs are required to take ongoing continuing medical education classes and be retested on their clinical skills on a regular basis. A number of postgraduate PA programs have also been established to provide practicing PAs with advanced education in medical specialties.

Q5. What are the prerequisites for applying to PA programs?

A5. PA programs look for students who have a desire to study, work hard, and to be of service to their community. Most physician assistant programs require applicants to have previous health care experience and some college education. The typical applicant already has a bachelor's degree and approximately 4 years of health care experience. Commonly nurses, EMTs, and paramedics apply to PA programs. MEDEX/UAA Program prerequisites are listed at medex@u.washington.edu.

Q6. Why can’t I get my entire PA training in Alaska?

A6. You can! The University of Alaska Anchorage and MEDEX Northwest PA Program at the University of Washington will have a collaborative program beginning in 2009. Students will apply through the MEDEX Program, self select the AK site, and be accepted to attend the didactic year of training in Anchorage at UAA. The second year of clinical clerkships and preceptorship will be arranged in sites throughout Alaska and the states served by the MEDEX Program (Washington, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Nevada).

Q7. Why can’t I take the Masters Degree option at UAA?

A7. Beginning in July 2009, MEDEX will offer two PA Program degree options: a Bachelors Degree and a Masters Degree, but the degrees will only be available at specific MEDEX training sites. For the Bachelors Degree option, both years will be offered at the MEDEX training site in Anchorage at UAA and at the MEDEX training site in Yakima WA. For the Masters Degree option, students will attend the MEDEX training site in Seattle or Spokane, WA. Masters option students will be required to have completed a bachelors degree prior to admission.

Alaska-based students who choose the Masters option will still have to go to Washington for the first year of classroom training and return to Alaska for the clinical rotation year.

Q8. Can I attend the Bachelors training program at UAA and complete my Masters Degree through UW after I complete the Bachelors program?

A8. Yes, MEDEX started a Masters Degree completion option in 2009 for students who have Bachelors level PA training and wish to earn an Extended Masters of Clinical Health Services Degree. See the MEDEX Northwest web site for further details.

Q9. Why do I need medical experience before I can be accepted?

A9. PA training is condensed and relies on prior experience in the medical field for a foundation of knowledge to build on. This required experience as described on the MEDEX Northwest website is "a minimum of two (2) years of paid, recent, full-time equivalent, hands-on experience in the direct delivery of medical care to patients (approximately 4,000 hours); examples might be LPN, RN, Paramedic, Corpsman". Applicants have gotten entry level clinical experience as medical assistants or nursing assistants; Providence Hospital hires "Patient Care Technicians" with on the job training; the ARC of Anchorage uses "Individual Service Providers" to assist their residential clients. Some applicants have received EMT Training or training as med techs or radiation techs.

Q10. How do I get admitted?

A10. You can be admitted to the UAA Bachelor of Health Sciences Program as a pre-major while you are fulfilling the prerequisite course requirements for MEDEX and the UAA BSHS degree and while completing the 4000 hours of clinical experience prerequisite. See MEDEX admissions. Applicants who have completed all the UW MEDEX prerequisites can apply directly to the UW MEDEX Program through CASPA, the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants. The application deadline for MEDEX and the UAA Satellite site is October 1, 2008 for classes that begin in 2009. Qualified applicants will be interviewed and accepted by Feb. 1, 2009. All accepted MEDEX students in 2009 will begin an online Human Anatomy and Physiology refresher course March 1st and also attend a 6 week classroom review of A & P and Basic Sciences which will be in Seattle in 2009. Future summer sessions may be held at UAA but that is to be determined.

Q11. What areas of medicine can Physician Assistants work in?

A11. Physician assistants (PAs) are found in all areas of medicine. They practice in the areas of primary care medicine - that is family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology -- as well in surgery and the surgical subspecialties.

Physician assistants receive a broad education in medicine. Their education is ongoing after graduation through continuing medical education requirements and continual interaction with physicians and other health care providers.

Q12. Where do PAs "draw the line" as far as what they can treat and what a physician can treat?

A12. What a physician assistant does varies with training, experience, and state law. In addition, the scope of the PA's practice corresponds to the supervising physician's practice. In general, a physician assistant will see many of the same types of patients as the physician. The cases handled by physicians are generally the more complicated medical cases or those cases which require care that is not a routine part of the PA's scope of work. Referral to the physician, or close consultation between the patient-PA-physician, is done for unusual or hard to manage cases. Physician assistants are taught to "know our limits" and refer to physicians appropriately. It is an important part of PA training.

Q13. Can PAs prescribe medications?

A13. All fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Guam have enacted laws that authorize PA prescribing. In California, PA prescriptions are referred to as written prescription transmittal orders.

Q14. What's the difference between a PA and a physician?

A14. Physician assistants are educated in the "medical model"; in some schools they attend many of the same classes as medical students.

One of the main differences between PA education and physician education is not the core content of the curriculum, but the amount of time spent in formal education. In addition to time in school, physicians are required to do an internship, and the majority also complete a residency in a specialty following that. PAs do not have to undertake an internship or residency.

A physician has complete responsibility for the care of the patient. PAs share that responsibility with the supervising physicians.

For additional admissions FAQs, visit the MEDEX Northwest web page.