Physician Assistant

What is a physician assistant?

A physician assistant (PA) is a health professional licensed by the state or certified by a federal employer to practice medicine under the supervision of a physician. As such, the physician assistant performs many patient care tasks that were traditionally carried out by the physician. As the health industry seeks to cut health care costs, PAs will be asked to perform the duties of a physician at a significantly lower cost. Physician assistants perform complete physical examinations, diagnose illness, give treatments, order and review laboratory tests and X-rays, and counsel patients on their health problems. State laws vary on the responsibility to prescribe drugs. PAs are always directly supervised by a physician, but the extent of the physician's supervision varies from state to state and in different work settings. By the restrictions of practice, a physician assistant cannot be self-employed. About 39% work in physician offices, 37% work in hospitals, 11% work in community health facilities, and the remaining work at other sites. It is common for physician assistants to work in areas where physicians may be in short supply.

Because physician assistants work so closely with physicians, their work schedules may also be hectic and variable. Certain work settings, especially clinic work, can usually guarantee a 40-hour work week. There are currently about 130 Masters programs in the United States, with most in New York and Pennsylvania. Most require significant experience with patient care prior to admission. CASPA is the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants. The average length of the program is 25.5 months. Each state requires a certifying examination for employment as a Physician Assistant-Certified or PA-C. To maintain this status, state regulations specify 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years and a re-certification examination every six years. Additional education is often needed for specialization. Although most work in family practice, general practice, or internal medicine, specialty areas include surgery, emergency medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, the sub-specialties of internal medicine, and general pediatrics.

The Physician Assistant program at Missouri State University

The Physician Assistant Program (PA Program) at Missouri State University is accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). Graduation from an accredited PA program is a requirement for practice and to sit for the national Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) certifying examination. Program information and admission requirements are described at the Department of Physician Assistant Studies website.

Pre-physician assistant program for cell and molecular biology majors

A cell and molecular biology major provides a strong science background for those planning to apply to a physician assistant professional program. Pre-physician assistant advisors will help students plan for the required coursework and those additional courses beyond the minimum that will strengthen the student's application. Also, please take a look at the Health Professions Scholars Program.

Health Professions Scholars Program

For more information


Dr. Amanda Brodeur, 417-836-5478, Professional Building, Room 352

Dr. Richard Garrad, 417-836-5372, Professional Building, Room 345

Dr. Joshua Smith, 417-836-5321, Professional Building, Room 333

Dr. Colette Witkowski, 417-836-5603, Professional Building, Room 400

Department of Biomedical Sciences
Missouri State University
Springfield, Missouri 65897

Last reviewed by department 03/2019