Physician Assistant – Explore

Explore Physician Assistants

Physician Assistant Programs in Hawai’i: MEDEX Northwest Physician Assistant Program Kona Campus

The MEDEX Northwest Physician Assistant Program is planning on offering the option to complete the Masters of Clinical Health Services degree in Hawaii at a Kailua-Kona campus. Students who applied for the 2019-2020 cycle will have the option of selecting the Hawaii campus. MEDEX will be looking specifically for 15-20 candidates with strong connections to Hawaii, particularly those native to the state. The program is subject to approval by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). If the expansion is not available to the 2020 cohort, applicants will be admitted to their second campus preference (Tacoma or Seattle, WA). For more information about the expansion, please see here.  

Field Description

Physician Assistants (PAs, also called RPAs for Registered, or PA-Cs for Certified, or RPA-Cs) are licensed health professionals who practice medicine as members of a team under the supervision of a physician. PAs see many of the same types of patients as physicians and deliver a broad range of medical and surgical services. PAs conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel patients on preventive care, assist in surgery, and (in all states except Indiana) prescribe medication.

The scope of a PA’s practice is determined by training, experience, state law, and the supervising physician’s practice. Essentially, PAs work wherever physicians work, whether in family practice, surgery, a specialty area, or research. A PA’s duties and autonomy depend upon the PA’s clinical experience and his/her relationship with the supervising physician. For more information, click here

Work Setting

Although PAs work under supervision, the supervision can be remote, which means the physician is not necessarily present. PAs may be the principal health care providers in rural or inner city clinics, where the physician is present for limited times or only for consultation via telephone or other media. PAs may also make house calls, check on patients at nursing care facilities, and conduct hospital rounds on their own.

The PA profession began in the 1960s and remains one of the fastest growing occupations. Like physicians, PAs serve in all types of communities, from rural to urban, and in a wide variety of settings, from private practice to clinics and hospitals. PAs also work in specialized settings such as nursing homes, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), and the armed forces.

For more information on job outlook, click here.

Related Careers

Nursing (RN or APRN) and medicine (MD or DO). 

Please see the following links for more information on the comparisons between the following fields:

RN vs. PA


MD/DO vs. PA

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Years of Schooling Required to Become a Physician Assistant:

7-8  years of education

  • Undergraduate Preparation (~4 years);
  • Physician Assistant Program (~3  years);
  • Residency (~1 year, optional).

Many schools require a bachelor’s degree. Although not all schools list a bachelor’s degree as a requirement for admission, few students are admitted without one. For those schools that do not require a bachelor’s degree, completing a bachelor’s degree is highly recommended.  Admission to physician assistant programs is highly competitive, and a bachelor’s degree significantly strengthens a student’s application and provides students with greater options for advancement and career opportunities. For help choosing a major, please see the “Choosing a Major for Professional Schools in Health” webpage.

Pacific University’s Hawaiʻi Outreach Initiative

Pacific University (PU) has a long standing history with students from Hawai‘i and would like to extend that relationship. PU’s Hawai‘i Outreach Initiative is both an admissions advantage as well as a clinical rotation advantage in the state of Hawai’i. PU will extend invitations to interview to the top five scoring Hawai’i Outreach applicants each year. While this does not guarantee admission, it is an acknowledgment of their dedication to applicants from Hawai‘i and their needs.

In order to qualify for the Hawai’i Outreach Initiative, a prospective student must have a strong connection to Hawai’i and have active plans to return to the islands to practice as a PA. The strong connection may be shown by one or more of the following: current address, permanent address, high school diploma, college diploma, driver’s license, or Native Hawaiian ancestry.

If students from Hawai‘i are admitted to the program they will complete their didactic phase in Hillsboro, Oregon, with the rest of the incoming class. Students in the Hawai‘i Outreach Initiative will have preference for the available clinical rotations in Hawai‘i. Pacific University continually seeks out rotation sites in Hawai‘i which will provide students with quality experiences and networking opportunities.

There is no separate application for the Hawai‘i Outreach Initiative. Students are initially identified through their application materials and their stated commitment, on the Supplemental Application, to return to Hawai‘i following graduation to work as a PA. Please contact PU Graduate Admissions if you have any questions.

Pacific University accepts medical scribing for direct patient care hours! Please click here to see a full list of the activities they accept for this requirement.

Matriculation statistics:

ApplicantsMatriculantsPercentage of Applicants that Matriculate
National Applicants26,0007,80030%
UH Mānoa Applicants (2016-2017) 461532.6%
UH Mānoa Applicants (2017-2018) 491530.6%

Based on data acquired by the National Association of Academic Advisors for Health Professions (NAAHP).

Gap Year

Students may choose to take a gap year after they graduate with their undergraduate degree. A “gap year” is the period of time between the end of your undergraduate education and the start of your professional school. A gap year might be a year or more depending on each person’s particular circumstances. Students may choose to participate in longer term engagement activities during their gap year. Taking a gap year would change when to apply to professional school, please see a PAC peer advisor to help you plan in when to apply and fit in a gap year experience. When deciding to take a gap year, see our Taking a Gap Year page.

Degree Conferred

Upon graduation from a physician assistant program, students are awarded a master’s degree such as the Master of Science (MS), Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS), or Master of Medical Science (MMS), among others. Some PA programs offer bachelor’s degrees and certificates, although the master’s is the most common degree awarded. All master’s-level physician assistant degrees are equivalent with respect to licensure and professional practice.

Combined Degree Programs

Many physician assistant programs offer combined degree programs: MS/MBA to combine medicine with business administration; MS/MPH to combine medicine with public health; and so on. Combined degrees can be offered concurrently, sequentially, or in combination, and often extend the number of years in PA school.

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What to Expect in PA School

The first two years of PA programs usually consist of courses in basic medical sciences: anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, biochemistry, microbiology, medical diagnosis, and disease prevention. The third year usually consists of rotations through a variety of specialties, including obstetrics and gynecology, surgery, orthopedics, emergency medicine, psychiatry, pediatrics, and geriatrics, among others. Upon graduation, PAs who desire advanced training or specialization can choose to complete a residency.

The Licensing Examination(s)

Graduation from a program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education of the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) qualifies PAs to sit for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) in cooperation with the National Board of Medical Examiners. All PAs must be licensed to practice!

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