If you live in Canada and are interested in health care, one of your options is to study to become a Canadian Certified Physician Assistant. Successfully completing a physician assistant education program is no easy task, but it can be very gratifying on both a personal and professional level. 

Because physician assistants are educated in the same medical model as the physicians with whom they work, and they can provide value in any number of clinical settings. This means they have the flexibility to extend or complement existing physician services, and best of all, improve access to health care for patients that so desperately need it. 

In this article, we will shed some light on the important role that physician assistants play on a daily basis and discuss how to become a physician assistant in Canada. 

What are Physician Assistants?

Let’s start with the basics. A trained physician assistant in Canada is a medical generalist, someone who can practice medicine in a number of different clinical settings but who is not an independent health care professional – they work with a supervising physician. 

While they are health care providers and are well-versed in the health sciences, they are not “junior doctors,” nurses or medical students/residents. They are also not medical assistants, medical administrative assistants or medical receptionists.

Some of the tasks that a physician assistant will take on include:

·         Seeing and assessing patients
·         Performing physical exams
·         Assisting in surgeries
·         Prescribing medications
·         Ordering and interpreting medical investigations
·         Performing diagnostic/therapeutic interventions 
·         Educating patients on preventive health care techniques or treatment options
·         And many more

While they do have to successfully complete a physician assistant program, physician assistants don’t have the same kind of formalized residencies that doctors do. However, because they work in collaboration with physicians, they end up with a flexibility that allows them to engage in a wide variety of tasks. You might think of a physician assistant as a certain kind of “super-resident,” one that is not so much an assistant as they are an extension of a physician’s practice of medicine. 

How to Become a Physician Assistant in Canada?

Becoming a Physician Assistant in Canada involves a detailed and structured process. Each step is crucial for becoming a qualified healthcare professional.

Read on for a more detailed breakdown of the steps on how to become a physician assistant in Canada: 

Complete high school

Start by completing high school, ensuring you excel in your studies, especially in science and mathematics. These subjects are foundational for a healthcare career.

Pursue a bachelor’s degree

After high school, pursue a Bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as biology, health sciences, or any other field that prepares you for a healthcare career. This degree should ideally include coursework in anatomy, physiology, and other foundational sciences. Canadian PA programs typically require the completion of at least four semesters of undergraduate university education, and in some cases, you must earn a Bachelor’s degree before applying.

Apply to a physician assistant program

These programs provide the knowledge and skills necessary to practice as a PA. The program covers a wide range of topics, including patient care, medical procedures, and the use of medical equipment. The first year generally focuses on in-classroom work, gaining foundational knowledge required for work in various medical areas. The second year, sometimes called a “clerkship,” is more placement-centric and includes rotations in different areas of medicine.

Complete clinical experience

During your PA program, you will gain hands-on experience through clinical rotations. These rotations allow you to work under the supervision of experienced healthcare professionals, providing practical patient care experience. This is a crucial part of your training and will prepare you for the realities of working as a PA.

Pass the physician assistant exam

After completing your program, you must pass the Physician Assistant Exam. This exam tests your knowledge and skills in patient care, medical procedures, and other areas of practice. Passing this exam is a prerequisite for licensure in Canada.

Obtain licensure

Once you pass the Physician Assistant Exam, you must obtain licensure to practice as a PA in Canada. This process involves submitting your exam results and other documentation to the relevant healthcare authorities. You must also be a Canadian citizen (or have permanent resident status) to take these courses.

Continuing education

Becoming a PA is not a one-time achievement. The healthcare field constantly evolves, and staying up-to-date with the latest developments is essential. Continuing education is a vital part of maintaining your professional skills and knowledge.

Is Physician Assistant the Right Career for Me?

Deciding whether a career as a physician assistant in Canada is the right choice for you involves deeply reflecting on your personal and professional aspirations. 

As a PA, you would be crucial in enhancing healthcare access for individuals and communities, particularly those battling chronic illnesses. This career path offers the opportunity to be a beacon of hope during times of widespread illness.

Characteristics and responsibilities

Physician assistants require compassion, problem-solving skills, and the ability to engage in hands-on patient care. They are expected to recognize and alleviate the suffering of others, diagnose conditions, and devise treatment plans that significantly impact patients’ lives. 

This role demands a high level of emotional intelligence and the ability to balance empathy and professional detachment. This might be your career if you thrive in environments where you can directly interact with people and help them. 

Flexibility and job satisfaction

The PA profession offers a unique blend of flexibility and job satisfaction. You have the opportunity to practice in nearly every medical specialty, from family practice to cardiovascular surgery, and even transition into administration, pharmaceuticals, insurance, or academics. This flexibility allows you to explore various career paths and find the one that best suits your interests and aspirations. 

Moreover, the job satisfaction derived from helping others live longer and healthier lives is a significant reward. However, it’s essential to consider whether this reward is enough to sustain your motivation and satisfaction in the long term.

Autonomy and work environment

Physician assistants collaborate with supervising physicians and other healthcare providers, which is a fundamental aspect of their role. However, if you are motivated by working independently and prefer having more autonomy in your career, a career as a PA might not be the best choice for you. The dynamic and unpredictable nature of patient care, where each day brings new challenges and opportunities, can be both exhilarating and demanding. It’s crucial to assess whether you enjoy this level of spontaneity and unpredictability in your workday.

Pursue Your Medical Education in the Caribbean

For aspiring doctors or physician assistants, being rejected does not have to be the end of your healthcare journey. Pursuing a medical education abroad is an excellent way for Canadian students to overcome these challenges. Not only can aspiring physicians or physician assistants pursue their medical education on their own terms, they can also do so from the warm climate of the Caribbean! Who needs Canadian winters anyway?

The American University of Antigua College of Medicine is a good example. They have both the accreditation status and an excellent track record placing graduates in residency programs at prestigious teaching hospitals or in simply teaching students the necessary theory and practical lessons they need to get ahead. 

And the best part is that medical schools in the Caribbean have much higher acceptance rates than Canadian or American institutions while still offering an excellent level of education. That means that once you’ve completed your studies, you have the opportunity to return to Canada to practice medicine in whatever capacity you think is best for you. 

Conclusion

Becoming a Physician Assistant in Canada is a rewarding career path that requires dedication, hard work, and a commitment to providing high-quality patient care. Following these detailed steps, you can embark on your journey towards becoming a qualified PA. Remember, the path to becoming a PA is challenging but rewarding, and with dedication and perseverance, you can achieve your goal.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

What is the educational pathway to becoming a PA in Canada?

To become a PA in Canada, you must complete an undergraduate degree, typically in a science-related field. Afterward, you must enroll in an accredited Physician Assistant program, which normally lasts 27 months (3 academic years) and culminates in a master’s degree.

What prerequisites are required for PA programs?

Most PA programs require applicants to have an undergraduate degree in a science-related field. Some programs offer a pre-professional phase for recent high school graduates or students with some college credit, which can extend the program length to 4-6 years. Additionally, many PA programs require prior healthcare experience, such as working as a medical assistant, emergency medical technician, or registered nurse.

What specialties can a PA practice in?

PAs can practice in various specialties, including family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, general surgery, emergency medicine, and psychiatry.

How can I prepare for a PA school interview?

Preparing for a PA school interview involves:

  • Understanding the program’s requirements.
  • Researching the institution.
  • Reflecting on your experiences and motivations for pursuing a career as a PA.

It’s also beneficial to familiarize yourself with common PA interview questions and practice answering them confidently.