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.
What are Physician Assistants?
Let’s start with the basics. A trained physician assistant in Canada is a medical generalist, someone that can practice medicine in a number of different clinical settings, but that are not independent practitioners – 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
- Conducting physical examinations
- Assisting in surgeries
- Prescribing medications
- Ordering and interpreting medical investigations
- Performing diagnostic/therapeutic interventions
- Educating patients on preventative health 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. But 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 Hard is it to Become a Canadian Certified Physician Assistant?
Physician assistants are members of a regulated health profession, and so working in health care means that you need to complete one of Canada’s professional health care programs. However, physician assistants jobs are not always easy to get.
To start, there are three physician assistant programs in Canada:
- Manitoba Masters of PA Studies
- McMaster University PA Education Program
- Temerty Faculty of Medicine (University of Toronto) BScPA Program
Generally, PA admission requirements will require the completion of the equivalent of at least four semesters of undergraduate university education, and in some cases, you must earn a Bachelor’s degree before applying. While your previous education doesn’t all have to be pre-med focused, having taken courses in the applied health sciences is a good start (think Human Anatomy, Human Physiology, Biochemistry, etc) Click the link to learn more if you’re wondering: “What is pre-med?”
Being a Canadian citizen (or having permanent resident status) is also required to take these courses. Many programs also require that you also have some pre-existing hands-on experience in the healthcare field, although not all PA programs do have that requirement.
Along with letters of recommendation and the payment of fees, some courses also require that you pass the online situational judgement test known as the casper test. This test is a way that some institutions judge the personal characteristics necessary for successes in both competitive medical programs and real world work in the medical field – the kind of skills that are not always easy to identify through academic performance and standardized cognitive tests lalone.
How to Become a Physician Assistant in Canada: Courses and Timelines
Depending on the PA program you choose, there will be different requirements to graduate. However, in general, to become a Canadian certified physician assistant requires the completion of a two-year course, assuming you have completed the prerequisites.
The first year will generally focus on in-classroom work, and gaining the foundational knowledge required for work in all the different medical areas you will be exposed to on the job. There will also be some hands-on work as well, and the courses will include some clinical placements.
The second year of study, sometimes referred to as a “clerkship,” is much more placement-centric, and includes rotations in different areas of medicine including family medicine, emergency medicine, internal medicine, psychiatry, geriatrics, and a number of other areas.
After completing their studies, physician assistants go directly into practice.
I Didn’t Get Into Medical School in Canada or the U.S., and I’m Not Sure Being a Physician Assistant is Right For Me – What Are My Other Options?
Getting into medical school is an extremely difficult task, and there is an enormous amount of competition for the small number of places available each year. In fact, every year, medical school admissions committees turn away thousands of well-qualified students. The University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine, for example, accepts fewer than 10% of applicants, and this is the norm, not an exception.
However, for aspiring doctors or physician assistants, being rejected does not have to be the end of your health care 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 (AUA) 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 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.