In order to work as a physician assistant under a physician and/or on a medical team, an individual must have a physician assistant license within the state in which he or she practices medicine. Each state has different qualifications; however, each requires applicants to complete a physician assistant program and to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE). These two steps are critical to successful licensure.

How to Get a Physician Assistant License

The first step to obtaining a physician assistant license is to graduate from a physician assistant program. Admission into a program may require a Bachelor’s degree and previous healthcare experience. Generally, physician assistant programs last two years and offer a Master’s degree. For licensure, the applicant must complete a PA program that has received proper accreditation from  the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA).

The second step to obtaining a physician assistant license is passing the certification test. The Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) is overseen by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Once an applicant has passed the exam they may use the title of Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C).

The certification process may differ depending on when the test is taken. If the exam is taken before December 31st, 2013, the current process applies. NCCPA is instituting a new process for the year 2014.

Physician Assistant License by State

All physician assistants in the United States must have a license to practice in his or her respective state and the District of Columbia. Once an applicant has completed a physician assistant program and successfully passed PANCE, they may apply for authorization in the state in which they wish to practice. In Massachusetts, Ohio and New York this process is known as registration.

Some qualifications for a PA license vary in different states; some states require that applicants complete a Bachelor’s degree, while others require the completion of a Master’s degree. Some states, such as Oklahoma, require applicants to complete a PA program that meets certain conditions. Applicants may want to review state requirements for licensure while picking a PA program to attend. Other states, like Mississippi, grant a temporary license to physician assistants currently completing their Master’s degrees.

Recertifying and Keeping the Physician Assistant License

In addition to certification and licensure, a physician assistant has to stay recertified throughout his or her career. Every two years, PAs must log at least 100 hours of Continuing Medical Education (CME). Each six years, a physician assistant must pass the Physician Assistant National Recertifying Exam (PANRE) (or complete an alternative program). Prospective PAs should keep in mind that requirements for recertification may differ from state-to-state.