Medical provider holding a folder speaking to a patient sitting on a examination bed.
Exploring Direct Patient Care Positions: A Pathway to Becoming a Physician Assistant

Are you an aspiring healthcare professional considering a physician assistant (PA) program or other healthcare degree program that requires paid direct patient care hours as an application requirement? Acquiring  these hours not only provide invaluable hands-on experience but also demonstrate your commitment and readiness for a career in healthcare. To help you navigate this path, let’s explore 10 common roles that offer opportunities to gain the necessary experience.

1. Patient Care Technician (PCT)

Patient Care Technicians work closely with nurses and other healthcare professionals to provide basic patient care, including bathing, feeding, and assisting with mobility. This role offers a comprehensive view of patient care within a clinical setting.

2. Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

CNAs play a vital role in healthcare settings by assisting patients with daily activities such as bathing, dressing, and eating. Working as a CNA provides firsthand experience in patient interaction and basic healthcare procedures.

3. Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)

EMTs are trained to provide emergency medical care in pre-hospital settings. This role offers exposure to high-pressure situations and allows you to develop critical thinking and decision-making skills while providing immediate care to patients in need.

4. Phlebotomist

Phlebotomists specialize in drawing blood from patients for medical testing, transfusions, or donations. This role requires precision and attention to detail, providing valuable experience in patient interaction and specimen collection.

5. Medical Scribe

Medical scribes assist healthcare providers by documenting patient encounters in real-time. This role offers insight into the clinical workflow and allows you to observe various medical procedures and diagnoses.

6. In-home Caregiver

Working as an in-home caregiver involves providing assistance with daily activities and personal care for individuals who require support at home. This role offers a unique opportunity to develop close relationships with patients and their families while providing compassionate care in a familiar environment.

7. Orderlies and Care Team Associates

These roles involve assisting with patient care activities in hospitals or clinical settings. Depending on the specific position, responsibilities may include assisting with patient transfers, monitoring vital signs, and providing basic medical care under supervision.

8. Paramedic

Paramedics are highly trained emergency medical professionals who respond to medical emergencies and provide advanced pre-hospital care to patients. They are often part of ambulance crews and are responsible for assessing patients, administering emergency medical treatments, and stabilizing patients’ conditions en route to the hospital.

9. Medical Assistant

Medical assistants perform both administrative duties, such as scheduling appointments, maintaining patient records, and handling billing and coding, as well as clinical tasks, such as taking patient vital signs, preparing patients for examinations, assisting with medical procedures, and collecting and processing laboratory specimens.

10. Undergraduate Healthcare Degrees with Clinical Experiences

Several undergraduate professional healthcare programs (i.e., Nursing, Radiology, Respiratory Therapy, Nuclear Medicine) require clinical experiences as part of their curriculum to provide students with hands-on training and exposure to real-world healthcare settings. Students can gain hundreds, if not thousands, of direct patient care hours through academic program clinical rotations.

Final Thoughts

Before pursuing any direct patient care position, it’s crucial to research and confirm with the PA programs you’re interested in to ensure that the hours will count towards your application requirements. Additionally, don’t hesitate to reach out to practicing PAs or PA programs for guidance and recommendations on suitable positions to gain experience.

On average, PA programs may require anywhere from 500 to 2,000 hours of direct patient care experience. However, given the competitiveness of physician assistant programs across the nation, admitted students vastly exceed the minimum number of direct patient care hours required. Knowing this, it’s important to begin acquiring direct patient care hours early in your college career, take time after graduation to acquire hours before the next PA program application cycle, or a mix of both.

In conclusion, gaining direct patient care experience is an essential step towards achieving your goal of becoming a physician assistant. By exploring various roles and gaining hands-on experience in healthcare settings, you’ll not only strengthen your application but also develop the skills and confidence needed to excel in your future career. So, seize the opportunity to embark on this rewarding journey and make a positive difference in the lives of patients every step of the way.

Dr. Lucas Gorham is the Senior Associate Director for the Office of Career & Professional Development at the University of Redlands. Connect with him on LinkedIn!

By Lucas Gorham
Lucas Gorham