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Can a Felon Become a Physician Assistant?

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While serving their sentence, some felons might consider a career in healthcare and could explore working as a physician assistant.

Felons often must look at a different career path, including returning to school for additional education. There are resources available even though felons may not believe they can find a job. Many employers have found that felons make good employees.

This blog post will address the issue of whether or not a felon can become a physician assistant.

  • What is a Physician Assistant?
  • What Education/Training Does a Physician Assistant Need?
  • How Much Does a Physician Assistant Earn?
  • An Opportunity for Felons?
  • Recommended Action


What is a Physician Assistant?

A Physician Assistant (PA) is a healthcare professional who provides basic medical care to patients under the supervision of a physician and provides support to a healthcare team. They can provide many of the same services as a licensed physician and can develop a treatment plan and write prescriptions.

Duties of a physician assistant include:

  • Diagnosing and treating illnesses
  • Performing physical exams
  • Assisting in surgery
  • Making hospital rounds
  • Reviewing a patient’s medical history
  • Educating patients regarding medical issues
  • Prescribing medication

There are a number of skills necessary to become successful as a physician assistant:

  • Communication skills
  • Compassion
  • Detail-oriented
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Medical knowledge

What Education/Training Does a Physician Assistant Need?

A physician assistant must complete an accredited training program and pass a state licensing exam. A master’s degree and professional experience in a healthcare environment are typically required to become a physician assistant.

A candidate must obtain a bachelor’s degree and complete an accredited educational program through the Committee on Allied Health, Education, and Accreditation (CAHEA). Typically, an education program will require a criminal background check before entering the program.

State laws and regulations to obtain a physician assistant’s license are different in each state and can be found through the American Association of Physician Assistants.

A physician assistant degree program typically includes 2000 hours of clinical work. A program usually includes course work in:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Pathology
  • Clinical medicine
  • Medical laws and ethics
  • Pharmacology

Following completion of an accredited program, a candidate must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE). This exam is administered by the National Committee on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).

A physician assistant education program typically takes at least two years to complete. There are more than 200 education programs approved by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for Physician Assistant (ARC-PA).

How Much Does a Physician Assistant Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 139,100 physician assistants working in 2021. The median annual income for a physician assistant in 2021 was $121,530. The median income is the level at which half of physician assistants earned more and half earned less.

Experience has an impact on earnings, as well as location. Those physician assistants working in the Northeast and Northwest typically earn more than those in other parts of the country.

Employment of physician assistants is expected to grow approximately 28% between 2021 and 2031, which is much faster than average. This growth will be due to demand for healthcare services in a growing and aging population with increasing medical issues. This is especially true in geographic or rural areas in which there may be a shortage of qualified physicians.

An Opportunity for Felons?

A felon can pursue any degree he or she wants. Approximately 60% of colleges consider criminal history in their admissions process, although there is no standard policy regarding a background check.

Any felon that wants to get a degree in preparation for becoming a physician assistant can find a college that will accept him or her. A felon may have difficulty getting accepted into many schools, but there are programs that will accept a felon for medical training.

Typically, an accredited physician assistant program will conduct a background check on students at various times during their enrollment. Usually, this occurs prior to the beginning term and at least before the clinical part of the program.

The background check prior to any practicum is due to the regulations set by the practice sites. If this check shows any legal issues, a student may not be allowed to complete the program and will not be eligible to become a PA.

The criminal background check will usually review a person’s criminal history for the previous seven years. These criteria will be included:

  • Social Security number validation
  • Felony convictions
  • Misdemeanor convictions against persons
  • Misdemeanor convictions related to moral turpitude (prostitution, public lewdness/exposure)
  • Registration as a sex offender

The state board will review each application on a case-by-case basis and considers the following:

  • Nature and severity of the crime
  • Recency of the crime
  • Signs of rehabilitation
  • Other related factors like any prior conviction

The board will make a determination for approval or denial for the completion of the practicum and eligibility for licensing after evaluating the entire application and supporting evidence.

It’s important to be honest in filling out an application when applying for physician assistant school or certification as a PA. If a felony isn’t disclosed but is found on a background check, this constitutes fraud and is punishable. It’s a crime to falsify an application, which could result in being sent back to prison.

Having their record expunged can give them the chance needed to begin with a clean record and succeed in becoming a physician assistant. Expunging a criminal record allows anyone to honestly state on an application that he or she has not been convicted of a crime.

Recommended Action

It’s a big challenge, but it might be worth it for a felon wanting to become a physician assistant. Having his or her record expunged and also documenting any training programs or additional education could make the essential difference in a felon succeeding in becoming a PA.

Having support from family, friends, or previous employers can make a huge difference. A felon doesn’t have to be defined by his or her crime. We are not defined by our mistakes but by how we recover from them. He or she can begin again and live an honest life no matter how difficult it might seem.

What do you think about this blog post? Have you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to become a physician assistant with a felony? What was that like for him or her, and how did he or she achieve success? Please tell us in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “Can a Felon Become a Physician Assistant?”

  1. Much appreciated for all the information to look at if someone is a felon seeking to recover their life’s true mission but had made past mistakes.


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