Orthopedic surgery physician assistants, also known as OPAs, are trained and skilled health care providers who often work in the operating room, alongside licensed orthopedic surgeons, nurses and other medical professionals. There is a common misconceptions that OPAs and regular physician assistants perform the same medical duties and have the same responsibilities, when the truth is that the job description of these two professionals is radically different.
While it is true that both the OPA and the PA provide high-quality support and medical care under the supervision of a licensed medical professional, the OPAs are specifically trained in the field of orthopedic surgery, while the regular physician assistants practice general medicine. Every OPA was once a PA, but he or she can choose to specialize in one of the many different fields. Having said that, with a median yearly salary of around $90,000 a year, OPAs are amongst the highest paid professionals in their niche, and research has revealed that orthopedic physician assistants who have at least 20 years of experience in the field are likely to earn even more money.
How To Become An OPA?
If you have decided to pursue a medical career as a physician assistant who specializes in orthopedic surgery, then you should know that this position is very demanding, stressful and consuming, both from an emotional and from a physical and mental standpoint. Even so, working as an orthopedic physician assistant can also be very lucrative, especially when you hold a full time position. The exact job requirements and scope of practice of this medical career are dictated by the state where the certified OPA works, the employer, as well as the work environment.
OPAs must be certified and licensed in order to work in any of the states. Having said that, in order to pursue a lucrative career as an orthopedic physician assistant, every certified physician assistant must pursue the certification provided by the NBCOPA, or the National Board for the Certification of Orthopedic Physician Assistants. After receiving the certification provided by the National Board, you will officially gain the designation of OPA-C, or Orthopedic Physician Assistant – Certified.
The scope of practice of a certified orthopedic physician assistant is governed not only by the medical staff and the supervising licensed orthopedic surgeon, but also by the hospital credential committees, as well as by the applicable state laws. With that in mind, the first step every future orthopedic physician assistant needs to take in order to gain his or her licensure in the field is to complete a Bachelor’s degree program that is reviewed and accredited, as this is the only way you can then sit for the national certification examination.
Although there is no specific major required for a career as an orthopedic physician assistant, you should consider some pre-requisite coursework in physics, anatomy, biology and chemistry. After that, you can apply for a graduate program where you will get all the skills and knowledge you need in order to become a physician assistant who specializes in orthopedic surgery. These graduate programs used to be reviewed, approved and regulated by the AMA, or the American Medical Association, but this stopped a few decades ago.
After completing the graduate program, the next and final step that you need to take is to earn your OPA-C credential. For this, you will need to sit for the certification examination, and in order to be eligible for it, you will have to meet some basic requirements. For instance, all applicants are required to have a minimum of five years of experience in orthopaedic surgery and medicine, especially in pharmacology, anatomy, physiology and musculoskeletal diseases. It is also of utmost importance for applicants to demonstrate that they have in-depth skills and knowledge in the field of bracing, casting, splinting, patient medical care as well as surgical assisting, the latter being particularly important for every orthopedic physician assistant.
Moreover, candidacy of those who want to pursue the OPA-C credential can be achieved by completing a training program that is recognized, and that includes both classroom teaching and some amount of clinical experience. Most of the certified orthopedic physician assistants who live and work in the United States of America have at least a Bachelor’s degree in their field of work, alongside formal training under the supervision of a certified orthopedic technologist or orthopedic nurse. The certification as an orthopedic physician assistant must be maintained throughout the years – just like the certification of physician assistants, that of orthopedic PAs is also set to expire on a regular basis. For renewal, all certification owners must complete at least 120 hours of continuing medical education. The certification is valid four years, and when the expiration date is near all the certified OPAs are required to sit for a recertification examination in order to regain their OPA-C credential.