So You Want to Become a PA? – Passing the PANCE and PANRE

Mark Perdue PA-CPersonal Education, Physician Assistant

So you want to become a PA - Passing the PANCE and PANRE physician assistant examinations

So You Want to Become a PA? - Passing the PANCE and PANRE

How to become a physician assistant.

You've been working harder than you've ever worked to succeed in a grueling 2 1/2 year training program to become a physician assistant. Unfortunately, you are not finished — you're not even close.

Your next marching orders if you are to become a PA are:

  1. Get certified
  2. Stay certified

To accomplish these goals your mission is to prepare for and successfully pass the physician assistant national certification exam (PANCE).

When it’s time to recertify, you may choose to take the physician assistant national recertification exam (PANRE).

Passing the PANCE

For me and even my current students, the key to successfully passing the PANCE is ongoing and progressive review.

Instead of passing PA school and then cramming for the PANCE, I identified salient topics on the NCCPA blueprint and progressively studied those topics as part of my program curriculum.

This type of slow-and-steady-wins-the-race approach was very helpful and provided a great deal of space recognition.

It's a win-win situation — you get to study for PA school and study for national certification exam at the same time.

Now when it comes to materials there are plenty of review books with a few questions at the back. For me the books were fine, but eventually became stale and did not provide enough repetitions for me to be fully prepared. A nice complement to your preparation is to take some sort of PANCE preparation course.

A PANCE prep course could take the form of the live review course or it could be taken online. After all of the study in PA school I found that what I needed was not primary learning (watching lectures or reading book chapters) but to find out where the holes in my education were and figure out how to fill those holes.

To accomplish this, I think it's best to use question and answer databases that are evidence-based and provide remediation feedback. This format allows for the identification of knowledge gaps, and if explanations and remediation materials are high quality you can efficiently round out your education.

Passing the PANRE

As practicing PAs we not only need to obtain recertification, but we also need to constantly update our knowledge and skill set. Add to this the need to rack up 50 hours category 1 CMEs and you can see where the PANRE prep course would be an asset.

Passing the physician assistant national recertification exam is very similar to taking the PANCE.

As with PANCE courses, PANRE courses may be live or online, but if you're going to use a board review course you may as well get CMEs in the process.

One thing is different about the PA recertification exam — it may have been years since you have reviewed some of the material. If you work in ENT there is a good chance that you haven’t thought too much about heart failure. Consequently, it is important to find and fix any weakness in your knowledge base. 

When colleagues asked me the best way to prepare for an upcoming recertification exam, I'll tell them to do some type of diagnostic run.

Take a comprehensive test, identify your weak points and then focus on those weak points as you gradually review the rest of the material relevant to your line of practice.

Although the future of recertification may change, I personally think that preparing for and taking the full PANRE is a great way to objectively assess and maintain one’s knowledge base.

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