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Certification Tests for Physician Assistants

The National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants administers the two tests that are required of Physician Assistants: the PANCE, which certifies you to work as a PA, and the PANRE, which you take every 6 years (or 10 years starting in 2014) for recertification. Here is a quick overview of each test.

Get your PANCE on

The PANCE is the essential exam for certification, and certification is essential for licensure. This exam has 300 questions and takes 5 hours to complete, not including breaks.

The PANCE is a testimonial to your knowledge. Doctors and nurses take qualifying exam-inations, so for a PA, certification is expected, too. This tells the world you’re ready to do the work.

A few simple — but not easy — steps are involved in preparing for the PANCE. You’ve already accomplished the first few items:

  • Enter a PA program at an accredited school.

  • Take the classes and do the clinical rotations.

  • Buy an excellent test preparation book.

  • Begin a concerted program of test preparation.

Review for the PANRE

The Physician Assistant National Recertifying Examination (PANRE) is just what it says — a periodic recertifying examination that ensures that your knowledge is up to date. Every 6 years, a PA must successfully complete the PANRE. This test has 240 questions (instead of the PANCE’s 300), and there are four test blocks instead of five. You still average, however, about a minute per question (60 questions in 60 minutes).

The PANRE offers you content options. About 60 percent is the same generalist exam as the PANCE, but you choose the emphasis of the other 40 percent. Here are your three options:

  • Adult medicine

  • Surgery

  • Primary care

A recertifying PA may want to choose adult medicine or surgery if that’s where he or she works. If you choose primary care, then the PANRE content won’t be at all different from the PANCE. And even if you choose the surgery or the adult medicine option, a large portion of the examination will still contain general medicine questions.

Earn a Certificate of Added Qualification (CAQ)

A practicing PA can earn a Certificate of Added Qualification, or CAQ. This certificate recognizes the PA for advanced knowledge and a skill set in a particular specialty. Current CAQ specialties include nephrology, orthopedic surgery, cardiothoracic surgery, emergency medicine, and psychiatry. Here are the requirements for the CAQ:

  • Having worked the equivalent of 2 years full time as a PA with at least 50 percent of that time spent in that particular specialty

  • Obtaining continuing medical education (CME) hours that are specific to the specialty

  • Having a supervising physician write a letter of support stating a high level of performance

  • Taking a multiple-choice examination of 120 questions in that specialty area

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