7 Steps to Become a Physician Assistant in Canada

Here we discuss how to become a Certified Physician Assistant in Canada. Keep in mind this is a rough outline – the official Canadian Physician Assistant association and Physician Assistant programs in Canada have the most up to date information about PAs and admissions processes.

Step 1: Be a Canadian Citizen or Permanent Resident of Canada

All Canadian PA Programs require you to be Canadian Citizens or Permanent Residents of Canada before you can consider applying.

Do not proceed forward if you do not meet this qualification.

The same rule still applies, you MUST be a Canadian Citizen or Permanent Resident of Canada.

There are however American PA programs that do accept International students. To learn more, see my post:  Can International Students Apply to Canadian PA Schools?

If you are a Canadian Citizen or Permanent resident of Canada, you can move on to Step 2. 

Step 2: Fulfill PA Admission Requirements

Check the admission requirements for the program and ensure you take the appropriate courses (if applicable), have the health care experience hours (not all PA programs require hands on patient experience to apply), and achieve the minimum GPA to get in.

All PA programs in Canada currently require you to complete 2-4 years of undergraduate study (at the university level) in order to apply. The number of years or coursework completed depends on schools.

Like many professional health care programs (i.e. physiotherapy, dentistry, medicine, pharmacy, OT, etc.), getting into PA school is competitive. Make sure to also take steps to strengthen your PA admissions application.

There are 3 Canadian PA programs in Canada:

*Note:  To become a military PA you must first complete a civilian PA program, then apply to a Canadian Forces PA position where you’ll receive additional training to work in the military.

As long as you are a Canadian Citizen or Permanent Resident of Canada, and you meet admission requirements you can still apply!

Follow instructions on my page: Can International Medical Graduates become Physician Assistants?

No. Currently you need 2-4 years of undergraduate study/university level coursework to apply to PA school. Each PA program is different when it comes to requirements.

Learn more about this step: 

Step 3: Apply to a PA Program, and get into PA School!

Submit all the appropriate paperwork (GPA transcripts, supplementary applications, proof of English speaking competency level if applicable). For specific requirements & deadlines please see websites above.

If successful for the first stage of admissions, you’ll get invited for the interview process. PA programs in Canada use the Multi-Mini Interview (MMI). Successful candidates are contacted shortly after with invitations to join the PA program.

Canadian PA Admissions Comparison Chart

Step 4: Complete a Physician Assistant program at an accredited Canadian PA school

PAs are educated on the same medical model that physicians undergo during their training within a physician directed and patient-centered healthcare team.

First year, is considered didactic year:

  • involves intensive coursework in medical foundations across all body systems/areas of medicine (anatomy & physiology, cardiology, respirology, hematology, GI, oncology, infectious disease, etc.)
  • learning clinical skills (history taking, performing physical exams, interpreting lab results, reading x-rays & imaging)
  • communications skills (preventative health counselling, motivational interviewing, etc.),
  • and medical and professional ethics.

Second year, is clinical year, also known as “clerkship”. This compromises of clinical rotations across different areas and specialties of medicine: core rotations in placements like family medicine, emergency medicine, psychiatry, general surgery, internal medicine – although this varies from school to school. Evaluations for each rotation (lasting 4-12 weeks) completed by your clinical preceptor (a PA or physician) and you may have to complete a written test.

After completion of study, PAs go directly into practice. Additional learning takes place on the job, and scope of practice grows as PA builds competencies.

Regardless of your educational background or medical experience, you cannot skip any part of PA school.

Current PA students break down what PA school is like in 1st and 2nd year of PA School:

Step 5: Become a Canadian Certified Physician Assistant (CCPA)

Once you have completed PA school, you qualify to write the PA Entry to Practice Examination issued by PACCC – the Physician Assistant Certification Council of Canada.

You must be a CAPA member in order to write the exam.

The exam takes place once a year and can be written in several cities. For the past few years the exam has taken place in late October. If you pass the exam, you receive the “CCPA” designation, which is the “Canadian Certified Physician Assistant” title.

American trained Physician Assistants who graduated from an Accredited Program (ARC-PA) and are certified by NCCPA (have their PA-C designation) are qualified to write the PA exam.

You must join CAPA first as a regular member.

Then you can apply to write the examination.

Once you pass, and receive your CCPA Number, include this registration number on your resume.

Keep in mind, PAs are not yet practicing in all provinces and territories across Canada. There are also differences between provinces with how PAs are integrated and paid. See What is a PA? page for more information about where and how PAs practice.

The job market and salary in Canada for PAs also differ from the United States.

Regardless of what previous medical experience you’ve had in the past, you CANNOT skip any aspect of PA education.

Canadian PA programs do not take into consideration any USMLE scores, nor is it a requirement to become a PA.

Step 6: Apply for a PA Job, Get the Job, then Practice

Apply for positions that are listed on the CAPA website (members only). You can also perform a google search for “Physician Assistants jobs” in your area of choice. Hospital and clinic job boards will also post listings as well.

PAs are trained as generalists, so you can apply to job postings across different areas of medicine once you are done PA school.

PAs are able to switch specialties as well.

Read Where to Find Canadian PA Job Postings →

Step 7: Maintain your PA Certification with CPD/CME hours

In order to maintain your “CCPA” designation, you have to be a member of CAPA and complete a number of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) hours.

The Physician Assistant Certification Council of Canada (PACCC) website has more details on maintaining your certification.

Read How to Enter your CPD Credits to Maintain Certification →

Final Notes

I’m inspired everyday by the work that my PA colleagues do across different areas of medicine. You can also check out our Canadian PA Youtube Channel to view interviews, vlogs and insights on what it is like to be a PA!

Have more questions about becoming a Physician Assistant in Canada? Post to our free Canadian Pre-PA Facebook Group.