Physician Assistant Certification (PA-C) Guide

As a physician assistant (PA), getting and maintaining certification helps ensure that you stay up to date in your current role and that you are eligible for new positions. Depending on your specialty, PA certification can also add credentials to your title, which can help you stand out to employers and patients. 

This guide explains how a PA can gain certification. Learn more below about the various specialized certifications you might pursue after obtaining your main PA certification, which is generally referred to as the PA-C credential.  

PA-C Credential and Maintenance

After you graduate from an accredited PA program to become a physician assistant, you’ll be able to take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam, also known as the PANCE exam. This PA certification exam is administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA), a PA certification board.

Once you’ve passed the PANCE and you maintain your physician assistant certification, you can use the title PA-C, short for physician assistant-certified. PA certification lasts for five two-year periods, during which a PA must log 100 continuing medical education (CME) credits and submit a certification maintenance fee before the end of their certification expiration year.

After 10 years, PAs must take and pass the Physician Assistant National Recertifying Examination® (PANRE). The PANRE is a four-hour test with 240 multiple-choice questions that is designed to assess core medical and surgical knowledge. You can take the PANRE once you’re in the ninth year of your certification maintenance cycle, and you can attempt it up to four times.

There will also be an alternative to PANRE, called PANRE-LA, which will be available beginning in 2023. This new recertification process incorporates elements of a longitudinal assessment and addresses knowledge gaps in core medical content. It’s designed to be user-friendly, with 25 questions administered in an online format each quarter that PAs can take anywhere, anytime. Before a timed exam question is opened, PAs will get content category information, so they know whether they want to answer the question now or study to answer it later. PAs will have three years to complete the PANRE-LA.

PA Specialty Certificates

In addition to the PA-C, the NCCPA offers various Certificates of Added Qualifications (CAQs) for certain specialties. According to the NCCPA, earning a CAQ enables PAs to achieve recognition for their specialty knowledge, experience and skills. In competitive environments where credentials are highly valued, obtaining a voluntary CAQ credential may help a PA qualify for certain positions or stand out in the field.

Certification for all PA specialties requires a PA-C and a license. PA specialization options include:

The total cost of earning a CAQ is $350, which includes a $100 registration fee and a $250 exam fee. You’re able to earn more than one specialty CAQ at a time as long as you meet the specific requirements for each.

Study Tips for Physician Assistant Certification Exams

There are many resources available to prepare for the PANCE or the PANRE exam. Check out the following study guide options to help you prepare.

Keep in mind that you can take both exams multiple times until you pass. Tools like the resources above can help you study the subjects you need to focus on in order to be successful in fewer attempts.

Last updated in May 2022