Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) Issues

What Is the Physician Assistant Exam?

The Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) is the certification exam that enables a physician assistant program graduate to obtain state authorization to practice medicine as a physician assistant. The Physician Assistant Exam is the middle step of three steps necessary for physician assistant practice: (1) graduation from an accredited physician assistant educational program; (2) passing the PANCE exam; and (3) obtaining state authorization for physician assistant practice. Physician assistants generally take the PANCE exam after graduation from physician assistant school but before beginning physician assistant practice.

Who Must Take the PANCE Exam?

Every physician assistant graduate of an accredited school, who expects to practice in the U.S., including Guam and the District of Columbia, must generally take and pass the Physician Assistant Exam. Some states offer temporary physician assistant licenses while awaiting the PANCE exam and exam results, but those licenses are generally of a short duration of one year or less. To get a temporary license, you must generally obtain an eligibility letter from PANCE exam officials documenting your PANCE exam qualification and pursuit. You can certainly earn a physician assistant degree without taking the PANCE exam. But you must have state authority to practice as a physician assistant, and all fifty states require passing the PANCE exam to obtain that authority. Passing the PANCE exam qualifies the physician assistant for state authorization to practice. Take and pass the exam, or you won't get to practice as a physician assistant. Retain national education attorney advisor Joseph D. Lento if you face exam issues preventing you from practicing as a physician assistant.

PANCE Exam Authority

The National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) administers the PANCE exam. NCCPA, a nonprofit organization founded in 1974, is the only professional organization certifying physician assistants within the U.S. Although the National Commission is a private certifying organization, its recognition by all fifty U.S. states for physician assistant practice authorization effectively makes the National Commission a quasi-governmental regulator. The National Commission designs its standards to confirm a physician assistant candidate's clinical knowledge and reasoning, medical skills, and professional behaviors for competent physician assistant practice within the U.S. Retain national education attorney advisor Joseph D. Lento to address unfair treatment by National Commission testing officials. Their quasi-governmental authority means that they must generally afford you due process when attempting to deny you PANCE exam testing and passage.

Physician Assistant Certification Duration

Once you've passed the PANCE exam, you've cleared a significant hurdle. Although you will have to recertify every two years after at least one hundred hours of continuing education, your PANCE exam certification is generally good for ten years. Near the end of those ten years, you should take the Physician Assistant National Recertifying Exam (PANRE) to continue in physician assistant practice. The PANRE exam has 240 multiple-choice questions like those on the PANCE exam. National education attorney advisor Joseph D. Lento is available to represent you regarding recertification issues.

PANCE Exam Content and Format

Physician assistant graduates take the PANCE exam on computers at testing centers around the U.S. on a year-round basis other than during the late-December holidays. The PANCE exam has 300 multiple-choice questions designed to assess the candidate's medical and surgical knowledge relating to physician assistant practice. The PANCE exam divides its 300 questions into five blocks of sixty questions each. Candidates have sixty minutes to complete each block of sixty questions. Generally, PANCE exam questions cover the body's organ systems, the diagnosis and assessment of their diseases and disorders, and the treatment of those diseases and disorders. The National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) publishes a detailed Content Blueprint showing the distribution of questions among medical content and treatment tasks. To further aid examinees in preparing for the PANCE exam, NCCPA also publishes specific physician assistant competencies and offers practice exams.

PANCE Exam Timeline, Process, and Issues

Issues Qualifying for the PANCE Exam

To qualify to sit for the physician assistant exam, you must have graduated from an accredited physician assistant program. You have no clear way around that requirement. Go to an accredited physician assistant school and graduate with clear documentation of your completion of all degree requirements, or you won't generally get to sit for the PANCE exam. The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) accredits physician assistant programs nationwide. Graduating from one of the 300 ARC-PA accredited schools should qualify a physician assistant to take the PANCE exam. Retain national education advisor Joseph D. Lento if you face one or more of these issues when attempting to show PANCE exam officials that you graduated in good standing from an ARC-PA accredited physician assistant program:

  • the documentation and certification of your graduation by your school;
  • your timely and proper transmittal of that document to PANCE exam officials;
  • whether your school is, in fact, ARC-PA accredited;
  • the timing of your school's ARC-PA accreditation relative to your attendance and graduation;
  • graduation transcript holds relating to financial, disciplinary, or other matters preventing your graduation documentation; or
  • graduation transcript notations relating to discipline or other matters.

Issues Registering for the PANCE Exam

To take and pass the PANCE exam, you will need to register for the exam on the NCCPA website and pay the registration fee. Beware, though: NCCPA registration requires you to create a personal certification record. Inaccuracies, inconsistencies, or gaps in that record can lead to registration issues. Record scrupulously accurate information relating to your physician assistant school attendance, academic record, and graduation date, and your personally identifying information, including full and correct name, birthdate, address, and other requested information. Don't let registration issues delay your PANCE exam and physician assistant practice authorization. Retain national education attorney advisor Joseph D. Lento to represent you on PANCE exam registration issues.

Issues Scheduling the PANCE Exam

Pearson VUE testing centers throughout the U.S. administer the PANCE exam. Within days of registering with NCCPA for the PANCE exam, you should receive an NCCPA acknowledgment letter with instructions for scheduling your exam with Pearson VUE. You will have a three-month eligibility window within which to schedule your PANCE exam at a local Pearson VUE testing center.