How to Get the Quickest Certifications for Clinical Experience


With most programs having a long list of requirements, there's a lot to do when you are preparing for PA school. Direct patient contact experience (PCE) is one of these requirements that programs put a lot of emphasis on, and you should too.


Last week, we discussed approaches for gaining direct patient contact experience (PCE) without the need for a certificate. However, some students end up spending more time trying to find PCE that doesn't require certification than it would take to get certified.


Some PCE certifications are relatively brief and may be worth it. In this post, we'll explore the three quickest certifications that qualify as PCE according to CASPA. As a bonus, these can also be completed while you are still in college and, unlike some other PCE certificate options, do not require a degree. 


1. Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)

What they do: EMTs respond to emergency calls, assess injuries, administer emergency medical care, and transport patients to medical facilities.

There are different levels of EMT from basic to advanced. Pre-PA students usually train to be a basic EMT (EMT-B or EMT-1).


Training requirements: The typical duration of a program is 16 weeks for part-time (2-3 days/week) and around 6 weeks for full-time.


Programs total around 120-150 hours of didactic training, plus an additional 24-75 hours of EMS training (patient transport) and training in an emergency department. Some hybrid programs offer online training for the didactic portion of the course and on-site training for skills instruction.


Average cost of training: $1200-1400

Quick Certifications for Pre-PA Patient Contact ExperiencelBe a Physician Assistant


Where to find training: EMT programs are commonly administered through private companies that also offer CPR, BLS, and ACLS courses. Some universities and community colleges offer programs, but check before you sign up as these are often 2-year degree programs for more advanced EMT training.


Certification process: National examination, state license


Pay: $32,670 per year; $15-16 per hour


2. Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

What they do: Nursing assistants, or nursing aides, help provide basic care for patients in hospitals and residents of long-term care facilities under the supervision of a nurse.


Training requirements: The typical duration of a program is 6 weeks for part-time (2 days/week), and most programs are part-time. Condensed programs are full-time and may take as little as 3 weeks.


Average cost of trainng: Free - $900 (cost higher for condensed programs)


Where to find training: CNA training is often offered for free through community centers and rehabilitation facilities. Community colleges and the Red Cross (depending on your state) also offer programs.


Certification requirements: State-specific examination


Pay: $26,590 per year; $12-13 per hour


3. Phlebotomist

What they do: Phlebotomists draw blood for tests, transfusions, research, or blood donations.


Training requirements: The average phleobotomy program is full-time for 4-6 weeks. Training involves a combination of didactic (70-100 hours) and clinical/hands-on (100-160) instruction. Programs also may include 8-10 hours of exam review instruction for the required national certification exam.


Average cost of training: $750-1400


Where to find training: Most community colleges offer phlebotomy programs.


Certification requirements: National certifying examination


Pay: $32,710 per year; $15-16 per hour

There are plenty more options for certified PCE roles, but they usually require more training or even specialized degrees.


The roles listed here are the PCE options with the shortest route to certification. As an aspiring PA student, be sure to explore both options - patient care positions that require a certificate and ones that don't.


While I understand the urge to resist jumping through yet another hoop to prepare for PA school, your options for work may increase by taking the more formal route. You may choose not to pursue a certificate, but try to consider all of your options before deciding that one is impossible.


It's up to you to step back and take an honest look at works best not only for you now but for your overall PA school application.


Next time, we'll walk through the most important steps to decide what patient care role is the best fit for you. (And step 1 in the decision-making process is not non-certified vs certified.) Stay tuned!


We've got plenty of members of the Be a PA Facebook community working in patient care roles and others looking for positions. Join us there to get or share ideas for PCE with other future-PA students!



Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016. US Department of Labor. (for average salary and hourly pay data)