Certification Process Overview

Initial Certification

If you graduate from a physician assistant program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) or its predecessors, you can take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) for certification. The multiple-choice exam assesses basic medical and surgical knowledge. You will need to submit an application and payment in advance and can choose from over 200 testing sites.

After passing PANCE, physician assistants are issued NCCPA certification and can use the PA-C designation until the certification expiration date (approximately two years).

Read NCCPA's Code of Conduct for Certified and Certifying PAs, which explains the ethics and professionalism expected of all PAs seeking or holding NCCPA certification.

Certification Maintenance

The six-year certification maintenance cycle (PAs began transitioning to a new ten-year certification maintenance cycle in 2014) is divided into three two-year periods (five two-year periods for those now on the ten-year cycle). During every two-year period, PA-C designees must earn and log a minimum of 100 credits of CME and submit a certification maintenance fee to NCCPA by 11:59 p.m. PT, December 31 of their certification expiration year.

You can begin earning and logging CME credits on May 1 of your certification cycle year and must finish earning and logging them by 11:59 p.m. PT, December 31 of the year your certification expires. The only exception to this policy is for first-time loggers.

By the end of the sixth year (or tenth year) of the certification maintenance cycle, PA-C designees must have also passed a recertification exam. Offered at testing centers throughout the U.S., the multiple choice Physician Assistant National Recertifying Exam (PANRE) is designed to assess general medical and surgical knowledge.

PAs who fail to maintain their certification must take and pass PANCE or PANRE to regain it. (Other eligibility requirements will apply.)

Following the completion of the six year (ten year) requirements, the certification maintenance process begins again.

Note: To read about the new certification maintenance requirements that began in 2014, click here.