Psychiatry Physician Assistants

Do you have an interest in working in the area of psychiatry as a physician assistant (PA)? A new Certificate of Added Qualifications (CAQ) in the area of psychiatry may help you stand out as a PA in this area of medicine, as well as put you on a path to get the experience and education that you need to be knowledgeable and skilled in this specialty. Want to know more? This resource will help you understand the value of a CAQ and how to earn one in psychiatry.

What is a Certificate of Added Qualifications?

A CAQ from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) is a credential for physician assistants that signifies knowledge in a specialized area of the medical field. While not required in order to specialize one’s practice, the CAQ shows that the PA holding it has gone above and beyond to gain knowledge and experience relating to their chosen specialty. Typically, PAs learn to practice as generalists while earning their degree, so any CAQ, including the psychiatry CAQ, builds on a generalist foundation.

How to Earn a Psychiatry Certificate of Added Qualifications as a Physician Assistant (PA)

Looking to become a CAQ in psychiatry? Here is what you need to do:

Step 1: Become a Certified Physician Assistant 

You cannot start earning a CAQ until you are practicing in the field. A practicing PA can start earning a CAQ once he or she is licensed in one or more jurisdictions. In order to earn the CAQ, all licenses held must be valid and unrestricted. Take a look at our guide on how to become a licensed PA if you are not yet a physician assistant.

Step 2: Earn Continuing Medical Education (CME) Credits in Psychiatry

You will need to complete 75 Category I CME credits related to psychiatry within six years of starting your CAQ application. Twenty-five of these credits need to be earned within two years of applying to take the CAQ exam. Your best judgment will be used to determine which CMEs are relevant to the specialty.

According to the NCCPA Psychiatry CAQ requirements, any credits you earn towards your CAQ can also be used to renew your PA license. Make sure to keep track of all of your earned CMEs so that you can prove that you completed them.

Step 3: Earn Enough Experience Working in Psychiatry as a PA

While you earn your CMEs, you can start gaining the 2,000 hours of specialized experience that you need, according to the NCCPA Psychiatry CAQ requirements. This equates to about one year of full time practice, but can be earned over a period of as long as six years before attesting to the NCCPA. Keep track of your experience so that you can prove you completed the required number of hours!

A qualifying professional (explained later) will need to attest that you have the skills and understanding needed to practice the psychiatry specialty as a PA. This professional will need to know that you meet every NCCPA Psychiatry CAQ requirements. For psychiatry, PAs must at least have a basic understanding of all of the following and have experience with a broad range of patient cases:

  • Psychiatric interview, diagnosis, treatment
  • Pharmacology related to psychiatry
  • Implementation of treatment and intervention
  • Risk management and crisis intervention
  • Legal and ethical issues
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Childhood disorders that persist past childhood
  • Cognitive disorders, delirium, and dementia
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Factitious disorders and somatoform
  • Gender and sexual identity disorders
  • Impulse control disorders
  • Life cycle/adjustment disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Psychotic disorders
  • Sleep disorders
  • Substance disorders

Check with the NCCPA to make sure you are best prepared to get all the relevant experience you need.

Step 4: Take the Specialty Exam in Psychiatry

A 120 question in psychiatry is also required in order to earn the CAQ. This exam, which is multiple choice, can be taken in spring or fall and is given at Pearson VUE test centers. You will need to complete your experience, education, and CME requirements before taking the CAQ, as well as pay a $250 fee.

Step 5: Submit Attestation that You Meet the Procedures and Patient Case Requirement for Earning a Psychiatry CAQ

A physician, senior physician assistant, or program director for a PA or MD program must attest that you have the knowledge and skills needed to specialize in psychiatry, as outlined in step 3. You have 90 days to submit this attestation after receiving your score on the CAQ exam.

Step 6: Start the Psychiatry CAQ Application Process

You can start applying for the CAQ as soon as you have completed at least one of the requirements. You may decide to wait until everything is complete even though it is not necessary to do so. Once you start the application you have six years to complete it. You must pay an application fee of $100.

Why Earn a CAQ in Psychiatry?

PAs with CAQ qualifications report a variety of benefits, according to a survey by the NCCPA:

  • 60% of CAQ holders report increased practice scope
  • 33% of CAQ holders report earning a cash bonus
  • Most CAQ holders expect or have seen a salary increase 
  • 75% of CAQ holders have found or expect to find a new job
  • 40% of CAQ holders have earned promotions.
  • 75% of CAQ holders perceive that they are more respected by other health professionals
  • 66% of CAQ holders perceive that they are more respected by patients.

Last updated February 2022.