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Physician Assistant Certificates of Added Qualifications (CAQ)

By Clay Walker - Aug 06, 2021

Physician Assistant

Certificates of Added Qualifications (CAQ)


Today we will be discussing the topic of certificates of added qualification for physician assistants.  We will discuss; what the CAQ is, why a CAQ might be something that you could pursue, and more detail about the examination and step necessary to attain the CAQ itself.


What is a certificate of added qualification?

The examination to achieve a certification of added qualification can be completed in seven different specialties.  These include cardiovascular and thoracic surgery, emergency medicine, nephrology, hospital medicine, psychiatry, orthopaedic surgery, and pediatrics.

By completing this examination successfully, this gives a physician assistant recognition for their specialty experience as well as skills and knowledge.  Since 2011, these CAQ examinations have been given by the NCCPA to those who succeed and perform optimally.


Why would a PA want to get a CAQ?

The CAQ examination is an accomplishment for the commitment of a physician assistant to their specialty.  Some providers might complete a CAQ for their satisfaction, others do it to augment their recognition.  Additional CAQ certification can aid in increasing compensation as well as increasing their reimbursement and responsibility.

There are several additional benefits to completing a CAQ.  These include:

  1. An increased likelihood in finding a job in your specific field
  2. Promotions
  3. Increasing job responsibilities
  4. Increasing compensation
  5. Gaining respect and recognition from colleagues.


About the CAQ exam

As mentioned above, there are seven different certificate of added qualification examinations, including EM, cardiovascular and thoracic surgery, nephrology, internal medicine/hospital medicine, pediatrics, orthopaedic surgery, and psychiatry.

Each of these exams are two-hour tests that are 120 questions.  This exam is divided into two sections, each being 60 questions and 60 minutes in duration with no break time between sessions.

To qualify for a certificate of added qualification examination a physician assistant must be currently licensed and possess a valid, unrestricted license to practice in at least one state.

Additionally, there are four other requirements that must be met to be eligible to take a certificate of added qualification examination.  These four requirements are:

  1. The PA must have 150 credits for Category 1 CME of their individual specialty within their certification cycle.
    • At least 75 of those credits must be earned in the two years prior to the date of CAQ examination
  2. The PA must have 1-2 years of experience in the field in which you are testing for
    • The hours of experience vary from 2,000 to 4,000 required hours
  3. The PA must have completed specialty procedures and have patient case experience that relates to the field that is being tested on the certificate of added qualification examination
  4. The PA must complete the certificate of added qualification exam


Additional Requirements

Some additional requirements that must be completed prior to examination are:

  1. Your supervising physician must confirm that:
    • You have completed procedures and patient management relevant to the field being tested upon
    • You understand how and when procedures in your tested specialties should be performed


Examination Cost/Deadlines

Lastly the cost of the examination is $350.00, and there are some important dates to remember regarding the certificate of added qualification examinations.  These dates are:

  • January 1, 2021
    • Examination application registration opens
  • April 2, 2021
    • Deadline to apply for an Spring Certificate of Added Qualification Examination
  • April 6510, 2021
    • First examination window for all Certificate of Added Qualification Examinations
  • October 1, 2021
    • Deadline to apply for a Fall Certificate of Added Qualification Examination
  • October 4-9, 2021
    • Second examination window for all Certification of Added Qualification Examinations

If a physician assistant is awarded a Certification of Added Qualification it will be valid for ten years.


Individual Requirements for Each CAQ Examination

Overall, the requirements for most Certificate of Added Qualification examination are common.  However, there are a few slight differences.  The biggest difference is the experience requirements to take the examination.


Cardiovascular/Thoracic Surgery, Nephrology, Orthopedics and Peds

For cardiovascular and thoracic surgery, nephrology, orthopaedic surgery, and pediatrics it is required for a physician assistant to have 4,000 hours of experience (two years).


Emergency Medicine and Internal Medicine

For emergency medicine and hospital medicine it is required for a physician assistant to have 3,000 hours of experience (18 months).



For psychiatry it is required for a physician assistant to have 2,000 hours of experience (1 year).


Additional Certificate of Added Qualification Examination Information

Below are links for each Certification of Added Qualification Examination, which include examination blueprints and sample questions.

Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery

Emergency Medicine

Hospital Medicine


Orthopaedic Surgery




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In conclusion, I hope this article gives you an insight into the possibilities for Certificate of Added Qualification Examinations for Physician Assistants.  Until next time!



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