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How to Study for the PA-CAQ Emergency Medicine

Payal Shah, PA-C, EMPA

Learning how to study for the PA-CAQ Emergency Medicine starts with the specialty you practice. I graduated from a Florida PA school in 2017. Immediately afterward I moved to rural Illinois to start working in emergency medicine. The difference in weather was the least of my concerns with starting practice as a new PA. My primary focus was to learn the ins and outs of a small community hospital, manage the disease processes that I had read about but not managed solo during rotations, and do the procedures I had only observed in training. I was always scared of the decisions I made, and second guessed myself more times than I can count.

Physician Assistant PA-CAQ Emergency Medicine

Practice Emergency Medicine

Practicing at the level 2 trauma center was eye opening to say the least. From chainsaw injuries and tractor amputations to septic nursing home patients and the mentally ill, I saw patients of all ages and backgrounds. While PA school taught me a lot, the majority of my training was on the job.

In PA school, we spend over a year learning medicine in classroom work. Then, we spend another year applying that knowledge to the patients we see on rotations. I would remember the patients I saw in DKA on my ER rotation. Managing those patients as the main provider was what kept those patients on my mind. The acutely ill patients I managed made me fall more in love with emergency medicine than I already was.


After 2 years working in Illinois, I moved to a level 1 trauma emergency department in the inner city of Washington, DC. My attendings and other co-workers encouraged me to get some more hands on skills and apply for my PA-CAQ in emergency medicine. A CAQ is a certificate of added qualification. It is a great way to show your passion, dedication and expertise in different fields. CAQs can be obtained in cardiovascular and thoracic surgery, emergency medicine, hospital medicine, nephrology, orthopedic surgery, pediatrics, and psychiatry.

Know the Blueprint for the CAQ in Emergency Medicine

The PA-CAQ requirements for emergency medicine vary depending on the specialty you want to practice. They can be overlapped with your PA certification requirements, such as for your CME. Emergency medicine requires 3,000 hours of hands on emergency experience (equivalent to 1.5 years or 18 months) to apply. In addition, ER related CME credits, ACLS/BLS/PALS certifications, an airway course, and an attestation for your procedural skills are needed. Certification renews every 10 years. In general, it is a good idea to maintain your certification.

For further details regarding EM CAQ requirements, visit https://prodcmsstoragesa.blob.core.windows.net/uploads/files/CAQGoverningPolicies.pdf

To start studying for my PA-CAQ in emergency medicine, I basically did the same thing as my PANCE. I recommend going through the content blueprint first to understand the exam breakdown. This also helps to identify the content areas that you may need to focus on.

Using this blueprint, I was able to spend more time focusing on the bigger chunks of the CAQ
(cardiology, pulmonology and GI). Take time to see more patients with those chief complaints and learn more from consultant services! This is especially true for those areas out of your comfort zone. I went through EKGs and differentials on chest pain patients and discussed findings with the cardiology fellows, which allowed me to set a patient on that specific disease process. It helped quite a bit when I had a confusing question on the CAQ (the patient with heart failure– I remember that 15 minute conversation I had with the cardiology fellow and attending).

Take Tons of Practice Questions

While using this blueprint helped me with hands on learning to know what patients to pick up and learn from, my studying at home was different. My method of choice was practice questions. I tried a few different websites to know what formatting I liked best. It was important for me to have questions where there were explanations afterward explaining the pathology and physiology while also giving me a thought process on how to approach the question. I was able to flag questions to return to focus on later, especially with topics I have had trouble with since PA school. I also wanted a test bank available on the go, easily accessible on my phone through the web browser or an app to take practice questions while on the metro or the shuttle to work.

Do some practice questions and see which formatting you get along best
with. NCCPA has some excellent practice questions on their website to take and learn from; I took these first to know what I needed to focus on more as well. Another method you can also use is a review course. Those who learn more from lectures would benefit
from a short review course. Reviewing the topics in detail in short spurts, along with note taking can be effective. It can also be done at your own pace. It is also a great way to make sure you go over all the topics that may be covered on the CAQ based on the blueprint topics provided. The NCCPA blueprint can be found here.

Review Lectures and Playlists

A lot of great courses give their pearls and their own examples of patients they have seen to help you remember what you are reviewing. Mirroring on short lectures, podcasts are also a great way to review high yield material in short bursts. Listening to them on the way to work or a 20 minute drive anywhere else can be informative and easy to remember. There’s so many Emergency Medicine podcasts out there reviewing topics for certification
courses; it is also easy to listen to when on the road! I had to trial a few before I found one that I liked, but it was all I listened to on my walks and drives once I found it.

Be Confident!

Studying for the CAQ, while overwhelming, is a fantastic way to keep up with emergency medicine. It challenges you to keep up with the latest literature, and a way to show your employers your commitment to the field you choose to get your CAQ in (emergency medicine in my case). I know how daunting it is with the vast amount of different websites and educational materials out there to know exactly how to study for the CAQ exam. I certainly hope all this information was informative! If you are concerned about timing or just a nervous test taker, give yourself some extra time to study. Whichever way you choose to study, remember that you know more than you think you do. BE CONFIDENT. Trust your gut, and stay focused and calm. You’ll do great! Good luck!

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