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Salary Range: $80,000 or more
Average Hourly: $55.48
Education: Master's degree
Number of Jobs: 129,400
Jobs Added to 2029: 40,100
Growth: Much faster than average
Go here to see salary and job data specific to the United Kingdom.
What Physician Assistants Do
Physician assistants typically do the following:
- Take or review patients’ medical histories
- Examine patients
- Order and interpret diagnostic tests, such as x rays or blood tests
- Diagnose a patient’s injury or illness
- Give treatment, such as setting broken bones and immunizing patients
- Educate and counsel patients and their families—for example, answering questions about how to care for a child with asthma
- Prescribe medicine
- Assess and record a patient’s progress
- Research the latest treatments to ensure the quality of patient care
- Conduct or participate in outreach programs, talking to groups about managing diseases and promoting wellness
Physician assistants work on teams with physicians or surgeons and other healthcare workers. Their specific duties and the extent to which they must be supervised by physicians or surgeons differ from state to state.
Physician assistants work in all areas of medicine, including primary care and family medicine, emergency medicine, surgery, and psychiatry. The work of physician assistants depends in large part on their specialty or the type of medical practice where they work. For example, a physician assistant working in surgery may close incisions and provide care before, during, and after the operation. A physician assistant working in pediatrics may examine a child and give routine vaccinations.
In some areas, especially rural and medically underserved communities, physician assistants may be the primary care providers at clinics where a physician is present only 1 or 2 days per week. In these locations, physician assistants collaborate with the physician as needed and as required by law.
Some physician assistants make house calls or visit nursing homes to treat patients.
Physician assistants are different from medical assistants. Medical assistants do routine clinical and clerical tasks and do not practice medicine.
|Offices of physicians||53%|
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||26|
|Outpatient care centers||8|
|Educational services; state, local, and private||5|
Working with patients can be both physically and emotionally demanding. Physician assistants spend much of their time on their feet, making rounds and evaluating patients. Physician assistants who work in operating rooms often stand for extended periods.
Most physician assistants work full time. Some work more than 40 hours per week. Physician assistants may work nights, weekends, or holidays. They may also be on call, meaning that they must be ready to respond to a work request with little notice.
Employment of physician assistants is projected to grow 31 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.
About 12,200 openings for physician assistants are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
How to Become a Physician Assistant
Most applicants to physician assistant education programs already have a bachelor’s degree and some patient care work experience. Although admissions requirements vary from program to program, most programs require 2 to 4 years of undergraduate coursework with a focus in science. Many applicants already have experience as registered nurses or as EMTs or paramedics before they apply to a physician assistant program.
Physician assistant education programs usually take at least 2 years of full-time study. More than 200 education programs were accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. (ARC-PA) in 2017. Almost all of these accredited programs offer a master’s degree.
Physician assistant education includes classroom and laboratory instruction in subjects such as pathology, human anatomy, physiology, clinical medicine, pharmacology, physical diagnosis, and medical ethics. The programs also include supervised clinical training in several areas, including family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine, and pediatrics.
Sometimes students serve in one or more clinical rotations in these areas under the supervision of a physician who is looking to hire a physician assistant. In this way, clinical rotations may lead to permanent employment.
Work Experience in a Related Occupation
Applicants to physician assistant graduate programs typically need patient care experience for admission or to be competitive in entering the programs. Work as an EMT or paramedic, registered nurse, nursing assistant, or similar care position typically fulfills patient care experience requirements for admission to academic programs. Some applicants gain healthcare experience through volunteer opportunities at hospitals or clinics, or working with special-needs or at-risk groups, such as orphaned youth or homeless populations. For specific requirements, contact the program in which you are interested.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
All states and the District of Columbia require physician assistants to be licensed. To become licensed, candidates must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). A physician assistant who passes the exam may use the credential “Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C).”
To keep their certification, physician assistants must complete 100 hours of continuing education every 2 years. The recertification exam is required every 10 years.
In addition, state licensure laws require physician assistants to hold an agreement with a supervising physician. Although the physician does not need to be onsite at all times, collaboration between physicians and physician assistants is required for practice.
Communication skills. Physician assistants must explain complex medical issues in a way that patients can understand. They must also effectively communicate with doctors and other healthcare workers to ensure that they provide the best possible patient care.
Compassion. Physician assistants deal with patients who are sick or injured and may be in extreme pain or distress. They must treat patients and their families with compassion and understanding.
Detail oriented. Physician assistants should be observant and have a strong ability to focus when evaluating and treating patients.
Emotional stability. Physician assistants, particularly those working in surgery or emergency medicine, should work well under pressure. They must remain calm in stressful situations in order to provide quality care.
Problem-solving skills. Physician assistants need to evaluate patients’ symptoms and administer the appropriate treatments. They must be diligent when investigating complicated medical issues so they can determine the best course of treatment for each patient.
Some physician assistants pursue additional education in a specialty. Postgraduate educational programs are available in areas such as emergency medicine and psychiatry. To enter one of these programs, a physician assistant must be a graduate of an accredited program and be certified by the NCCPA.
As they gain greater clinical knowledge and experience, physician assistants can earn new responsibilities and higher wages. For example, experienced physician assistants may supervise other staff and physician assistant students, or they may become an executive leader of a healthcare organization.