Physician assistants practice medicine on teams with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers.
What they do
Physician assistants, also known as PAs, practice medicine on teams with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers. They examine, diagnose, and treat patients.
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.
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.
How to become a Physician Assistant
Physician assistants typically need a master’s degree from an accredited educational program. Earning that degree usually takes at least 2 years of full-time postgraduate study. All states require physician assistants to be licensed. Physician assistant graduate school applicants typically have experience caring directly for patients.
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.
The median annual wage for physician assistants was $112,260 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $72,720, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $157,120.
Employment of physician assistants is projected to grow 31 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations.
Demand for healthcare services will increase because of the growing and aging population. Growth of the population means more need for healthcare services generally, and members of the large baby boom generation will require more medical care as they age. An increase in the number of patients with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, will also increase healthcare demand and, in turn, drive the need for healthcare providers including physician assistants who often provide preventive care and treat the sick. Furthermore, increases in incomes may improve access to healthcare services, and advances in medical technology will continue to increase the number and types of treatments available.
Similar Job Titles
Certified Physician Assistant (PA-C), Clinical Physician Assistant, Family Practice Physician Assistant, Anesthesiologist Assistants, General Surgery Physician Assistant, Midlevel Provider, Orthopaedic Physician Assistant, Physician Assistant Certified (PAC), Physician Extender, Physician's Assistant, Surgical Physician Assistant
Health Specialties Teacher-Postsecondary, Nursing Instructor and Teacher-Postsecondary, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Nurse Midwife, Nurse Practitioner
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Academy of Anesthesiologist Assistants
- American Academy of PAs
- American Association of Nurse Practitioners
- American Association of Surgical Physician Assistants
- American Nurses Association
- American Society of Clinical Oncology
- Association of Neurosurgical Physician Assistants
- National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants
- Physician Assistant Education Association
Magazines and Publications
- Journals of the American Academy of PAs
- Physicians Weekly
- The New Physician Magazine
- Physician Family Magazine
Interested in a medical career with more advanced training than a registered nurse, but less than a doctor? Consider becoming a physician assistant, or PA. Under a physician's supervision, PAs examine and diagnose patients' injuries or illnesses, treat and educate patients, and prescribe medicine. A PA does many of the same tasks a doctor does, from setting broken bones, to ordering x rays and blood tests. Physician assistants work in all areas of medicine, including primary care and family medicine, emergency medicine, psychiatry, and surgery-where they assist physicians during procedures. Like other medical professionals, PAs spend significant time reviewing patient records and documenting patients' progress. Most physician assistants work in healthcare clinics and hospitals. Spending many hours each day on their feet to make rounds and examine patients, the work can be physically demanding. Most PAs work full time, and may work nights, holidays, and weekends. Some are required to work on-call shifts, ready to respond to patient needs at any time. They may make house calls or visit nursing homes to treat patients. A master's degree and license are required to enter the field. PAs bring healing and help to patients, while continuously learning from the skilled physicians in their midst, and from the patients who depend on their skills.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org