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Physician Assistant Career Guide

Do you like the idea of being a doctor, but hate the idea of studying for over eight years?

Well, why not become a physician assistant?

A physician assistant (PA) is an integral member of the healthcare team. Their job is to practice medicine under the direction and supervision of experienced and licensed physicians. Physician assistant can work in all areas of medicine (e.g., family medicine, primary care medicine, emergency rooms, surgery or psychiatry). To become a physician assistant, you will need a bachelor’s degree and some patient care work experience. You will then complete a 2-year physician assistant education program, which includes a masters degree.

As a physician assistant, I get to do most of what the doctors do but did not have to complete a residency. I took out half the student loans, I don't pull call, and I can be a dad to my two kids and a husband to my wife.

Stephen Pasquini PA-C

Physician Assistant Career Ratings

Income

Career
Growth

Personal Growth

Contribution

Influence

Job Profiles

Real-Life Physician Assistant Job Profiles

Below is a list of links to anonymous job profiles of REAL PEOPLE who have filled out our survey and offered to share their insights with our users about their job in the Physician Assistant field.
ID Job Title Gender Age Earnings City & State Date
33488 Physician Assistant Male 33 $85,000 Muskego, WI 01/01/2010
33272 Physician Assistant Female 26 $74,000 santa clarita, CA 01/01/2010
32976 Physician Assistant Female 30 $80,000 CLEVELAND, GA 01/01/2010
32828 Physician Assistant Male 33 $130,000 fishers, IN 01/01/2010

Overview

What a physician assistant does

A physician assistant (PA) is an integral member of the healthcare team. Their job is to practice medicine under the direction and supervision of experienced and licensed physicians. Physician assistant can work in all areas of medicine (e.g., family medicine, primary care medicine, emergency rooms, surgery or psychiatry) but the extent to which they must be supervised by physicians will vary from state to state. In some areas, especially in medically underserved communities, physician assistants may be the primary care provider at clinics where a physician is present only 1 or 2 days a week. Their typical responsibilities and duties include:

  • Reviewing a patients medical information
  • Examining patients and diagnosing illnesses and injuries
  • Providing treatment (such a setting broking bones and immunizing patients) and prescribing medicine
  • Assessing and recording the patients process
  • Educating and counselling patients and their families about a range of medical conditions
  • Researching the latest treatments to ensure the quality of patient care

Why they are needed

Medical care has become easily accessible. Gone are the days where one must wait long hours to see their healthcare provider. Whether the doctor is in or not, patients may now be provided the medical attention that they need. But this was not the case a few decades ago. The rising demand for medical care has created a shortage of physicians which created the need for other healthcare professionals that may perform some of their routine work to ease their load. These healthcare professionals are physician assistants, who we need them for efficient and quick medical care.

The pros and cons of a career as a physician assistant

Pros:

  • Being a physician assistant means that you get to practice medicine but with lesser years of schooling than physicians
  • Due the rising need for medical professionals, there is high job security of physician assistants
  • There are lots of opportunities and variety as physician assistants can specialize
  • It is a rewarding career, as you get to help patients in their time of need

Cons:

  • Physician assistants may work long hours, on irregular shift schedules, and sometimes work on call
  • You cannot work without the supervision of a physician which can be frustrating
  • It can be emotionally exhausting, as not all patients have a happy outcome
  • Limited opportunities to advance and progress
  • It can be a very busy, stressful and high-pressured career

Employability

Job market

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of physician assistants is projected to grow 31 percent from 2019 to 2029. This is much faster than the average for all occupations. This huge employment growth is expected because the growing and aging population will create a demand for more healthcare services. Unfortunately, the number of people with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, will also increase the demand for physical assistants, who provide preventive care and treat the sick.

Physician assistants can be trained far quicker than physicians, yet the can provide many of the same services. Therefore, physician assistants are likely to have a growing role in providing the aging and growing population with healthcare services because they can be trained more quickly.

Career paths

The career path to becoming a physician assistant begins with a bachelor’s degree and some patient care work experience (e.g., as a nurse or paramedic or through volunteering to aid special needs groups).

Physician assistants will then apply to physician assistant education programs. Admission requirements vary from program to program, but most programs require 2 to 4 years of undergraduate coursework with a focus in science. These physician assistant education programs usually take at least 2 years of full-time study and include a master’s degree. During the programs, aspiring physician assistants will learn in the classroom (about pathology, human anatomy, physiology, clinical medicine, pharmacology, physical diagnosis, and medical ethics) and they will have supervised clinical training in several areas, including family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine, and pediatrics.

Example Job Titles for Physician Assistant

Below is a list of common job titles in the Physician Assistant field. Click the links below for more information about these job titles, or view the next section for actual real-life job profiles.

Benefits & Conditions

Income and benefits

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for all physician assistants was $112,260 in 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $72,720, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $157,120.

The top paying industry for physician assistants was outpatient care centers, which had a median annual salary of $1119,090. This was followed by hospitals ($115,190), employment services ($114,220), office of physicians (110,670) and educational services ($109,080).

Autonomy and flexibility

The autonomy and flexibility of a physician assistant depends on where they work. Physician assistants who work in remote locations, where a physician is only in attendance a few days a week, will have more autonomy and flexibility than a physician assistant in a busy hospital where a doctor is always supervising them. Generally speaking, physician assistants will have control over their decisions. But, this is limited by the need to consult more senior physicians. Flexibility is perhaps lower, as physician assistants will normally always work in busy settings and will have little control over the hours they work.

Locations and commute

Physician assistants are needed to support the work of physicians wherever there are communities of people. Based on this, physicians shouldn’t struggle too much to find work in most locations. According to Zippia, the best states to be a physician assistant, based on average annual salary and number of job opportunities available, are:

  1. Pennsylvania, where the average annual salary is $146,118
  2. Rhode Island where the average annual salary is $150,577
  3. Connecticut, where the average annual salary is $149,196
  4. New York where the average annual salary is $149,808
  5. Maine, where the average annual salary is $143,926

The worst states, according to Zippia, are North Dakota, Missouri, Utah, Colorado and Hawaii.

Work environment

The largest employer of physician assistants in the United States was offices of physicians, which employed 54% of all physician assistants. Hospitals employed 26%, outpatient care centers employed 8%, educational services employed 4% and employment services employed 1%.

Working as a physician assistant is physically and emotionally demanding as physician assistants spend much of their time on their feet, making rounds, evaluating patients and may have to stand in operating rooms for an extended period of time.

Career Satisfaction

Common Matching Personality Types

Which personalities tend to succeed and thrive in Physician Assistant careers? Based on our research, there is a relatively strong positive correlation between the following personality types and Physician Assistant career satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t many exceptions, of course, but if you fit into one of the following personality types then we suggest you give strong consideration to a career in Physician Assistant.

16 Types (Myers-Briggs)

  • None

Big Five (OCEAN)

  • None

DiSC

  • None

Enneagram

  • None

Holland Codes (RIASEC)

  • None

Personality types

There is little empirical exploration as to the personality types of successful physician assistant. However, it is likely that a physician assistant will be an ISTJ personality type. ISTJ’s, or otherwise known as the ‘inspector’, are responsible, which is essential as physician assistants have to ensure that all patients are cared for correctly. They typically have a strong focus on detail and doing things correctly, which allows physician assistant to accurately spot and diagnose medical conditions with the utmost accuracy. Finally, ISTJs like to follow regulations and stick to schedules, this makes them reliable, predictable and dutiful: essential qualities of a physician assistant who is being supervised by a physician!

Accomplishment and mastery

Accomplishment and mastery is likely to be high for physician assistants as they gather the education, knowledge and skills required to treat patients far quicker than physicians. Throughout their career, physician assistants are likely to continue to feel accomplished as they help those in need. However, this may be limited in some senses, as physician assistants require the supervision of physicians.

Meaning and contribution

It goes without saying that the work of a physician assistant has high meaning and contribution. Not only does their work saves the lives of many people, it also allows people to receive the healthcare they need quickly. To further increase the sense of meaning and contribution, physician assistants may decide to work in deprived or rural areas. This way, they are using their skills to help those truly in need. Another positive of this is that they may receive more autonomy and flexibility as often, the supervising physician is only present one or two days a week.

Life fit

Most physician assistants will work full time. Some work more than 40 hours per week. Physician assistants may also 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.

Who will thrive?

There are many qualities that a physician assistant will need to thrive, for example:

  • They must have a genuine passion and excitement for helping and caring for others
  • They must be able to treat patients without any judgement
  • They must have a  good memory, as they will need to remember numerous things about the human anatomy and they will have to remember their patients
  • They will need excellent attention to details and listening skills. In order to thrive, physician assistants will need to gather as much information as possible to make a timely and accurate diagnosis or recommendation
  • Communication skills and compassion are also important to thrive as a physician assistant
  • Due to the likelihood that medical emergencies will occur, individuals who remain calm, composed and work well under pressure are likely to thrive in a medical environment

Who will struggle?

You are likely to struggle as a physician assistant if you aren’t physically fit. This is because physician assistants may need to lift disabled patients and potentially spend periods of time bent down/over. You will also struggle as a physician if you cannot commit to the long hours that physician assistants may have to work. Those who cannot remain calm in unforeseen circumstances will struggle with the emergency situations that arise in a medical practice.

Finally, if you don’t like the idea of always being supervised by someone else then you may struggle as a physician assistant. If this is the case, and you’re willing to put in the educational commitment, then we suggest training to be a physician!

Requirements

Skills and talents

  • Communication skills, as physician assistants will need to communicate with their supervising physician and their patients
  • Empathy, as physician assistants must be able to related to and understand the worries and concerns of the patient
  • Emotional stability, as physician assistants must be able to remain calm in stressful situations
  • Teamwork skills, as physician assistants need to work closely with physicians and with other healthcare professionals
  • Detail-orientation, as it is crucial that the patient receive the appropriate treatment and medication. To do so,  physicians must be able to accurately monitor and record various piece of information
  • Dexterity, as physician assistants may have to use sharp tools or look at areas that are painful and therefore must be able to carefully use their hands
  • Problem-solving skills, as physician assistants must evaluate a patients’ symptoms, establish what is wrong and then choose the appropriate treatment plan for them
  • Compassion, as patients may come to physicians in extreme pain or distress and physician assistants must be understanding and compassionate

Education

Physician assistants will firstly need to complete a bachelor’s degree and then gather some patient care work experience (e.g., as a nurse or paramedic or through volunteering to aid special needs groups).

Physician assistants will then apply to physician assistant education programs. Admission requirements vary from program to program, but most programs require 2 to 4 years of undergraduate coursework with a focus in science. These physician assistant education programs usually take at least 2 years of full-time study and include a master’s degree. During the programs, aspiring physician assistants will learn in the classroom and they will have supervised clinical training in several areas.

Certificates

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.

How to Become

A physician assistant (PA) is an integral member of the healthcare team. Their job is to practice medicine under the direction and supervision of experienced and licensed physicians. Physician assistant can work in all areas of medicine (e.g., family medicine, primary care medicine, emergency rooms, surgery or psychiatry).

The employment of PA is expected to rise dramatically over the coming years, meaning it is a career that has excellent employment and progression opportunities.

Immediate action

The main thing that aspiring PA’s can do is to obtain relevant work experience. This could be as a paramedic, volunteer or nurse. Similarly, in order to have the best chances of getting onto physician assistant education programs, it is advisable to have as many extra curricular activities as possible.

Education and learning

Physician assistants will a complete a bachelor’s degree and some patient care work experience. Physician assistants will then attend physician assistant education programs. These physician assistant education programs usually take at least 2 years of full-time study and include a master’s degree. During the programs, aspiring physician assistants will learn in the classroom and they will have supervised clinical training in several areas.

FAQs

Ask a Question

Have a question about Physician Assistant careers? If so, our mentors would love to help! Just click on a mentor’s profile below and then fill out the “Ask a Question” form on that page. Your question will then be emailed to the mentor, who can then email you a reply.

ID Job Title Gender Age Earnings City & State Date
33488 Physician Assistant Male 33 $85,000 Muskego, WI 01/01/2010
33272 Physician Assistant Female 26 $74,000 santa clarita, CA 01/01/2010
32976 Physician Assistant Female 30 $80,000 CLEVELAND, GA 01/01/2010
32828 Physician Assistant Male 33 $130,000 fishers, IN 01/01/2010

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