Physician Assistant

People become physician assistants for various reasons, including a desire to help others, interest in healthcare, flexibility, job security, and the opportunity for a rewarding career with relatively quick entry into the field compared to becoming a physician.

Education & Training

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How Long Does it Take?

If you follow the degree path, it typically takes six to seven years for aspiring PAs to earn their credentials. They must first acquire a bachelor’s degree in a healthcare or science-related field.

Only then can they begin a two or three-year master’s level physician assistant program.

Certification & Licensing

After that they need to take a test known as the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam. Upon passing, prospects receive the PA-C credential (Physician Assistant-Certified).

To keep their license, workers must undergo 100 hours of physician assistant education every two years. PAs are also subject to a stringent renewal test each decade.

During their postgraduate study, aspiring PAs usually gain experience by going through 2,000 hours of clinical rotations. This gives them insight into a wide range of medical settings.

It exposes prospects to a plethora of unfamiliar physician assistant equipment. Clinical rotation classes can help workers discover the medical branch in which they would like to specialize.

Constant communication with a supervising physician is required for each PA to stay licensed. Since medical professionals are always busy and on the move, this correspondence often takes place online.


The median yearly pay rate for PAs is around $108k. This equals about $52 per hour. The potential for greater earnings is there for those with experience or demanded skills. In the future, jobs should be available everywhere, especially in rural or underserved areas.

Below is a table with average salary and wages for each state.

State Hourly wage Annual wage
Alabama $45.30 $94,220.00
Alaska $69.45 $144,460.00
Arizona $58.86 $122,420.00
Arkansas $32.82 $68,270.00
California $69.48 $144,520.00
Colorado $58.81 $122,330.00
Connecticut $68.89 $143,280.00
Delaware $59.69 $124,140.00
District of Columbia $60.69 $126,230.00
Florida $53.33 $110,930.00
Georgia $54.45 $113,260.00
Hawaii $51.42 $106,960.00
Idaho $57.80 $120,220.00
Illinois $60.01 $124,810.00
Indiana $59.06 $122,850.00
Iowa $59.37 $123,490.00
Kansas $55.04 $114,470.00
Kentucky $50.95 $105,980.00
Louisiana $57.50 $119,600.00
Maine $60.88 $126,630.00
Maryland $54.49 $113,340.00
Massachusetts $63.43 $131,920.00
Michigan $56.19 $116,870.00
Minnesota $60.42 $125,680.00
Mississippi $37.16 $77,290.00
Missouri $53.66 $111,610.00
Montana $58.80 $122,310.00
Nebraska $58.05 $120,740.00
Nevada $67.96 $141,360.00
New Hampshire $65.48 $136,200.00
New Jersey $63.01 $131,070.00
New Mexico $64.25 $133,630.00
New York $65.20 $135,620.00
North Carolina $57.61 $119,830.00
North Dakota $58.94 $122,590.00
Ohio $56.35 $117,200.00
Oklahoma $56.11 $116,710.00
Oregon $65.67 $136,600.00
Pennsylvania $52.95 $110,140.00
Rhode Island $61.86 $128,660.00
South Carolina $51.06 $106,200.00
South Dakota $57.22 $119,010.00
Tennessee $51.01 $106,110.00
Texas $63.93 $132,980.00
Utah $60.03 $124,860.00
Vermont $63.88 $132,860.00
Virginia $57.17 $118,920.00
Washington $69.90 $145,390.00
West Virginia $54.93 $114,260.00
Wisconsin $58.48 $121,630.00
Wyoming $63.14 $131,340.00


Occupation:Physician Assistants (SOC Code291071)

Career Overview

What Is a Physician Assistant?

Physician assistants, or PAs, provide support to doctors by examining and diagnosing patients. They work with psychiatrists, emergency medical personnel, and primary care physicians. These associates often focus on specialties like pediatrics or internal medicine.

Medical assistants are separate from PAs, as those workers do not practice medicine. They perform clerical tasks, taking care of time-consuming, routine daily duties. Jobs a medical assistant may perform include tracking arriving patients, as well as verifying insurance and billing information.

What Do They Do?

Under the careful watch of doctors and surgeons, PAs lend a hand during procedures. They also perform minor tasks like prep work. They are helpers to healthcare workers across all branches of medicine, and their physician assistant duties vary depending on services provided.

Some medical offices have only one primary care physician who works just a few days out of the week. PAs take over when doctors are not present, treating patients while gaining experience along the way. They digitally communicate with primary physicians to form diagnoses and treatment plans.

Those who have taken physician assistant classes may work in the following medical divisions:

  • General surgery
  • Family medicine
  • Pediatrics
  • Gynecology
  • Internal medicine
  • Psychiatry
  • Emergency medicine

Job Duties

PAs provide advice on healthcare methods tailored to an individual’s needs, whether it’s preventative care or actively working to heal a current ailment. They answer questions about illnesses, recovery times, and side effects from specific drugs. Workers always train to learn new treatment methods and operating procedures.

These professionals must be educated and accurate, as they make important choices regarding diagnoses and therapy options. They determine when to request tests like bloodwork or x-rays. Physician assistants interpret and convey results to patients, weighing in on necessary courses of action.

Workers tend to minor injuries like cuts, and provide immunizations. They apply casts to broken bones and decide when additional therapies are necessary. Whenever possible, PAs emphasize patient involvement, providing instructions on how to heal faster.

Those with a physician assistant certificate take care of the following duties:

  • Discuss health issues with patients
  • Determine the cause of illness or injury
  • Prescribe medicine with physician approval
  • Record and analyze research data
  • Properly use physician assistant tools like blood pressure meters and EKG machines
  • Keep track of patient progress, updating medical histories as needed

What Are Useful Physician Assistant Skills?

It’s useful for prospects to have EMT or registered nurses credentials on their physician assistant resume. Some PAs gain experience by donating time at clinics and hospitals.

They may even choose to work with homeless adults or those with special needs. Possessing an innate desire to help others is a useful mindset when going through physician assistant training.

Knowledge in the following subjects will help prospects fulfill their physician assistant requirements:

  • Medical ethics
  • Pharmacology
  • Anatomy
  • General surgery
  • Physiology
  • Dermatology
  • Pathology

Their skillset should include:

  • Information retention for remembering medical details
  • Emotional stability for keeping calm when things get stressful
  • Communication skills for explaining medical issues to patients and doctors
  • The ability to work daily under heavy pressure in a fast-paced environment
  • An aptitude for problem-solving when examining symptoms
  • Observant mindset for focusing on evaluations and treatments
  • Kindness and compassion towards others
  • Willingness to contact a physician if a case is beyond your knowledge

Why Do Physician Assistants Need to Be Friendly?

As they deal with sensitive subjects on a daily basis, the best physician assistants are calm and caring. Friendliness is another good trait for these workers. Warm personalities can comfort patients who must discuss difficult topics. To spread awareness about health choices and disease management, PAs are often active in community outreach programs, and should be approachable.

Why Do Physician Assistants Help with Clinical Research?

Doctors and scientists participating in clinical research rely on PAs while developing new medicines. This gives physician assistants the chance to gain experience that can lead to career advancement. Additionally, it is exciting for those moving up in the workforce to take part in the formation of new treatments.

Work Environment

It can be easy to overlook the physical demands of becoming a physician assistant. These associates often spend long hours on their feet keeping busy in fast-paced settings. This, combined with the sensitive nature of their work, may be difficult for some people.

In a typical day, PAs might move from room to room, checking on the conditions of patients across several floors. Additional duties and higher pay rates come with time. Prospects become more valuable as they gain experience with new techniques and procedures.

Work Hours

The majority of physician assistants have full-time schedules. About a fourth of them put in more than 40 hours a week. While not at work, they usually remain on call. That means they may have trouble making concrete social plans. They often work holiday, weekend, and night shifts.

Where Do They Work?

Many physician assistants work full-time in healthcare settings like nursing homes and hospitals. Some of them take a different path, making house calls for those who require on-site care. Other places where PAs can find employment include:

  • Physician offices
  • Emergency rooms
  • Ambulatory care centers
  • Surgery centers
  • Schools and universities
  • Retail and pharmacy clinics
  • Telehealth companies
  • Temp agencies and employment services
  • Health care centers

Other Employment Opportunities: What Is Telehealth?

Telehealth is long-distance or remote contact between patients and physicians, often involving internet video conferencing. This is an increasingly convenient way for patients to speak with physician assistants without visiting the office. During online discussions, PAs can evaluate a patient’s condition, determining basic diagnosis and treatment plans. Email, texting, and other forms of digital communication also see use in the telehealth industry.

Telehealth physicians should be experts in general triage work. This is the process of figuring out treatment options based on the severity of a patient’s symptoms. It involves research into a patient’s medical history and several context-specific questions to determine their most likely affliction. Associates in this medical branch often work in call centers or phone triage hubs.

Do Physician Assistants Have Any Other Options?

PAs who would like to learn a specialty can select from many postgraduate programs. To take one of these courses, they need a physician assistant degree along with a certification from the National Commission on Certification of PAs. Popular areas of study include psychiatry and emergency medicine, as well as the following:

  • Sports medicine
  • Dermatology
  • Addiction medicine
  • Urgent care work
  • Critical care medicine
  • Pathology
  • Surgical subspecialties
  • Pediatrics
  • Gynecology
  • Adolescent medicine

What Are Alternate Careers for Physician Assistants?

Seasoned physician assistants might move on to manage new recruits and other staff members. Sometimes they even acquire leadership roles with major healthcare companies. If looking to branch out, there is a variety of paths for PAs to take, including careers as registered nurses or occupational therapists.

Those searching for their niche should consider the field of medical writing. These associates develop materials about medicine and wellness. They need an extensive knowledge of healthcare-related concepts.

Medical writers must consider their target audience, which can include members of the government or media. They also write for surgical device companies and biotechnology firms. The average salary of a medical writer is usually somewhere around $80k per year.

Career Outlook

Due to an aging population and increasing incidences of disease, demand for physician assistants is higher than ever. Job growth is at 37%, which is a lot faster than the national average. Over 106,000 people in the United States are engaged in successful physician assistant careers.

As hospitals continue to move towards team-based healthcare models, physician assistants become more crucial. Many insurance companies are increasing their coverage of PA services, providing further job security.

Related Resources

Becoming a Physicians Assistant in California