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As the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, the perspective for physician assistant jobs looks very promising. However, this job is as hard as any other occupation in the healthcare field, and it carries great responsibility. Regardless, this is a very popular career choice because it’s altruistic and rewarding. 

A physician’s assistant has a continuously expanding role in the healthcare system. They work side by side with physicians to increase the healthcare system’s efficiency, and they are often the first-hand care provider for patients.

About Physician Assistant Jobs

As the Aapa.org reveals, this career originates from the 1960s when there was a shortage of primary care physicians and the need to expand the healthcare scope and enhance it. That is why four Navy Hospital Corpsmen went through thorough medical training while in the military service and got their PA certificates in 1967. 

The medical community supported the development of this new career and sped up its further progress. Furthermore, they have established certification processes for becoming a physician’s assistant and set the standards and examination methods that are still in use today. 

Physician assistants’ field of work greatly overlaps with the field of work of a physician. PAs are well-educated and trained healthcare professionals who go through years of education programs and thousands of hours of training to be able to help people with health problems. And even though this is a highly demanding career, it’s also very satisfying and therefore popular. 

What Does a Physician Assistant Do?

Physician assistants, or PAs, work closely with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers. They work in all areas of medicine—emergency medicine, primary and family care medicine, surgery, and psychiatry. PAs examine, diagnose, and treat patients under the supervision of physicians and surgeons.

PAs who work in surgery medicine provide their patients with care before, during, and after surgery and may even close incisions when the surgery is done. Furthermore, the physician assistant position in pediatrics may require PAs to examine children and give them vaccines. 

In rural and underserved medical areas where physicians are present only one or two days a week, PAs may even be the primary care providers. Naturally, in this case, physician assistants collaborate with physicians according to the state laws and as needed. Moreover, some physician assistants may even make house calls and visit nursing homes to provide care for their patients.

Physician Assistant Job Duties

The specific duties of physician assistants and the extent to which they need physicians’ supervision vary from state to state, but all PAs have the following duties:

  • Record or review patients’ medical history
  • Examine patients
  • Order various diagnostic tests like X-rays and blood tests and interpret them
  • Diagnose injuries and illnesses
  • Give treatment (set broken bones, immunize patients, etc.)
  • Give advice and educate patients and their families (for example, a physician assistant job description may include answering questions on how to care for a family member who suffers from asthma) 
  • Prescribe medication and treatment
  • Assess and record patients’ progress 
  • Ensure the quality of patient care by researching the latest treatment options
  • Conduct or participate in various outreach programs, talk to different groups about managing various diseases and illnesses, and actively promote overall wellness

Types of Physician Assistant Jobs

Physician assistants are very different from medical assistants, who don’t practice medicine, and whose job requires them to do routine clinical and clerical tasks. However, just like physicians, physician assistants also have the opportunity to specialize in a wide variety of areas of medicine, like dermatology, oncology, pathology, emergency medicine, critical care medicine, surgery, gynecology, pediatrics, family medicine, anesthesiology, preventative medicine, psychiatry, etc. 

For example, emergency medicine physician assistant jobs are very similar to the EMT job positions but require higher education. However, not all physician assistants have the same median annual wage. Some physician assistants have a field of expertise that is much more financially rewarding than others.

Work Environment

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 118,800 employed physician assistants in 2018. The BLS also reports that the largest employers were offices of physicians, which employed 55% of physician assistants in the US. 

Furthermore, 26% of PA jobs were in the state, local, and private hospitals. Outpatient care centers employed 8%, and state, local, and private educational systems employed 3%, while employment services accounted for 2% of physician assistants employers.

Injuries and Illnesses

While the AAPA Job Source reveals that there are no major dangers for injuries in this career, PA employment carries some other risks. Working with patients can be both mentally and physically draining for the person working in the physician assistant positions.

Just like physicians, physician assistants spend most of their working day on their feet, surrounded by different illnesses and diseases, evaluating and examining patients, and making the rounds. In addition to this, physician assistants who work in surgery very often stand for long hours. This can cause various back problems, as well as musculoskeletal pain.

Work Schedules

The majority of physician assistants work full time, even though there are some part-time physician assistant jobs out there. Some physician assistants work more than 40 hours a week, and they also may be required to work night shifts, holidays, and weekends. 

Besides working long, irregular, and overnight hours, this job position may also require the physician assistants to be on call. This means that they always have to be ready to respond to a work request on very short notice or help their patients over the phone.

How to Become a Physician Assistant

Usually, physician assistants need a master’s degree from an accredited educational program. These programs typically last two years, and, besides a full-time postgraduate study, physician assistants also need to be licensed. Additionally, applicants need experience in first-hand patient care for some of the related occupations.

Important Qualities

All physician assistants need to have some special qualities, but to be able to use the best physician assistant job opportunities, a PA needs to have the following qualities:

  • Communication skills. Communication is essential for all good physician assistants. PAs have to thoroughly and clearly explain complicated medical issues to their patients. They also need to communicate with other physicians and healthcare workers to ensure that their patients are getting the best possible care.
  • Compassion. This quality is crucial for being a successful PA. Treating patients with various medical issues or those in great pain and distress is very often a part of the physician assistant job description. This is why PAs need to have compassion and understanding for their patients and their families.
  • Detail orientation. PAs should be able to focus on the evaluation and treatment of patients, so good observational skills are also of great importance.
  • Emotional stability. This is a very important skill for all PAs since working under a lot of pressure is an everyday occurrence for physician assistants, especially those who work in surgery and emergency medicine.
  • Problem-solving skills. These skills are also quite significant for assistant jobs. PAs must be diligent when evaluating the patients’ symptoms and administering the treatment. They deal with complicated medical issues on a daily basis, and they need to be able to find the most appropriate treatment for each and every patient.

Education

Usually, applicants already have a bachelor’s degree and some work experience in direct patient care. Admission requirements for education programs that lead to various AAPA jobs vary from program to program, but typically, they last somewhere between two and four years. The main focus of this undergraduate coursework is on science. A great number of applicants gain experience as EMTs, paramedics, or registered nurses before applying to a physician assistant education program.

The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. (ARC-PA), accredited more than 200 education programs in 2017. The education for PA jobs includes both classroom and laboratory classes and focuses on courses like pathology, human anatomy, physiology, clinical medicine, pharmacology, physical diagnosis, and medical ethics. 

Additionally, education programs also include clinical training that is supervised by physicians in areas like family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine, and pediatrics. Very often, physicians looking to hire a PA in a specific medical area supervise the students who are on clinical rotations. These rotations may also lead to permanent employment as a psychiatric physician assistant or any other PA type of job.

Furthermore, to be eligible for these programs, the applicants need some experience in direct patient care. Prior to their PA graduate program application, most of the applicants gained their experience working as registered nurses, nursing assistants, paramedics, or EMTs. 

Similar positions usually fulfill these patient care experience requirements for admission to PA graduate programs. Applicants who want to obtain an education for a physician assistants’ job also gain their patient care experience by volunteering in hospitals and clinics or working with special-needs or at-risk groups, like orphaned children and homeless people. However, every program has its own specific requirements.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All of the US states and the District of Columbia require physician assistants to have a license. All applicants have to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) to obtain the license needed for the physician assistant jobs. All PAs who pass the exam are allowed to use the credential “Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C).”

Every two years, the PAs have to complete 100 hours of continuing education to keep their certification. Additionally, they need to take the certification exam every 10 years. Moreover, state licensure laws require all PAs to have an agreement with a supervising physician who is not required to be onsite at all times. Collaboration between PAs and physicians is required for practice.

Advancement

Physician assistants are able to advance in their AAPA careers by obtaining additional education in a specific specialty. Emergency medicine and psychiatry, for example, offer some postgraduate educational programs. If you want to enter these postgraduate programs, physician assistants must graduate from an accredited physician assistant program and be certified by the NCCPA.

By obtaining greater clinical knowledge and experience, physician assistants may be able to get some greater responsibilities and earn higher wages. Physician assistants with great experience may also supervise other healthcare staff and PA students. Some PAs may also become executive leaders of various healthcare organizations.

Pay

Physician assistant salary, according to the US BLS data from May 2018, is, on average, $108,610 per year. This is a median annual wage, which means that half of the workers in this career have earned more than this amount, and the other half has earned less. Physician assistants in the lowest 10% have earned $69,120, while the PAs in the highest 10% earned over $151,850.

The median annual wage for physician assistants in outpatient care centers was $115,560, while the average PA salary for physician assistants working in the state, local, and private hospitals was $111,540. Employment services offered a median annual wage of $109,890, and physician assistants working in the offices of physicians were earning $107,230 per year. 

Physician assistants providing state, local, and private educational services were paid the least, as the data from May 2018 reveals. Namely, their median annual wage was $102,870.

Job Outlook

Physician assistant job outlook predictions are excellent. It’s expected that the employment rate will grow by 31% between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than the average employment rate growth for other occupations.

The growing and aging populations are creating a high demand for healthcare services in general. As they age, the baby boomer generation requires more medical attention, and the growing population requires more healthcare services overall.

The number of patients with various chronic diseases is on a constant rise, which increases the need for PA employment and healthcare providers in general. Moreover, the overall increase in incomes may lead to more access to healthcare services, while the advancement of medical technology will provide a greater number and a wider variety of available treatments. 

Furthermore, it’s expected that the role of physician assistants will continue to grow since they can provide the same care as physicians but can be trained faster. 

Job Prospects

Good prospects and overall physician assistant job satisfaction are predicted for PAs of all specialties, as well as those in primary care, but especially for physician assistants who are working in rural and medically underserved areas.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a physician assistant?

Physician assistants are medical professionals who provide many similar services to physicians. They examine patients, diagnose illnesses, prescribe medicine, and develop treatment plans. Very often, PAs are the patient’s primary healthcare provider.

How many physician assistant jobs are out there?

In May 2018, there were 118,800 employed physician assistants. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that, by 2028, there will be 37,000 more jobs for physician assistants, which means that there will be 155,700 employed PAs—a growth of more than 30%.

Which jobs are preferred by PA schools?

The career spectrum for physician assistants is really wide. PAs who have obtained their degree from an accredited physician assistant education program can work in various healthcare areas like primary care, general internal medicine, pediatrics, family medicine, and many others.

What are good jobs to get healthcare experience for PA school?

Most commonly, physician assistant graduate program applicants have working experience as nursing assistants, registered nurses, EMTs, or paramedics. However, any healthcare job where the PA graduate programs applicants have obtained experience in direct patient care is taken into account. Volunteer work, working with people who have special needs and groups that are at risk, can also help PA graduate program applicants.

What occupations are similar to physician assistants?

People who are interested in physician assistant jobs may also take an interest in similar occupations. EMTs and paramedics, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners are just some of the occupations. Occupational therapists, physical therapists, physicians, registered nurses, speech-language pathologists, and surgeons are also very similar to the position of a physician assistant.