Spotlights

Job Description

Physician Assistants provide healthcare services typically performed by a physician, under the supervision of a physician. They conduct complete physicals, provide treatment, and counsel patients. 

Rewarding Aspects of Career
  • Helping people get better and be healthy
  • Good pay 
  • In high demand 
  • Good work / life balance 
$108,610
2018 Employment
118,800
2028 Projected Employment
155,700
The Inside Scoop
Job Responsibilities
  • 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.

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.

Click here to read a Day in the Life of a Neurohospitalist PA

Different specialties

Like physicians, physician assistants can specialize in medical specialties: 

  • Pathology
  • Dermatology
  • Emergency Medicine 
  • Critical Care Medicine
  • Surgical Subspecialties 
  • General Surgery 
  • Adolescent Medicine
  • Gynecology
  • Pediatrics
  • Obstectrics 
  • Anethesiology
  • Family Medicine 
  • Hospice / Palliative 
  • Preventative
  • Psychiatry
  • Urology
  • Pain Management
  • Internal Medicine
  • Occupational Medicine
  • Physical Medicine
  • Radiology
Skills Needed
  • Patient and care team communications: Communicate clearly and compassionately with patients and their colleagues within often stressful settings. 
  • Analytical skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Technical skills
  • Detail-oriented
  • Strong math and science background
  • Life-long learner 
  • Strong work ethic
Different places of employment
  • Offices of physicians
  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient care centers
  • Educational services; state, local, and private
Expectations and Sacrifices

Work on your feet for extended periods of the day

What kind of things did people in this career enjoy doing when they were younger…
  • Loved to help people
  • Liked talking with people from a wide range of backgrounds
  • Was interested in health and wellness topics 
  • Liked math and science classes

"I think what drives anyone in medicine is an interest in science and helping people.  In emergency medicine you are seeing people on one of the worst days of their lives and the ability to think quickly and act compassionately is key.  People in medicine tend to be curious people who like to ask questions and dig deeper into a problem, as medicine is all about fixing what we can." Cyndy Flores, Senior Director Advanced Providers, Vituity

Education Needed
  • Physician Assistants (PAs) need a master’s in PA Studies, accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc.
  • Undergraduate degrees vary but must provide sufficient preparation for a rigorous PA program. Common undergrad majors include anatomy, biology, health sciences, chemistry, microbiology, and physiology. Many grad school applicants have to take prerequisites to qualify if they didn’t take the right prep classes 
  • Common prereqs are anatomy, general chemistry, physiology, microbiology, statistics, and general psychology
  • In addition, PA grad school applicants need real-world patient care experience. That’s why it is not uncommon for PA students to have work backgrounds as Registered Nurses, EMTs, or Paramedics
    • Note, some applicants earn patient care experience through volunteerism
  • Master’s programs involve in-class and lab instruction in pathology, human anatomy, physiology, clinical medicine, pharmacology, physical diagnosis, and medical ethics
  • Other training includes supervised clinical rotations in settings such as family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine, and pediatrics
  • All states require PAs to pass the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants’ Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE). Those who pass are “Physician Assistant - Certified” and can apply for licensure
    • The PANCE is tough but has a high pass rate for first-time test takers, ranging from 98% in 2018 to 93% in 2021)
  • Certified PAs must maintain currency through continuing education plus retaking their exam every decade
  • Licensure criteria also dictate that PAs need an agreement with a supervising physician
  • There are several additional certifications that PAs can earn, such as:
How to get patient care experience
  • Work as an EMT or paramedic, registered nurse, nursing assistant, or similar care position
  • Volunteer opportunities at hospitals or clinics, or working with special-needs or at-risk groups, such as orphaned youth or homeless populations.
What to do in HS and college

"Obviously, take science courses and study.  Volunteer!  Volunteer at hospitals, nursing homes, health fairs, homeless shelters or maybe medical missions.  Most of these do not require any medical knowledge, but they are places that need help and there is a place for everyone.  Another great idea is to join “pre-PA” groups to continue to learn about the profession and if you find the opportunity shadow a PA (or more) while they are working to get a better understanding of what the role is all about." Cyndy Flores, Senior Director Advanced Providers, Vituity

 

  • PA hopefuls need real-world patient care experience to get accepted into a graduate program. Many gain experience by working as an EMT, paramedic, registered nurse, or nursing assistant
  • Sufficient relevant volunteerism may be enough to qualify to admission into a PA graduate program, but check with the programs you’re interested in
    • Relevant volunteer experiences might include working at hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, or governmental-sponsored sites (such as homeless shelters)
  • Take college prep classes in high school, including anatomy, physiology, biology, math, English, and communications. Study hard to earn good grades so you can get accepted into a suitable college program
  • Shadow or interview a working PA
  • Consider which major you want to pursue a bachelor’s in. Make sure it covers the necessary prerequisites for entry into a master’s program later
  • Join relevant student clubs and participate in professional organizations like the American Academy of PAs (see our list of Resources > Websites)
  • Read or watch interviews with PAs and learn about their various daily duties
  • Think about where you want to work. PAs are employed in doctor’s offices, hospitals, outpatient care centers, for governmental agencies, and for educational services
  • Consider writing articles for publication on healthcare websites and in print journals! Writing credits always look great on a resume or CV! 
  • Learn about the specific licensure requirements for the state you plan to work in
  • Stay out of trouble so you can pass the background check (if applicable)!
  • Develop a personal workout schedule so you can stay in shape and help patients, when needed
Typical Roadmap
Physician Assistant Roadmap
Landing the Job

"The great thing about PA work….is there are more jobs than PAs out there!  It is one of the fastest-growing healthcare jobs in the US, so finding a job isn’t usually difficult.  Don’t worry if it isn’t your dream job, that will come.  I tell people though, get a job that feels right, you are looking for your work family and unlike your regular family you can choose your work family." Cyndy Flores, Senior Director Advanced Providers, Vituity

 

  • Build strong connections while doing clinical practice. Many times clinical rotations lead to permanent employment.
  • Look for jobs on Indeed, Simply Hired, Glassdoor, or other popular job portals
  • Create a professional LinkedIn account and list all of your experiences
  • Keep your social media professional, too. Potential employers may do a little online research about candidates
  • Knock out a specialization certificate to boost your credentials (see the Education Needed tab for a list of options) 
  • Note, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the years to come PA services will be increasingly needed to help America’s aging population as people live and stay active longer. Thus, geriatric-related specialities might be areas to study up on
  • Stay involved with professional organizations. Attend events, offer to be a guest speaker, and network with peers!
  • Go where the most PA jobs are! The states with the highest concentration of jobs for Physician Assistants are Connecticut, Maryland, New York, Alaska, and North Carolina. The highest employment levels are in California, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Florida
  • Check out Physician Assistant resume templates for ideas on formatting and phrasing
  • Review sample Physician Assistant interview questions 
  • Make sure to conduct a few practice mock interviews and remember to dress for interview success!

Newsfeed

Jobs by
Source: Interview, Bureau of Labor Statistics
Contributors

Online Courses and Tools