Physician Assistant Career Guide 2024

Table of Contents

Physician Assistant Salary in United States for 2023

Average Annual Salary: $126,010 Hourly Rate: $60.58

Data sourced from the U.S. Department of Labor via the ONET Web API. Updated at December 8, 2023

Best Colleges and Universities for Physician Assistants in 2023

Best Online Degree Programs for Physician Assistant

Best College Majors for Physician Assistants in 2023

Projected Job Employment for Physician Assistant:

Estimated YearProjected YearEstimated EmploymentProjected Employment% ChangeProjected Annual Job Opening
20212031139,100177,50028%12700

Physician Assistant Career Path Overview

A career as a Physician Assistant (PA) offers a rewarding path in the healthcare sector. This dynamic role involves working under the supervision of a doctor, and can entail a broad spectrum of tasks from diagnosing diseases to developing treatment plans.

What is a Physician Assistant?

A Physician Assistant is a qualified healthcare professional who works under the supervision of a physician. They provide various medical services that would traditionally be performed by doctors. These services may include conducting physical exams, diagnosing and treating illnesses, ordering and interpreting tests, counseling on preventive health care, assisting in surgery, and writing prescriptions.

Education Requirements for a Physician Assistant

The path to becoming a PA involves extensive education and training. It typically begins with a bachelor's degree in a science-related field such as biology or chemistry. Following this, prospective PAs must complete a Master’s degree from an accredited PA program, which generally takes about two years. These programs often include classroom instruction in biochemistry, pathology, human anatomy, physiology, clinical pharmacology, clinical medicine, physical diagnosis and medical ethics. They also include supervised clinical training in several areas such as family medicine, internal medicine, surgery, prenatal care and gynecology, geriatrics, emergency medicine, and pediatrics.

Licensing and Certification

Upon completion of the educational requirements, aspiring PAs must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Once they pass this exam, they may become licensed by the state in which they plan to practice. To maintain their certification, PAs must complete 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years and pass the Physician Assistant National Recertifying Exam (PANRE) every 10 years.

Skills Required for a Physician Assistant

In addition to education and licensing, PAs need a specific set of skills to succeed in their role. These include strong communication skills, emotional resilience, problem-solving abilities, and a deep understanding of medical principles and procedures. They also need to be detail-oriented and have excellent manual dexterity for tasks such as drawing blood or suturing wounds.

Career Advancement Opportunities

PAs have numerous career advancement opportunities. They may choose to specialize in a specific area of medicine such as dermatology, emergency medicine, orthopedics, or psychiatry. Additionally, some PAs choose to pursue further education to become a physician or surgeon. Others may move into administrative roles within healthcare organizations or academia.

Job Outlook and Salary Expectations

The job outlook for PAs is quite positive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of PAs is projected to grow 31 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. The median annual wage for PAs was $112,260 in May 2019, with top earners bringing in more than $157,120. In conclusion, becoming a Physician Assistant can provide a fulfilling career in healthcare with numerous opportunities for advancement and specialization.

Physician Assistant Career Path Education and Training

Embarking on a Physician Assistant (PA) career path involves extensive education and training. This career path is intellectually challenging, requiring a strong commitment to lifelong learning and adaptation to advances in medical science and practice.

Undergraduate Education

The journey to becoming a PA starts with a solid foundation of undergraduate education. Most PA programs require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree, preferably in health or science-related fields such as biology, chemistry, psychology, or nursing. During this phase, students develop essential skills and knowledge in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, and medical ethics.

Healthcare Experience

Many PA programs also require applicants to have some healthcare experience. This could be in the form of medical scribing, emergency medical services (EMS), nursing, or other direct patient care roles. These experiences allow aspiring PAs to acquire hands-on skills and understand the dynamics of a healthcare environment.

Graduate Education

Following undergraduate education and healthcare experience, the next step in the PA career path is completing a Master's degree in Physician Assistant Studies. These programs are usually 24-36 months long and are offered by many universities across the country. The curriculum combines rigorous classroom instruction in biomedical sciences with extensive clinical rotations in various specialties such as family medicine, internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, and emergency medicine.

Certification

Upon completion of a PA program, graduates must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Successfully passing the PANCE results in the PA-C (Physician Assistant-Certified) designation, which is required for licensure and practice in all states.

Continuing Medical Education and Recertification

To maintain their certification, PAs are required to complete 100 hours of continuing medical education (CME) every two years. Additionally, they must take and pass the Physician Assistant National Recertifying Exam (PANRE) every ten years. This ensures that PAs stay updated with the latest advances in medicine and continue to provide high-quality care to patients. The education and training for a Physician Assistant career path is rigorous, but it equips PAs with the skills and knowledge necessary to provide excellent patient care in a variety of healthcare settings. The commitment to continuous learning and professional development is a hallmark of this rewarding career.

Physician Assistant Career Path Progression

The career path of a Physician Assistant (PA) can be immensely rewarding, offering the opportunity to work in various specialties, environments, and settings. This progression pathway provides a comprehensive view of the journey, starting from the initial education phase through to the pinnacle of professional accomplishment.

Educational Requirements

The journey of becoming a PA begins with obtaining a bachelor's degree in a relevant field such as biology, chemistry, or health sciences. Post-undergraduation, aspiring PAs must apply for a Master's program in Physician Assistant Studies. These programs are typically 2-3 years long and are accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). The curriculum includes classroom learning and clinical rotations in areas like family medicine, pediatrics, and surgery.

Certification and Licensing

Once educational requirements are met, graduates must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). After passing the PANCE, individuals can officially use the PA-C (Physician Assistant - Certified) credential. In addition to national certification, each state requires PAs to be licensed to practice; this often involves an application process and additional state-specific requirements.

Entry-Level Position

As newly certified PAs enter the field, most start in general medicine or primary care positions. These roles allow them to gain experience and develop a solid clinical foundation. Entry-level PAs work under the supervision of physicians, assisting in patient examinations, diagnosing illnesses, and prescribing medication.

Specialization and Advancement

After acquiring some experience, PAs often choose to specialize in areas like dermatology, emergency medicine, orthopedics, or psychiatry. Specialization may require additional training or certification, depending on the field. As PAs gain experience and demonstrate competence, they may take on more responsibilities, lead a team of medical professionals, or even manage a clinic.

Continuing Education and Recertification

To maintain their PA-C credential, PAs must earn a specific number of Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits and pass the Physician Assistant National Recertifying Exam (PANRE) every ten years. This ensures they stay updated with the latest advancements in healthcare and medicine.

Leadership Roles

With extensive experience and expertise, PAs can progress into leadership roles within healthcare organizations. They might become medical directors, clinical coordinators, or healthcare executives. These roles involve managing teams, developing healthcare policies, and making strategic decisions. The career progression of a Physician Assistant is not a one-size-fits-all journey. Each PA can tailor their path to suit their interests and goals, whether they lie in clinical practice, research, education, or administration. With dedication and continuous learning, the possibilities for growth and success in this field are vast.

Physician Assistant Career Path Specializations and Subfields

As a physician assistant (PA), you have a vast array of specializations and subfields to explore. These subfields not only offer diversity in your work but also offer opportunities for continual learning and career growth. Let's delve into some of the key specializations within the PA career path.

Emergency Medicine

Emergency Medicine PAs are pivotal in providing quick, life-saving treatments to patients in emergency departments. They perform tasks like suturing wounds, interpreting X-rays, and managing trauma. The fast-paced environment requires the ability to make critical decisions swiftly and effectively.

Family Medicine

A Family Medicine PA provides comprehensive healthcare for individuals of all ages. From diagnosing and treating common illnesses to conducting check-ups and counseling patients on lifestyle changes, these PAs serve as a primary care provider for many families.

Surgery

PAs in Surgery assist surgeons during procedures, provide preoperative and postoperative care, and perform certain surgical procedures under the supervision of the surgeon. This subfield requires a high level of technical skill and precision.

Dermatology

Dermatology PAs diagnose and treat skin conditions, perform minor surgical procedures like biopsies, and conduct screenings for skin cancer. They often work in collaboration with dermatologists to provide comprehensive skin care.

Orthopedics

Orthopedic PAs play a crucial role in managing patients with musculoskeletal conditions. They assist in surgeries, perform joint injections, apply casts, and help with post-surgery rehabilitation.

Psychiatry

Psychiatry PAs assess, diagnose, and treat mental health conditions. They often work as part of a team with psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers to provide holistic mental health care.

Cardiology

Cardiology PAs perform physical exams, interpret diagnostic tests, and manage patients with heart conditions. They play a significant role in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of heart diseases.

Oncology

In Oncology, PAs manage the care of patients with cancer. They provide education about the disease, discuss treatment options, and provide support throughout the treatment process. In conclusion, the diverse specializations within the PA career path provide a range of opportunities for those seeking variety and continual learning in their work. By choosing a specific subfield, you can tailor your career to your interests and strengths while making a significant impact on patient care.

Physician Assistant Career Path Job Market and Outlook

The field of Physician Assistants (PAs) is an integral part of the healthcare industry. The demand for PAs has been on a steady incline over the years, making it a promising career path for those interested in medical services. This rise is due to several factors, including an aging population, advancements in healthcare technology, and a growing emphasis on preventive care.

Job Market for Physician Assistants

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of physician assistants is projected to grow 31 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. This rate of growth indicates a robust job market for aspiring and practicing PAs.

The job market for PAs is not confined to hospitals alone. These professionals are needed in various healthcare settings such as private practices, outpatient care centers, and even educational institutions. Additionally, PAs can specialize in various areas of medicine, including family medicine, emergency medicine, surgery, and psychiatry, broadening their job prospects.

The Outlook for Physician Assistants

The outlook for physician assistants is quite positive. The BLS reports that the median annual wage for physician assistants was $112,260 in May 2019. Furthermore, the highest 10 percent earned more than $157,120. These figures point to a rewarding career path both in terms of job satisfaction and financial compensation.

However, it's worth noting that salary can vary based on factors such as geographical location, specialty, experience level, and the specific healthcare setting. For instance, PAs working in metropolitan areas or specialized fields like dermatology or cardiology may earn more than those working in rural areas or general practice.

Future Trends in the Physician Assistant Field

Future trends in the PA field also point to a growing career path. For instance, as healthcare continues to evolve and embrace technology, PAs will likely be at the forefront of implementing these changes, potentially leading to new areas of specialization and opportunities.

Moreover, as the healthcare industry grapples with physician shortages, particularly in rural and underserved areas, PAs are expected to play an even more significant role in patient care. This could lead to increased responsibilities and scope of practice for PAs, enhancing their role and importance in the healthcare team.

In conclusion, the job market and outlook for the physician assistant career path appear promising, with ample opportunities for growth and advancement. For those interested in a dynamic and rewarding career in healthcare, becoming a PA presents a viable and attractive option.

Physician Assistant Career Path Salary and Compensation

As a Physician Assistant (PA), you're in a position to earn an attractive salary, while also enjoying the benefits of a rewarding career. The demand for healthcare professionals, including PAs, continues to grow due to factors like an aging population and advancements in medical technology. This means that not only is job security high, but there is also potential for salary growth throughout your career. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that the median annual wage for physician assistants was $112,260 as of May 2019. However, your earning potential can greatly vary based on several factors such as the area of specialization, years of experience, geographical location, and the type of healthcare facility you work in.

Geographical Variations in Salary

According to BLS data, the top paying states for this occupation include Connecticut, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, and California. Major metropolitan areas generally offer higher salaries compared to rural areas. However, the cost of living in these areas should be considered when evaluating the potential earnings.

Specialization and Salary

Specializing in a specific area of medicine can also influence your earning potential as a PA. Specialties like dermatology, emergency medicine, and surgical subspecialties often pay higher salaries. Acquiring additional certifications and enhancing your skills in these areas can significantly increase your earning potential.

Experience and Salary

Like most professions, experience plays a critical role in determining your salary as a PA. As you gain more experience and develop advanced skills, you can expect to see an increase in your compensation. For example, a PA with less than a year’s experience may earn around $80k per year while an experienced PA with over 20 years of experience could earn more than $120k annually.

Additional Compensation

Beyond base salaries, PAs often receive additional benefits and compensation such as health insurance, retirement plans, paid time off, and professional development opportunities. Some employers also offer bonus structures based on performance or patient satisfaction scores. In conclusion, pursuing a career as a Physician Assistant can be both financially rewarding and professionally fulfilling. The salary potential is substantial, and there is plenty of room for growth and advancement in the field.

Physician Assistant Career Path Tips for Success

The road to becoming a Physician Assistant (PA) is challenging, but with the right mindset and strategies, you can set yourself up for a successful career. Here are some tips that can help you navigate this demanding path effectively and emerge as a competent professional in your field.

1. Pursue Relevant Education

Begin by earning a bachelor's degree in a relevant field such as biology, chemistry, or health science. This will provide you with a solid foundation for your future studies. Following this, you will need to earn a master's degree from an accredited PA program. It's important to research different programs to find one that best fits your career goals.

2. Gain Experience in Healthcare

Before applying to PA programs, it's beneficial to gain hands-on experience in the healthcare field. This can be achieved through roles like medical scribe, emergency medical technician (EMT), or certified nursing assistant (CNA). This experience will not only make you a stronger candidate for PA school but also provide valuable insight into patient care.

3. Pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE)

Upon completion of your PA program, you will need to pass the PANCE. This is a comprehensive exam administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) that covers various aspects of medicine. Successfully passing this exam is a requirement to practice as a PA.

4. Obtain State Licensure

After passing the PANCE, you must obtain licensure in the state where you intend to practice. Each state has its own requirements and procedures, so it's important to familiarize yourself with these details.

5. Continue Learning and Growing

Medicine is constantly evolving, so it's crucial to stay updated on the latest research and advancements. Consider joining professional organizations, attending conferences, and completing continuing medical education (CME) credits. This will help you maintain your certification and stay at the forefront of your field.

6. Develop Strong Communication and Interpersonal Skills

As a PA, you'll be working closely with patients, physicians, and other healthcare professionals. Hence, having strong communication and interpersonal skills is essential. It helps in building trust with patients, understanding their concerns, and collaborating effectively with your team.

7. Choose a Specialty

You have the option to specialize in a specific area of medicine such as pediatrics, emergency medicine, or orthopedics. Choosing a specialty allows you to focus on an area that truly interests you and can open up more career opportunities. Remember, success in the Physician Assistant career path requires dedication, continuous learning, and a genuine passion for helping others. By following these tips, you can prepare yourself for a rewarding career as a Physician Assistant.

What is a Physician Assistant?

A Physician Assistant (PA) is a healthcare professional who practices medicine as part of a team with physicians and other healthcare providers. They are trained to examine patients, diagnose injuries and illnesses, and provide treatment under the supervision of a physician. PAs can work in many different medical settings, including hospitals, clinics, and doctor's offices, and they can specialize in numerous areas of medicine such as family medicine, emergency medicine, surgery, and psychiatry.

How to Become a Physician Assistant?

Becoming a Physician Assistant requires extensive education and training. To start, one must first complete a bachelor's degree, typically in a science-related field. This is then followed by completing an accredited PA program, which usually lasts about two years. These programs provide both classroom education and clinical training. After completing the PA program, individuals must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) to become licensed. It's also essential for PAs to complete continuing education throughout their careers to maintain their licensure and stay updated on medical advancements.

What Skills are Needed to be a Physician Assistant?

Being a successful Physician Assistant requires a specific set of skills. Clinical knowledge and technical skills are critical since PAs need to diagnose and treat patients effectively. They should also have strong communication skills to interact with patients, families, and other healthcare professionals effectively. Moreover, critical thinking and problem-solving skills are essential as PAs often need to make quick decisions about patient care. They also need to have empathy and emotional resilience as they often work with patients who are in pain or facing serious health conditions.

What is the Job Outlook for Physician Assistants?

The job outlook for Physician Assistants is very positive. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of PAs is projected to grow 31 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is due in part to an aging population, leading to increased demand for healthcare services.

What is the Salary of a Physician Assistant?

The salary for a Physician Assistant can vary depending on factors like experience, specialty, and location. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for PAs was $112,260 in May 2019. The highest 10 percent earned more than $157,120, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $72,720.

What are the Advancement Opportunities for Physician Assistants?

There are numerous advancement opportunities for Physician Assistants. With experience, PAs can take on more responsibilities, supervise other staff, or become a primary care provider. They can also choose to specialize in a particular area of medicine, which may require additional training and certification but can lead to higher salaries and more professional opportunities. Furthermore, some PAs choose to go into healthcare administration or education, while others may decide to pursue further education to become a doctor or another type of healthcare professional.