The physician assistant specialty is
included here along with a sampling of resources from the all new 4th
edition of Health Care Job Explosion!
and features physician assistant working conditions, job outlook, training, employment,
earnings, and related occupations. Occupational groups are divided into primary and related occupations
so that individuals can investigate other fields for additional job
opportunities. Physician assistant are available in most
communities and all major medical facilities.
Physician assistants (PAs) practice medicine under the supervision of
physicians and surgeons. They should not be confused with medical assistants,
who perform routine clinical and clerical tasks. (Medical assistants are
discussed elsewhere in the this book.) PAs are formally trained to provide
diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive health care services, as delegated by a
physician. Working as members of the health care team, they take medical
histories, examine and treat patients, order and interpret laboratory tests and
x-rays, and make diagnoses. They also treat minor injuries, by suturing,
splinting, and casting. PAs record progress notes, instruct and counsel
patients, and order or carry out therapy. In 48 states and the District of
Columbia, physician assistants may prescribe medications. PAs also may have
managerial duties. Some order medical supplies or equipment and supervise
technicians and assistants.
Physician assistants work under the supervision of a physician. However, PAs may
be the principal care providers in rural or inner city clinics, where a
physician is present for only 1 or 2 days each week. In such cases, the PA
confers with the supervising physician and other medical professionals as needed
and as required by law. PAs also may make house calls or go to hospitals and
nursing care facilities to check on patients, after which they report back to
The duties of physician assistants are determined by the supervising
physician and by state law. Aspiring PAs should investigate the laws and
regulations in the states in which they wish to practice.
Many PAs work in primary care specialties, such as general internal medicine,
pediatrics, and family medicine. Other specialty areas include general and
thoracic surgery, emergency medicine, orthopedics, and geriatrics. PAs
specializing in surgery provide preoperative and post-operative care and may
work as first or second assistants during major surgery.
Although PAs usually work in a comfortable, well-lighted environment, those
in surgery often stand for long periods, and others do considerable walking.
Schedules vary according to the practice setting, and often depend on the hours
of the supervising physician. The work week of hospital-based PAs may include
weekends, nights, or early morning hospital rounds to visit patients. These
workers also may be on call. PAs in clinics usually work a 40-hour week.
Physician assistants held about 66,000 jobs in 2006. The number of jobs is
greater than the number of practicing PAs because some hold two or more jobs.
For example, some PAs work with a supervising physician, but also work in
another practice, clinic, or hospital. According to the American Academy of
Physician Assistants, about 15 percent of actively practicing PAs worked in more
than one clinical job concurrently in 2006.
More than half of jobs for PAs were in the offices of physicians. About a
quarter were in hospitals, public or private. The rest were mostly in outpatient
care centers, including health maintenance organizations; the Federal
Government; and public or private colleges, universities, and professional
schools. A few were self-employed.
Physician assistant programs usually last at least 2 years. Admission
requirements vary by program, but many require at least 2 years of college and
some health care experience. All States require that PAs complete an accredited,
formal education program and pass a National exam to obtain a license.
Education and training. Physician assistant education programs
usually last at least 2 years and are full time. Most programs are in schools of
allied health, academic health centers, medical schools, or 4-year colleges; a
few are in community colleges, the military, or hospitals. Many accredited PA
programs have clinical teaching affiliations with medical schools.
In 2007, 136 education programs for physician assistants were accredited or
provisionally accredited by the American Academy of Physician Assistants. More
than 90 of these programs offered the option of a master’s degree, and the rest
offered either a bachelor’s degree or an associate degree. Most applicants to PA
educational programs already have a bachelor’s degree.
Admission requirements vary, but many programs require 2 years of college and
some work experience in the health care field. Students should take courses in
biology, English, chemistry, mathematics, psychology, and the social sciences.
Many PAs have prior experience as registered nurses, and others come from varied
backgrounds, including military corpsman or medics and allied health occupations
such as respiratory therapists, physical therapists, and emergency medical
technicians and paramedics.
PA education includes classroom instruction in biochemistry, pathology, human
anatomy, physiology, microbiology, clinical pharmacology, clinical medicine,
geriatric and home health care, disease prevention, and medical ethics. Students
obtain supervised clinical training in several areas, including family medicine,
internal medicine, surgery, prenatal care and gynecology, geriatrics, emergency
medicine, psychiatry, and pediatrics. Sometimes, PA students serve one or more
of these rotations under the supervision of a physician who is seeking to hire a
PA. The rotations often lead to permanent employment.
Licensure. All States and the District of Columbia
have legislation governing the qualifications or practice of physician
assistants. All jurisdictions require physician assistants to pass the Physician
Assistant National Certifying Examination, administered by the National
Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) and open only to
graduates of accredited PA education programs. Only those successfully
completing the examination may use the credential “Physician
Assistant-Certified.” To remain certified, PAs must complete 100 hours of
continuing medical education every 2 years. Every 6 years, they must pass a
recertification examination or complete an alternative program combining
learning experiences and a take-home examination.
Other qualifications. Physician assistants must have a
desire to serve patients and be self-motivated. PAs also must have a good
bedside manner, emotional stability, and the ability to make decisions in
emergencies. Physician assistants must be willing to study throughout their
career to keep up with medical advances.
Certification and advancement. Some PAs pursue additional education in a
specialty such as surgery, neonatology, or emergency medicine. PA postgraduate
educational programs are available in areas such as internal medicine, rural
primary care, emergency medicine, surgery, pediatrics, neonatology, and
occupational medicine. Candidates must be graduates of an accredited program and
be certified by the NCCPA.
As they attain greater clinical knowledge and experience, PAs can advance to
added responsibilities and higher earnings. However, by the very nature of the
profession, clinically practicing PAs always are supervised by physicians.
Employment is expected to grow much faster than the average as health care
establishments increasingly use physician assistants to contain costs. Job
opportunities for PAs should be good, particularly in rural and inner city
clinics, as these settings typically have difficulty attracting physicians.
Employment change. Employment of physician
assistants is expected to grow 27 percent from 2006 to 2016,
much faster than the average
for all occupations. Projected rapid job growth reflects the expansion of health
care industries and an emphasis on cost containment, which results in increasing
use of PAs by health care establishments.
Physicians and institutions are expected to employ more PAs to provide primary
care and to assist with medical and surgical procedures because PAs are
cost-effective and productive members of the health care team. Physician
assistants can relieve physicians of routine duties and procedures.
Telemedicine—using technology to facilitate interactive consultations between
physicians and physician assistants—also will expand the use of physician
Besides working in traditional office-based settings, PAs should find a growing
number of jobs in institutional settings such as hospitals, academic medical
centers, public clinics, and prisons. PAs also may be needed to augment medical
staffing in inpatient teaching hospital settings as the number of hours
physician residents are permitted to work is reduced, encouraging hospitals to
use PAs to supply some physician resident services.
Job prospects.Job opportunities for PAs should
be good, particularly in rural and inner-city clinics because those settings
have difficulty attracting physicians. In addition to job openings from
employment growth, openings will result from the need to replace physician
assistants who retire or leave the occupation permanently during the 2006-16
decade. Opportunities may be best in States that allow PAs a wider scope of
practice, such as allowing PAs to prescribe medications.
Median annual earnings of wage-and-salary physician assistants were $74,980
in May 2006. The middle 50 percent earned between $62,430 and $89,220. The
lowest 10 percent earned less than $43,100, and the highest 10 percent earned
more than $102,230.
According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants, median income for
physician assistants in full-time clinical practice was $80,356 in 2006; median
income for first-year graduates was $69,517. Income varies by specialty,
practice setting, geographical location, and years of experience. Employers
often pay for their employees’ liability insurance, registration fees with the
Drug Enforcement Administration, State licensing fees, and credentialing fees.
Physician assistant job resources are presented in the paperback version
of Health Care Job Explosion! 4th edition by Dennis V. Damp for this
occupational group. Resources include Job Ads, Job Hotlines, Job Fairs,
Placement services, Associations, Books, Directories and Internet (Web) Sites.
Your local library may have this book in their reference section or you can
purchase a copy for $19.95 plus shipping with all major credit cards from our
toll free service at 1-800-782-7424 (Orders Only). Also available at all major
Advancedpracticejobs - ( www.advancedpracticejobs.com ,
firstname.lastname@example.org ) Jobs for physician assistants and
advanced practice nurses. Search by region or state, by specialty, or by
employment status. Register free to receive emails about jobs that fit your
American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) - 950 North
Washington St., Alexandria, VA 22314; 703/836-2272. (
email@example.com ) Offers an
extensive array of member services. The web site “Employment Opportunities”
section is a part of healthecareers network. Log on to post your résumé and get
notices of jobs fitting your qualifications. View a list of all PA specialties
American Association of Surgical Physician Assistants (AASPA)
- PMB 201, 4267 NW Federal Highway, Jensen Beach, FL 34957; 888/882-2772. (
). The web site posts job opportunities and has a section for pre-PA students.
Student membership benefits include a résumé review service, mentoring or
networking opportunities, and scholarship opportunities.
National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, Inc.
- 12000 Findley Road, Suite 200, Duluth, GA 30097; 678/417-8100. (
). Administers the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE)
that is a prerequisite for licensure in all U.S. states. Contact for eligibility
requirements and a description of the examination.
Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) - 950 North
Washington Street, Alexandria, Virginia 22314: 703/548-5538. ( www.apap.org, firstname.lastname@example.org
Society of Emergency Medicine Physician Assistants (SEMPA) -
222 S. Westmonte Drive, #101, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714; 407/774-7880. (
, email@example.com )
Web site has listing of surgical PA programs, and describes scholarship program
Resume Writing Service - Professionally package your health care resume
for entry level, standard, and executive positions.
The following occupations are featured in the all new 4th edition of
Health Care Job Explosion!. Each of the following occupations are featured
exactly like the Physician Assistant description and includes resources for each listing. Your local
library may have this book in their reference section or you can purchase a copy
for $19.95 plus $5.75 shipping with all major credit cards from our toll free
service at 1-800-782-7424 (Orders Only). Also available at bookstores.