Physician Assistant: Career and Salary Facts

Research what it takes to become a physician assistant. Learn about job duties, education requirements, certification and salary to see if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Allied Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Physician Assistant?

By becoming a physician assistant (PA), you can practice medicine in a wide range of environments, including hospitals, military and government agencies and medical clinics. These professionals actually perform many of the same duties as a physician. They review medical histories, examine injuries, diagnose illnesses, prescribe medication, administer vaccinations and more. Physician assistants must be able to communicate well with patients and their families as they effectively explain diagnoses and treatment plans. Most physician assistants will specialize in a particular area of the medical field, such as emergency medicine, psychiatry and surgery. The following chart gives an overview of what you need to know before entering this profession.

Degree Required Master's degree most common
Education Field of Study Physician assistant
Key Skills Diagnosis & treatment of patients; patient education; staff supervision
Certification/Licensure Required Certification required in all states; licensing requirements vary by state
Job Growth (2014-2024 ) 30%*
Average Salary (2015) $99,270*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Are the Responsibilities of a Physician Assistant?

As a physician assistant, you'd provide many of the diagnostic and treatment services rendered by doctors; however, you'll do so under the supervision of physicians. Some of your clinical responsibilities will include treating minor injuries, prescribing medications, performing physical examinations, diagnosing illnesses, analyzing laboratory tests and providing surgical assistance. Your administrative responsibilities may include staff supervision, office management, patient education and medical history collection.

What Are the Educational Requirements?

The American Academy of Physician Assistants reports that before entering a targeted PA program, you must have completed at least two years of coursework in science at the collegiate level (www.aapa.org). While this prerequisite can be achieved through an associate's degree program, most students complete a bachelor's degree program and acquire some healthcare work experience prior to their PA program admission.

Your PA program must be offered at an institution accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant. These accredited programs can be found at colleges, universities, hospitals and military facilities throughout the United States. A physician assistant program takes about 2.5 years to complete. They include clinical activities and classroom instruction in various medical disciplines, such as human anatomy, pharmacology and pathology.

How Do I Become Certified?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that you're required to obtain certification before practicing medicine as a physician assistant in any state. You can become certified after passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. Once you pass the exam, you can use the Physician Assistant - Certified designation. Maintaining your national certification will require taking continuing education courses every two years and passing a recertifying examination every six years. You must also adhere to your state's licensing requirements.

What Salary Can I Earn?

The BLS reported in May 2015 that physician assistants earned an average salary of $99,270. Your income may vary according to your location, practice setting, experience and specialty. The BLS also predicted that employment growth for PAs would be 30% between 2014 and 2024, which is much faster than average.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Registered nurses (RNs) have related positions that require a bachelor's degree. RNs work closely with physicians to provide patient care, support patients emotionally and even educate the public about various health-related topics. Dental hygienists are also similar, but only require an associate's degree. These workers clean teeth and help provide preventative dental care to patients. Similar to physician assistants, both of these career paths require professional licensure.

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