Physician Assistant Career

What is Physician Assistant?

A Physician Assistant is a licensed healthcare professional who practices medicine in collaboration with a physician as part of an integrated medical team. Under the supervision of a licensed physician, a Physician Assistant can treat human illness by providing a host of diagnostic, therapeutic, preventive and health maintenance services. In simple words, they can perform almost all the clinical services that a physician provides.

What Does a Physician Assistant Do?

Physician Assistants (PAs) treat patients through comprehensive physical assessment, diagnosis and medication, and consultation under the supervision of a physician or surgeon. The scope of their practice depends largely on the respective state laws and their agreement with the supervising physician. The typical duties of a Physician Assistant in a primary care setting include the following:

1. Obtain and review medical histories of the patients. 

2. Conduct physical examination. 

3. Order diagnostic tests.

4. Interpret test results, develop treatment plans and prescribe medicines.

5. Assist in surgeries and advanced medical procedures. 

6. Perform minor procedures such as setting broken bones or fractures; preparing casts and splints. 

7. Administer injections and immunizations. 

8. Cleaning, dressing and suturing wounds and infections. 

9. Monitor patients’ progress. 

10. Counsel patients and their families to ensure speedy recovery. 

11. Administrative duties such as oversee regulatory compliance and manage disease control policies and protocols. 

Besides primary care, Physician Assistants also work in medical and surgical specialties and sub-specialties.

How to become a Physician Assistant?

1. Prerequisites & Qualification - An aspiring Physician Assistant is required to earn a Bachelor’s degree in an area of science and three years of healthcare experience in order to qualify for a Physician Assistant Program. Most programs require 2-4 years of undergraduate coursework with a focus in science subjects such as biology, microbiology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, psychopathology, clinical procedures, etc. Healthcare experience can be gained by working as paramedic, nurse, emergency medical technician, lab assistant, emergency room technician, and similar roles.

2. Accredited Physician Assistant Program -The next step is to earn the Master’s degree by completing a 2-year Physician Assistant program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). There are about 170 such programs offered by the medical schools and colleges and healthcare centers. The program curricula include classroom and laboratory instructions and also allow students to gain hands-on experience through supervised clinical rotations across physician offices, ambulances, and medical care facilities. The course includes subjects such as pathology, human anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, clinical medicine, pharmacology, microbiology, physical diagnosis, behavioral science, and medical ethics.

3. Certification - Successful completion of ARC-PA accredited Physician Assistant Program makes a candidate eligible to sit for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) conducted by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). On passing this exam, the candidate becomes certified as the “Physician Assistant – Certified (PA-C)”. Please remember that this certification is not a one-time certification. Certified Physician Assistants must complete 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years in order to maintain their certification. In addition, passing recertification exam (called the Physician Assistant National Recertifying Exam) every 10 years is also mandatory.

4. State License - In order to practice as a Physician Assistant, the candidates need to obtain the state license. As part of the licensure requirements, all states require the candidates to have a Master’s degree in an accredited PA program and become certified by passing the PANCE.

Top 15 Physician Assistant Schools in USA

College / University Bachelor Masters
Duke University
103 Allen Bldg, Durham, NC, 27708
University of Iowa
101 Jessup Hall, Iowa City, IA, 52242-1316
Emory University
408 Administration Building‚ 201 Dowman Drive, Atlanta, GA, 30322
George Washington University
2121 I Street‚ NW, Washington, DC, 20052
Oregon Health & Science University
3181 SW Sam Jackson Park Rd, Portland, OR, 97239-3098
Quinnipiac University
Mt Carmel Ave, Hamden, CT, 6518
University of Colorado Denver
1380 Lawrence Street‚ Lawrence Street Center‚ Suite 1400, Denver, CO, 80217-3364
University of Utah
201 Presidents Circle‚ ROOM 203, Salt Lake City, UT, 84112-9008
University of Nebraska Medical Center
987815 Nebraska Medical Ctr, Omaha, NE, 68198-7815
Wake Forest University
1834 Wake Forest Road, Winston Salem, NC, 27106
University of Washington-Seattle Campus
1400 NE Campus Parkway, Seattle, WA, 98195-4550
Baylor College of Medicine
One Baylor Plaza, Houston, TX, 77030-3498
Drexel University
3141 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA, 19104
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
5323 Harry Hines Blvd, Dallas, TX, 75390-9096
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey
65 Bergen Street‚ Room 1441, Newark, NJ, 07101-1709
... View Complete Physician Assistant schools and colleges in USA

Physician Assistant Salaries

According to PayScale Salary Survey conducted in 2015, Physician Assistants in the U.S can earn an average of $87k annually. The annual salary range can vary between $69k and $110k based on the number of years in service and location. The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the median annual wage for Physician Assistants to be $90,930 with the lowest 10% earning somewhere $62k and the top 10% earning more than $124k in 2012. This can be compared with the 2013 census reports by the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) that indicated the median annual salary for Physician Assistants to be $107,268.

Physician Assistant Career Path & Outlook

The employment growth in this profession is expected to grow by 38% between the period from 2012 to 2022 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This growth rate can be understood from the fact that 33,300 new positions will be added by the end of this decade. Some of the states experiencing the highest growth are Georgia, Arizona, Utah, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Texas.

Some of the hot career trends in the Physician Assistant (PA) profession are likely to include Surgical PA, Urgent Care PA, Neurosurgery PA, Orthopedic Surgery PA, Neurology PA, PA in Emergency Medicine, and Dermatology PA.

Physician Assistant Work Environment

A majority of the Physician Assistants work in the offices of health practitioners. Local, state and private hospitals are the next big employer. Some Physician Assistants also work at outpatient care centers, private/local/state educational centers, and for government.

It is a full-time profession and physically very demanding. In hospitals, Physician Assistants usually need to work in night shifts, weekends and on holidays. In private clinics, work schedule normally includes 40 hours a week.

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