Physician Assistant

Anesthesia Technician, Anesthesiologist Assistant, Anesthetic Assistant   More Names
Certified Physician Assistant (PA-C), Certified Physician's Assistant, Clinical Physician Assistant, Doctor, Doctor Assistant, Family Practice Physician Assistant, General Surgery Physician Assistant, Gynecological Assistant, Medical Service Technician, Midlevel Provider, Orthopaedic Physician Assistant, Pediatric Physician Assistant, Physician Assistant Certified (PAC), Physician Assistants, Physician Extender, Physician's Assistant, Surgeon Assistant, Surgery Technician (Surgery Tech), Surgical First Assistant, Surgical Physician Assistant

Provide a variety of diagnostic, therapeutic, preventive, and other healthcare services usually performed by a physician. With supervision of a physician, conduct complete physicals, provide treatments and counsel patients.

Physician assistants work in concert with physicians to ensure the highest quality of patient care. Their duties may include taking medical histories, performing physical examinations, ordering and interpreting laboratory tests, diagnosing and treating illnesses, and providing patient education and counseling. They also may write patient prescriptions and prescribe medications or therapies in all states. In addition, they may have administrative responsibilities, such as supervising other staff or ordering medical supplies or equipment. In rural or inner-city clinics physician assistants may be the principal medical care providers when physicians are available only on a part-time basis.

Physician assistants work chiefly in hospitals, nursing homes, and other primary care settings. Their primary care specialties often include family medicine, pediatrics, general internal medicine, and geriatrics. They also may work in emergency medicine and a variety of surgical settings, such as general surgery, orthopedics, neurosurgery, and cardiac surgery, Those specializing in surgery may provide preoperative and postoperative care and work as first or second assistants during major surgeries. The hospital settings in which they are employed may be public, private, or government agency facilities, such as those run by the U.S. Public Health Service or U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Physician assistants work in partnership with doctors to serve their patients. As with physicians, the medical practice of physician assistants centers on patient treatment and care. They obtain and record patients' medical data, including health histories, results of prior examinations, and notes on any treatments. They examine patients to obtain current information about their physical condition. They order diagnostic tests - such as x-ray, electro-cardiogram, and laboratory analyses - and interpret the results. They make decisions about the management and treatment of patients.

Physician assistants perform therapeutic procedures, such as injections, immunizations, suturing and wound care, and infection management. They visit and observe patients on hospital rounds or house calls, updating charts, ordering therapy, and reporting back to the physician in charge. They also instruct and counsel patients and their families about prescribed treatments, health and wellness maintenance, and other healthcare challenges involved in daily living. In addition, some physician assistants may help surgeons during surgery or provide primary or specialty physicians with assistance during complicated medical procedures.

Physician assistants are key medical team professionals who require highly specialized training and skills. With an appropriate graduate-level degree, this occupation is an upper-level opportunity on a medical career pathway. Prior experience as a medical assistant or surgical technologist, for example, can provide background for becoming a physician assistant. Because they are trained in the generalist medical model, physician assistants may work in a wide-range of specialized areas such as internal medicine, rural primary care, emergency medicine, surgery, neonatal care, pediatrics or occupational medicine.

The physician assistant career requires intelligence, sound judgment, intellectual honesty, appropriate interpersonal skills and the capacity to react to emergencies in a calm and reasoned way. It also requires an attitude of respect for others, confidentiality in working with patients, and a genuine commitment to the each patient's welfare and well-being.

Credentials Needed: All 50 states and the District of Columbia require persons to have a state license to practice as physician assistants. While individual state licensing requirements are variable, all states require individuals to take and pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) as one of the conditions for licensure to practice as a physician assistant.

The PANCE is administered by the National Commission on the Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). In order to be eligible to take the PANCE, an individual must be a graduate of a physician assistant entry-level education program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). The NCCPA also sponsors a number of voluntary specialty-practice certifications for physician assistants who have experience.

The American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) is the major national professional association that represents physician assistants across all medical and surgical specialties in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, the U.S. Armed Forces, and federal services. According to the AAPA there are more than 81,000 physician assistants practicing today throughout the nation.

Some Key Things to Remember: Physician assistants provide a wide-range of diagnostic, therapeutic, preventive, and other healthcare services that are within the scope of practice delegated by a physician. Together, the team of physician and physician assistant provide highest quality patient-centered care. A bachelor's degree is the minimum education requirement for entry-level employment as a physician assistant, with the majority of new graduates today having earned master's degree. All 50 states and the District of Columbia require that physician assistants be state licensed.

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Job Growth and Wages
Percent Job Growth:  
30% - Much faster than average
Typical Wages (National):  
Annual: $86,130 - $121,420    Hourly: $41 - $58
Physical/Medical/Health Requirements

No specifc requirement is identified at this time.

Legal Requirements
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(Data Drawn from O*NET)

Career Snapshot

Typical Education:

Master's and Above (High School + 6 or more Years)
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Percent Job Growth:

30% - Much faster than average
Find Jobs

Typical Wages:

Annual: $86,130 - $121,420

Hourly: $41 - $58