What They Do:
Working under the supervision of doctors, physician assistants interpret X-rays and blood tests, record patient progress, conduct routine physical exams and treat a range of ailments. The extent doctors must supervise them varies by state and medicine specialty, and often takes the form of reviewing medical records or checking in with a patient after the physician assistant has finished caring for him or her.
Since physician assistants must be able to communicate complicated situations quickly and in an understandable way to patients and other medical professionals, excellent communication skills are essential. Being observant and detail-oriented, especially in the midst of the job’s hustle and bustle, is another quality someone looking to break into this field should exhibit.
Bachelor’s degree, which should include 2-4 years of undergraduate science coursework
Master’s degree from one of 170 accredited educational programs (usually takes 2 years of full-time study)
Supervised clinical training is a significant component of the educational programs. Aspiring physician assistants participate in hundreds of hours of training in a variety of specialties, including family medicine, internal medicine and pediatrics.
All states plus the District of Columbia require practicing professionals to hold a license, which is obtained by passing a certifying exam from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. To maintain certification, physician assistants must complete 100 hours of continuing education and pass a recertification exam every 10 years, the latter of which is a new requirement in 2014.
What they make:
The median salary of a physician assistant was $112,260 in 2019 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Where they work:
Physician assistants work in primary care, family medicine, psychiatry and emergency medicine practices.
Settings where the majority of physician assistances work include:
General medical and surgical facilities
Outpatient Care Centers
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of physician assistants is projected to grow 31% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. As demand for healthcare services grows, physician assistants will be needed to provide care to patients.
Updated February 2021