Job Description

Physician Assistants provide healthcare services typically performed by a physician, under the supervision of a physician. They conduct complete physicals, provide treatment, and counsel patients. 

Rewarding Aspects of Career
  • Helping people get better and be healthy
  • Good pay 
  • In high demand 
  • Good work / life balance 
2018 Employment
2028 Projected Employment
The Inside Scoop
Job Responsibilities
  • Take or review patients’ medical histories
  • Examine patients
  • Order and interpret diagnostic tests, such as x rays or blood tests
  • Diagnose a patient’s injury or illness
  • Give treatment, such as setting broken bones and immunizing patients
  • Educate and counsel patients and their families—for example, answering questions about how to care for a child with asthma
  • Prescribe medicine
  • Assess and record a patient’s progress
  • Research the latest treatments to ensure the quality of patient care
  • Conduct or participate in outreach programs, talking to groups about managing diseases and promoting wellness

Physician assistants work on teams with physicians or surgeons and other healthcare workers. Their specific duties and the extent to which they must be supervised by physicians or surgeons differ from state to state.

In some areas, especially rural and medically underserved communities, physician assistants may be the primary care providers at clinics where a physician is present only 1 or 2 days per week. In these locations, physician assistants collaborate with the physician as needed and as required by law.

Click here to read a Day in the Life of a Neurohospitalist PA

Different specialties

Like physicians, physician assistants can specialize in medical specialties: 

  • Pathology
  • Dermatology
  • Emergency Medicine 
  • Critical Care Medicine
  • Surgical Subspecialties 
  • General Surgery 
  • Adolescent Medicine
  • Gynecology
  • Pediatrics
  • Obstectrics 
  • Anethesiology
  • Family Medicine 
  • Hospice / Palliative 
  • Preventative
  • Psychiatry
  • Urology
  • Pain Management
  • Internal Medicine
  • Occupational Medicine
  • Physical Medicine
  • Radiology
Skills Needed
  • Patient and care team communications: Communicate clearly and compassionately with patients and their colleagues within often stressful settings. 
  • Analytical skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Technical skills
  • Detail-oriented
  • Strong math and science background
  • Life-long learner 
  • Strong work ethic
Different places of employment
  • Offices of physicians
  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient care centers
  • Educational services; state, local, and private
Expectations and Sacrifices

Work on your feet for extended periods of the day

What kind of things did people in this career enjoy doing when they were younger…
  • Loved to help people
  • Liked talking with people from a wide range of backgrounds
  • Was interested in health and wellness topics 
  • Liked math and science classes

"I think what drives anyone in medicine is an interest in science and helping people.  In emergency medicine you are seeing people on one of the worst days of their lives and the ability to think quickly and act compassionately is key.  People in medicine tend to be curious people who like to ask questions and dig deeper into a problem, as medicine is all about fixing what we can." Cyndy Flores, Senior Director Advanced Providers, Vituity

Education and Training Needed
  • Education 
    • 2 to 4 years of undergraduate coursework with a focus in science
    • Need patient care experience for admission or to be competitive in entering the programs. 
    • Accredited Master’s Degree in a Physician assistant education programs (~2 years) 
    • Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. (ARC-PA) in 2017 - Click here for accredited programs
  • Classroom and laboratory instruction in pathology, human anatomy, physiology, clinical medicine, pharmacology, physical diagnosis, and medical ethics.
  • Training
    • Clinical rotation in family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine, and pediatrics. Under supervision of a physician. 
  • License 
    • Pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). A physician assistant who passes the exam may use the credential “Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C).”
    • Must complete 100 hours of continuing education every 2 years. The recertification exam is required every 10 years.
    • State licensure laws require physician assistants to hold an agreement with a supervising physician. 
How to get patient care experience
  • Work as an EMT or paramedic, registered nurse, nursing assistant, or similar care position
  • Volunteer opportunities at hospitals or clinics, or working with special-needs or at-risk groups, such as orphaned youth or homeless populations.
Things to do in High School and College

"Obviously, take science courses and study.  Volunteer!  Volunteer at hospitals, nursing homes, health fairs, homeless shelters or maybe medical missions.  Most of these do not require any medical knowledge, but they are places that need help and there is a place for everyone.  Another great idea is to join “pre-PA” groups to continue to learn about the profession and if you find the opportunity shadow a PA (or more) while they are working to get a better understanding of what the role is all about." Cyndy Flores, Senior Director Advanced Providers, Vituity

Typical Roadmap
Physician Assistant Roadmap
How to land your 1st job

Many times clinical rotations lead to permanent employment. 

"The great thing about PA work….is there are more jobs than PAs out there!  It is one of the fastest growing healthcare jobs in the US, so finding a job isn’t usually difficult.  Don’t worry if it isn’t your dream job, that will come.  I tell people though, get a job that feels right, you are looking for your work family and unlike your regular family you can choose your work family." Cyndy Flores, Senior Director Advanced Providers, Vituity

Recommended Resources

Websites that give you tips on applying to PA School and Applying for Jobs

  • American Academy of PAs


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Source: Interview, Bureau of Labor Statistics

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