Becoming an Orthopedic Assistant: Job Description & Salary Info

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An orthopedic assistant's mean annual salary is around $97,000. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career outlook to find out if becoming an orthopedic assistant is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of an Orthopedic Assistant Career

Orthopedic, or orthopaedic, assistants are physician's assistants (PAs) who work with doctors and surgeons to treat musculoskeletal conditions. Read on to see the pros and cons of working as an orthopedic assistant.

Pros of an Orthopedic Assistant Career
Much faster-than-average job growth (38% increase is predicted from 2012-2022 for all PAs)*
Significantly above-average salary (median annual earnings of about $95,000 for PAs in May 2014)*
Less education required than for physicians*
Opportunity to help others*

Cons of an Orthopedic Assistant Career
Will typically be supervised by physician or surgeon*
In 2010, over 13% of PAs worked more than 50 hours a week*
Night, weekend or holiday hours may be required*
Long hours standing*

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

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Orthopedic assistants work under the supervision of doctors or surgeons to treat patients with musculoskeletal conditions including sprains, fractures and strains, arthritis, finger and toe abnormalities and more. As an orthopedic physician's assistant, you'll perform exams, interpret diagnostic tests and answer patients' questions. You'll be able to prescribe medicine and will work with your doctor to make diagnoses and provide treatment. The amount of supervision required for physician's assistants varies from state to state.

Orthopedic assistants can work in a number of different settings. Most work in hospitals or doctors' offices. If you're employed by a hospital, you may be required to work irregular hours or be on call at designated times. Both urban and rural areas employ physician's assistants. In cases where doctors work from more than one office or are only in a few times per week, physician's assistants may be the primary care provider for patients. In all settings, you should be prepared to spend a great deal of time on your feet. Part of your job may be to consult with other physicians and other PAs regarding orthopedic care. You may be called in to handle emergencies.

Job Growth and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 38% increase in employment rates for PAs in general from 2012-2022, which is much faster than the national average. In May 2014, the median yearly salary for physician's assistants was about $95,000, according to the BLS.

What Are the Requirements?

Education

To become an orthopedic assistant, you'll need to earn a master's degree and become licensed. A master's degree program is commonly offered as a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies. Most PAs spend time working in the medical field before entering a master's program. Relevant work experience can include working as a paramedic or a nurse.

Graduate studies generally take two years and include courses, clinical experience and laboratory studies as well as clinical rotations. Orthopedic assistants should spend time working with orthopedic doctors to develop specialized knowledge. PAs study subjects like physiology, disease prevention and epidemiology, and may be required to complete a final project.

Licensure and Other Skills

To work as a PA, you'll need a license from your state. To obtain licensure, you must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination and commit to continuing education. Every six years you'll have to renew your license by passing an additional exam. In addition to education and licensure, you should possess skills in areas like critical thinking, listening, compassion, attention to detail and service.

What Employers Are Looking for

While all orthopedic assistants must meet the same education and licensing requirements, other qualifications may vary. In most cases, some experience in the field will be required. Take a look at the list of job openings below to see what real employers were seeking in May 2012.

  • In New Jersey, surgical physician's assistants are needed to work in a variety of specialties including orthopedic care. Applicants must feel comfortable assisting surgeons, be able to work well with other staff members and adapt to quickly changing situations. Compensation for this position can vary based on experience.
  • A Georgia medical center is seeking an orthopedic physician's assistant to work with patients in both office and surgical settings. Applicants must be able to work with patients of all ages, exercise sound judgment and have a detailed knowledge of orthopedic conditions and treatments. About 2-5 years of experience in the field is required.
  • In Utah, an orthopedic office seeks a PA. Applicants will provide care to patients when the doctor is in surgery and must possess excellent customer service skills.
  • In Pennsylvania, a physician's assistant is needed to join an orthopedics team. Candidates must be board certified and have experience working in orthopedics and an office setting. About 1-3 years of experience is expected of the applicant.

How to Stand out in the Field

Get Certified

As an orthopedic assistant, you can stand out by earning additional credentials. The American Society of Orthopaedic Physician's Assistants provides the National Board for Certification of Orthopaedic Physician's Assistants (NBCOPA). This certification can help you stand out by demonstrating your ability to meet the high requirements of the NBCOPA and a commitment to professional development. To become certified you must complete a designated educational program, have at least five years of orthopedic experience and pass an exam.

Other Careers to Consider

Medical Assistant

If you want to work in the medical field but are intimidated by the education requirements for orthopedic physician's assistants, you may want to consider working as a medical assistant. In this field, you'll assist doctors and nurses by performing clerical tasks, reviewing patient history, giving injections and more. Medical assistants generally need only a high school diploma and on-the job training. Certification is available, although not required. Demand for medical assistants is expected to grow at a rapid rate of 31% from 2010-2020 according to the BLS. In May 2011, the average yearly salary for medical assistants was about $30,000, according to the BLS.

Physician

If you'd like to practice medicine independently and have a higher earning potential, you may want to work as a physician. In this position you'll see patients and treat injuries and illness by prescribing medicine and performing tests. You'll need extensive education to become a doctor. Most physicians attend four years of undergraduate school and four years of medical school. After completing medical school you'll spend 3-8years in an internship or residency program. Additionally, you must be licensed through your state. While education and training is extensive, in May 2011, the average annual salary for physicians and surgeons was about $185,000, according to the BLS. Demand for physicians and surgeons is expected to increase faster than average at a rate of 24% from 2010-2020, also according to the BLS.

Popular Schools

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    1. George Mason University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Health Informatics
      • Master of Science in Health Informatics
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    2. Kaplan University

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    Doctorate
      • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
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      • Accelerated BSN to MSN
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      • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)
      • Bachelor: Health Science
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      • Family Nurse Practitioner Graduate Certificate
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    3. American University

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    Master's
      • Master of Science in Healthcare Management
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    4. Keiser University

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    Bachelor's
      • RN to BSN
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      • Associate of Sciences - Medical Assistant
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    5. Saint Joseph's University

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    Master's
      • MS in Health Administration
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    6. Herzing University

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    Master's
      • MSN - Family Nurse Practitioner
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      • Associate of Science - Medical Assisting Services
    Certificate
      • Diploma: Medical Assisting
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    7. Johns Hopkins University

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    Certificate
      • Post-Bachelor's Certificate in Biotechnology Enterprise
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    8. Colorado State University Global

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    Master's
      • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration
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    9. Baker College Online

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    Master's
      • Nursing Administration - Master's
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      • Nursing (Post-licensure) - Bachelor
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    10. Northcentral University

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    Doctorate
      • Education Specialist - Nursing Education
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      • MS - Organizational Leadership: Health Care Administration

Featured Schools

George Mason University

  • Master of Science in Health Informatics

What is your highest level of education?

Kaplan University

  • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
  • Accelerated BSN to MSN
  • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner Graduate Certificate

Which subject are you interested in?

American University

  • Master of Science in Healthcare Management

What is your highest level of education?

Keiser University

  • RN to BSN
  • Associate of Sciences - Medical Assistant

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Health Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?

Herzing University

  • MSN - Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Associate of Science - Medical Assisting Services
  • Diploma: Medical Assisting

What is your highest level of education?

Johns Hopkins University

  • Post-Bachelor's Certificate in Biotechnology Enterprise

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado State University Global

  • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration

What is your highest level of education?