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

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • RN to BSN
      • RN to BSN
    Associate's
      • Associate of Sciences - Medical Assistant
      • Associate of Sciences - Medical Assistant
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Education Specialist - Nursing Education
      • Education Specialist - Nursing Education
    Master's
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor - Nursing Practice
      • Doctor of Management - Health Care Management and Leadership
    Master's
      • MS - Nursing - Nursing Administration
      • MS - Nursing - Nursing Education
      • MS - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Science in Management - Healthcare Management
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Nursing (RN to BSN completion)
      • BS - Business Administration - Health Care Management
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Health and Human Services Administration
    Bachelor's
      • RN to Bachelors of Science in Nursing
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS Health Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    6. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Healthcare Management
      • Master of Business Admin: Healthcare Admin
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Business Admin: Healthcare Management
      • Bachelor of Healthcare Management - HSA Mgt.
      • Bachelor of Healthcare Management
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Queens University of Charlotte

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Nursing: Undecided
      • Master of Science in Nursing: Nurse Administrator
      • Master of Science in Nursing: Clinical Nurse Leader
      • Master of Science in Nursing: Clinical Nurse Leader Certificate
      • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Health Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Utica College

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy
    Master's
      • MBA - Health Care Management
      • Masters in Health Care Administration
      • Online Master of Science in Health Care Administration - Acute Care
      • Online Master of Science in Health Care Administration - Long Term Care
      • Online Master of Science in Health Care Administration - Service Organization
    Bachelor's
      • RN to Bachelor of Science
  • Online Programs Available
    9. The University of Scranton

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Health Administration
    Certificate
      • Executive Certificate in Health Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Central Christian College of Kansas

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS in Healthcare Administration

Featured Schools

Keiser University

  • RN to BSN
  • Associate of Sciences - Medical Assistant

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • Education Specialist - Nursing Education
  • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor - Nursing Practice
  • MS - Nursing - Nursing Administration
  • BS - Nursing (RN to BSN completion)

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Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

  • Master of Arts in Health and Human Services Administration
  • RN to Bachelors of Science in Nursing

What is your highest level of education completed?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS Health Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?

American InterContinental University

  • Master of Healthcare Management
  • Master of Business Admin: Healthcare Admin
  • Bachelor of Business Admin: Healthcare Management
  • Bachelor of Healthcare Management - HSA Mgt.

Are you a US citizen?

Queens University of Charlotte

  • Master of Science in Nursing: Undecided
  • Master of Science in Nursing: Nurse Administrator
  • Master of Science in Nursing: Clinical Nurse Leader

What is your highest level of education completed?

Utica College

  • Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy
  • MBA - Health Care Management
  • RN to Bachelor of Science

What is your highest level of education completed?