Becoming a Physician Assistant: Job Description & Salary Info

About this article
Learn about a physician assistant's job description, salary and education requirements. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of a physician assistant career.
View available schools

Pros and Cons of Becoming a Physician Assistant

Under the supervision of surgeons and physicians, physician assistants help examine and treat patients. Learn about the pros and cons of being a physician assistant by reading below.

Pros of Becoming a Physician Assistant
Yearly income is above the national average (about $97,000 on average in 2014)*
Good job prospects (38% employment increase expected between 2012 and 2022)*
Occupational advancement options with experience or additional education*
Work can be seen as a rewarding experience since you're helping injured or sick patients*

Cons of Becoming a Physician Assistant
Night, holiday, on-call and weekend hours can be required*
Extensive educational requirements (master's degree)*
State license is necessary to work*

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

Essential Occupational Information

Job Description

A physician assistant can work in any area of medicine including psychiatry, family medicine, emergency medicine or surgery. Generally, the work of a physician assistant is dependent upon what a supervisory physician requires of him or her. You might examine a patient's medical history or do a physical examination on a patient. Physician assistants can order diagnostics like blood tests or x-rays, then examine that information and interpret it. After diagnosing a patient, you'll provide treatment whether it be through issuing medication or some other means.

Salary Information

In May 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that physician assistants earned about $46 an hour on average. This resulted in a yearly income of $97,000 or so. Physician assistants that were in the top tenth percentile of wage estimates made roughly $134,000 or more. The top paying states for 2014 were Rhode Island, Nevada, New Hampshire, Texas and Washington.

Job Outlook

A much faster-than-average employment growth is expected for physician assistants. The BLS reported that a 38% employment growth was expected to occur between 2012 and 2022. The reason for this growth can partially be attributed to more physicians entering into specific areas of medicine. Consequently, there is a greater demand for primary and general healthcare providers; these are areas that physician assistants often enter. Additionally, more physician assistants and other healthcare providers are going to be needed as the population grows.

Vocational Requirements

Training and Education

Most applicants entering physician assistant programs already have bachelor's degrees. However, the exact admission requirements can vary. Though most physician assistant programs result in master's degrees, bachelor's, associate's and graduate certificate programs are also available. Previous experience in a related healthcare field, such as paramedicine or registered nursing, is required by many programs. These programs typically require two years of full-time study. In addition to classroom instruction in the sciences, you'll receive clinical training in multiple areas of medicine.

Before you can actively begin practicing, you'll need to obtain a state license or certification by passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. You're eligible for the exam after graduating from an approved program. Every six years, continuing education or an additional examination is required for recertification.

What Are Employers Looking For?

Employers generally desire physician assistants who are compassionate and possess excellent communication skills. In order to keep a general list of clients coming to the same office, a physician assistant has to develop a good reputation with patients. Emotional stability is also crucial for physician assistants since they have to stay calm during stressful events. You can see what real employers were looking for in physician assistants in November 2012 by reading the information below.

  • Members of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) were preferred for an opening in California.
  • A year of orthopedic and surgical experience was required for a physician assistant position in Ohio.
  • An agency in New York desired a physician assistant with experience working in prisons or correctional facilities.
  • In Texas, a physician assistant opening called for applicants to have current basic life support certification and advanced cardiac life support certification.

How Can You Stand Out as a Physician Assistant?

By acquiring a specialty, you can set yourself apart from others who don't have that specialized knowledge. Occupational medicine, internal medicine and rural primary care are just some of the topics that can be explored in a postgraduate training program. You normally have to be certified and possess the basic education of a physician assistant prior to entering one of the advanced specialty programs. Previous work experience is beneficial to standing out as a physician assistant as well. You might be able to bring experiences and insights from previous work as a nurse, paramedic or similar position and apply it towards being a physician assistant.

Other Occupational Options

If you don't mind earning a master's degree and a license, you might consider being an occupational therapist instead of a physician assistant. As an occupational therapist, you would use therapeutic exercises and everyday activities to help patients who suffer from disabilities, illnesses or injuries. You'll observe the patient in order to determine the most effective treatment plan. It is important to understand the needs and living situation of the patient so you can ensure that the exercises are geared towards what he or she wants to accomplish. In May 2011, the BLS reported that occupational therapists earned about $75,000 on average annually. A 33% employment growth was projected to occur between 2010 and 2020.

If you're willing to further your education and earn a doctoral degree and a license, you can become a family or general physician. In this role, you would be treating and examining problems that occur in patients that you see on a regular basis. For example, you might see broken bones or infections in your patients. From 2010 to 2020, the BLS projected a 24% growth in employment for physicians and surgeons. Family and general practitioners made an average of around $177,000 in May 2011.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. The George Washington University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
      • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
      • MSHS in Molecular Diagnostic Sciences
      • MSHS in Translational Microbiology
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
    Master's
      • MBA: Health Systems Management
      • MS in Health Care Administration
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care
      • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science
      • BS in Health Care Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Purdue University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Nursing
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)
      • Bachelor: Health Science
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Project Management
    Associate's
      • Associate of Science - Medical Assisting Services
    Certificate
      • Diploma: Medical Assisting
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Organizational Leadership: Health Care Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Regent University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Management
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • RN to BSN
    Associate's
      • Associate of Sciences - Medical Assistant
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • HS Diploma
  • Campus and Online Programs
    9. Fortis College

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Medical Assistant
      • Medical Assisting
      • Sterile Processing Technician
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Administration - Health Care Administration
    Bachelor's
      • B.S. General Studies - Life Sciences
      • B.S. Healthcare Administration
    Associate's
      • A.S. General Studies - Life Sciences

Featured Schools

The George Washington University

  • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
  • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
  • MSHS in Molecular Diagnostic Sciences

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
  • MBA: Health Systems Management
  • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care

What is your highest level of education?

Purdue University Global

  • MS in Nursing
  • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)
  • Bachelor: Health Science

Which subject are you interested in?

Herzing University

  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
  • Associate of Science - Medical Assisting Services
  • Diploma: Medical Assisting

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Health Care Administration

What is your highest level of education?

Regent University

  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
  • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
  • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Management

What is your highest level of education completed?

Keiser University

  • RN to BSN
  • Associate of Sciences - Medical Assistant

What is your highest level of education?

Penn Foster High School

  • HS Diploma

What is your age?