What you need to know
Physician assistants, also known as PAs, practice medicine on teams with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers. They examine, diagnose, and treat patients.
Working with patients can be both physically and emotionally demanding. Physician assistants spend much of their time on their feet, making rounds and evaluating patients. Physician assistants who work in operating rooms often stand for extended periods.
Some of the things physician assistants might do:
- 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
- Communication skills. Physician assistants must explain complex medical issues in a way that patients can understand. They must also effectively communicate with doctors and other healthcare workers to ensure that they provide the best possible patient care.
- Compassion. Physician assistants deal with patients who are sick or injured and may be in extreme pain or distress. They must treat patients and their families with compassion and understanding.
- Detail oriented. Physician assistants should be observant and have a strong ability to focus when evaluating and treating patients.
- Emotional stability. Physician assistants, particularly those working in surgery or emergency medicine, should work well under pressure. They must remain calm in stressful situations in order to provide quality care.
- Problem-solving skills. Physician assistants need to evaluate patients’ symptoms and administer the appropriate treatments. They must be diligent when investigating complicated medical issues so they can determine the best course of treatment for each patient.
The average pay for physician assistants in the United States ranges from $69,120 to $151,850 as of May 2018.
The specific pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.
Employment of physician assistants is projected to grow 37 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations.
Physician assistants will have growing roles in all areas of medicine as states expand allowable procedures and autonomy, and as insurance companies expand their coverage of physician assistant services.
Physician assistants typically need a master’s degree from an accredited educational program. Earning that degree usually takes at least 2 years of full-time postgraduate study. All states require physician assistants to be licensed.
Physician assistant education includes classroom and laboratory instruction in subjects such as pathology, human anatomy, physiology, clinical medicine, pharmacology, physical diagnosis, and medical ethics. The programs also include supervised clinical training in several areas, including family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine, and pediatrics.