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Physician Assistant Career

Career Description

A Physician Assistant provides healthcare services typically performed by a physician,  under the supervision of a physician. They conduct complete physicals, provide treatment, counsel patients, and may, in some cases, prescribe medication.

Common Work Tasks

  • Provide diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive health care services, as delegated by a physician
  • Take medical histories, examine and treat patients, order and interpret laboratory tests and x rays, and make diagnoses
  • Treat minor injuries, by suturing, splinting,  and casting
  • Record progress notes, instruct and counsel patients, and order or carry out therapy
  • Perform managerial duties, such as ordering medical supplies or equipment and supervising technicians and assistants
  • Confer with the supervising physician and other medical professionals as needed and as required by law
  • Make house calls or go to hospitals and nursing care facilities to check on patients, after which they report back to the physician
  • Provide physicians with assistance during surgery or complicated medical procedures
  • Instruct and counsel patients about prescribed therapeutic regimens, normal growth and development, family planning, emotional problems of daily living, and health maintenance
  • Order medical and laboratory supplies and equipment

Other Job Titles

Physician Assistants are also known by other titles,  including:

  • Physician Aides
  • Medical Assistants
  • Physicians
  • General Practitioners

Education,  Training, and Experience

Education and Training
Physician assistant education programs usually last at least 2 years and are full time.  Most programs are in schools of allied health, academic health centers, medical schools, or 4-year colleges; a few are in community colleges, the military, or hospitals. Many accredited PA programs have clinical teaching affiliations with medical schools.

Certification and Licensure
All States and the District of Columbia have legislation governing the qualifications or practice of physician assistants. All jurisdictions require physician assistants to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination,  administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) and open only to graduates of accredited PA education programs. Only those successfully completing the examination may use the credential “Physician Assistant-Certified.” To remain certified, PAs must complete 100 hours of continuing medical education every 2 years. Every 6 years, they must pass a recertification examination or complete an alternative program combining learning experiences and a take-home examination.

  Physician assistants must have a desire to serve patients and be self-motivated. PAs also must have a good bedside manner, emotional stability, and the ability to make decisions in emergencies. Physician assistants must be willing to study throughout their career to keep up with medical advances.


The median annual salary for a Physician Assistant is $78,000. The top 10 percent earn more than $106,000, and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $47,000.  Median earnings in the industries employing the largest number of physician assistants are:

  • Offices of Physicians - $77,620
  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals- $79,850
  • Outpatient Care Centers - $81,300
  • Federal Executive Branch - $75,650
  • Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools - $66,230

Job Outlook

  • 2006-2016 Employment growth:  27%
  • Number of new jobs created 2006-2016: 18,000
  • Employment 2006 : 66,000
  • Employment 2016:  83,000
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