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Physician Assistant Job Description, Career as a Physician Assistant, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Some college and additional training

Salary: Median—$69,410 per year

Employment Outlook: Excellent

Definition and Nature of the Work

Physician assistants (PAs) relieve doctors of routine chores, allowing them to devote more of their time to patient care that requires highly specialized training. Although they are not doctors, physician assistants practice medicine and do many of the jobs doctors do. Physician assistants can take medical histories, examine and treat patients, order and interpret laboratory tests and X-rays, make diagnoses, treat minor injuries, instruct and counsel patients, and order or carry out therapy. In most states, PAs can also prescribe medicines.

Physician assistants, who work only under the supervision of doctors, are employed in hospitals, clinics, and private offices. In rural areas, PAs may provide most of the medical care, with a physician available only one or two days each week.

Education and Training Requirements

Two years of college and health care experience are common requirements for admission to physician assistant training programs. Many applicants have bachelor's or master's degrees. Medical schools, colleges, community colleges, and teaching hospitals offer training programs, which combine classroom and clinical study and last about two years.

Physician assistants' activities are regulated in almost all states. Many states require certification. Most states require registration with the state medical board.

Getting the Job

Graduates can apply directly to hospitals, clinics, and doctors' offices. School placement offices usually have lists of job openings.

The work of a physician assistant often resembles the work of a doctor. This physician assistant performs a respiratory, head, and chest examination on a patient. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.)

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Physician assistants advance by accepting more responsibility or by moving into jobs that present greater challenges. Some become specialists.

Employment of physician assistants is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through 2014. It is among the fastest growing occupations, largely because of expansion of the health-care industry. Physicians and institutions are employing more PAs to provide primary care and assist with medical and surgical procedures. Job prospects should be particularly good in areas that have difficulty attracting physicians, such as inner-city and rural clinics. In addition to office-based settings, there should be a growing number of jobs in hospitals, academic medical centers, public clinics, and prisons.

Working Conditions

The job is demanding and requires a high degree of commitment. Physician assistants, like doctors, are always on call and generally work forty to sixty hours per week. Physician assistants must be able to communicate well with patients and other health-care workers.

Where to Go for More Information

American Academy of Physician Assistants
950 N. Washington St.
Alexandria, VA 22314-1552
(703) 836-2272

Physician Assistant Education Association
300 N. Washington St., Ste. 505
Alexandria, VA 22314-2544
(703) 548-5538

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries depend on education, experience, and location. In 2004 the median earnings of physician assistants were $69,410 per year. Benefits generally included paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesHealth & Medicine