What is a physician assistant?
A physician is a healthcare practitioner who is trained to diagnose and treat injuries and illnesses. There are also many other names that a physician assistant is known by such as Physician Associate, Orthopedic Physician Assistant, Certified Physician’s Assistant, Family Practice Physician Assistant, Surgical Physician Assistant, Pediatric Physician Assistant or just PA. In the early 1960’s the profession of physician assistants were introduced to the American Medical Association. This reason was because at this was the first time that there was a shortage of physicians became evident. Today the role of a physician assistant is more important than it ever was because the demand for physicians is growing as the baby-boomers near their age of retirement and they will need someone to take care of them.
When looking at the job title do not confuse a physician assistant with a medical assistant because a physician assistant handles more responsibilities and have to have a license to practice.
There are also different physician assistants such as:
- Orthopedic physician assistant—they deal with problems in the musculoskeletal system
- Emergency room physician assistant—they deal with patients who come into the emergency room
- Surgical physician assistant—they deal with patients before and after the surgery
- Dermatologist physician assistant—they deal with problems of the skin
These are just four of the many different specialties that a physician assistant can work in but there are positions for physician assistants in any branch of medicine where there is a physician working.
Job description of a Physician Assistant
What the job description of a physician assistant entails will vary according to what type of physician assistant they have specialized in and the work setting. Basically a physician assistant performs patient care and medical treatments similar to the physician they are working for. To perform any type of medical procedure, treatment, diagnostic tests, etc must be done under the supervision of a physician. What exactly their responsibilities are depends on the state where they are residing and practicing.
Some of the jobs that a physician assistant are allowed to do can include:
- Giving the patient written prescription notes
- Keeping track of their medical progress
- Performing physical examinations
- Assessing and evaluating medical tests like x-rays and blood tests
- Providing the patient with an early diagnosis of their medical condition and giving suggestions on which medical tests they should consider having done.
- Monitoring their health and medical histories
- Performing therapeutic care that can include injections like the flu shot, immunizations, dressing of wounds, removing casts, etc
According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) under the direct supervision of a physician they can also prescribe medicine. There are also some physician assistants who also do clerical work around the office such as answering the phone, setting up patient’s new appointments, scheduling diagnostic tests, sending charges to the insurance companies, etc.
How to become a physician assistant?
If you know that this is your career choice while in high school you should take as many science and math classes as you can, particularly biology, algebra, chemistry, and psychology. Once you graduate from high school you need to enroll in college to get your bachelor’s degree. One important thing to remember, even during high school, is that getting into a physician assistant program is highly competitive so you should make sure that you have a high Grade Point Average.
It should be in a pre-medical or science field like chemistry or biology. After getting your bachelor’s degree you will enter into a physician assistant program. During this program you will get a mixture of laboratory work, practical training, and classroom training. In 2008, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics there were in the United States 142 accredited physician assistant programs. Most of these schools off a 2 year program that will result in you having your master’s degree but there are some that you can earn a certificate or even a bachelor’s degree. Many of these physician assistant programs are affiliated with a teaching hospital or medical school.
Before choosing which physician assistant program you will go to make sure that has earned approval from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). A large portion of the physician assistant program will consist of hands-on training in clinical medicine which is supervised and will focus on areas of medicine like surgery, pediatrics, internal medicine, geriatrics, and family medicine. During clinical rotations you will spend approximately 30 days in each department. During these clinical rotations you will receive evaluations from their supervisors. You will also be given exams to help the supervisors assess your understanding of those particular clinical rotations.
To become a practicing physician assistant you will need the certification from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). You must also pass an examination first to earn that certification. Once you have that certification you can referred to yourself as a Physician Assistant Certified (PA-C). In order to keep your certification you have to complete 100 hours of continuing education every 24 months. Every 6 years you will have to take a recertification exam.
In addition to being certified you will also need to be licensed by the state where you are going to be working. To be licensed you need to:
- Complete and graduate from an accredited training program.
- Passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) which is given by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). To keep the license current you must also have the 100 hours of in continuing education every 2 years like you do to be recertified.
After graduating from the physician assistant program you will have the opportunity to receive additional training in a specialty area of medicine like internal medicine, geriatrics, emergency medicine, surgery, and occupational medicine. Some of the coursework that is covered in a physician assistant program is pharmacology, anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, ethics, and pathology. You will also have to have certification from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistant. Before you can obtain the certification for this medical specialty you will need to have 2 years of experience, have your PA-C certification, and complete the medical specialty program. You need to also pass the specialty exam. This specialty certification must be renewed every 6 years.
Work environment and schedule
When working as a physician assistant you can work in a variety of physician’s offices like obstetrics and gynecology, family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, etc. If they have chosen a specialty they may work in urology, orthopedics, radiology, cardiac care, ER, vascular and general surgery, pain management, etc. What hours they work will depend on their working environment. Their schedules could involve being on-call, working weekends and holidays especially if you are an emergency room physician assistant, day shift, nights, working fewer days during the week by working longer shifts to get in their 40 hour week. There are some physician assistants that may work as many as 60 hours a week.
Some physician assistants will even work in academic settings in training programs to train physician assistants who are getting their degree. To be able to work in this capacity most prefer the physician assistant to have a bachelor’s degree or higher and have work experience. Physician assistants can also work in the military and can be enlisted as an Officer and work on the U.S. Army Health Care Team.
You can find jobs as a physician assistant in private practices, group practices, hospital settings, schools, and clinics. It has been found that 50% of physician assistants work in 1 of 4 areas of medicine which include:
- Internal medicine
- General practice
- Obstetrics and gynecology
Although most of the work that a physician assistant does is under the direct supervision of a physician there is some times that a physician is unavailable to offer care to the patient. If it is legal in that particular state a physician assistant could practice without the direct supervision of a physician. Many physicians have a full practice and in addition to seeing regularly scheduled patients they often take patients who do not have an appointment. This is where a physician assistant can help out by seeing patients who do not have any life threatening diseases. If the patient comes in with symptoms of strep throat for example the physician assistant can see the patient, run a strep test and if it comes back positive she can have the physician write a prescription for the patient. If it is a state where the physician assistant can legally write prescriptions they can do this part also, saving the physician time with an unscheduled patient.
Pros and Cons of being a Physician Assistant
A Physician Assistant or a PA has very great reviews and is listed as one of the best jobs in the health care system. The jobs of physician assistants are in high demand, and the job opportunities are constantly growing. Their jobs are strictly accomplished under the surveillance of physicians, and their role is to examine patients. In most of the states, they are entitled even to prescribe medications. They are even allowed to treat diseases or to interpret tests or in some cases perform small surgeries. All of the physician assistants must possess a license that will allow them to practice what they’ve taught.
The pros that are present in this job are the opportunity to practice medicine since the present tasks of these professionals are the same as of Physicians. Their education involves just two years of training. Compared with the training of a Physician who will have to train for at least seven years in order to be able to practice. The training of a PA is less, and the job is better because you’ll spend more time with patients and less on the administrative duties.
The training process of a PA has a well-structured curriculum that involves the first-year classes and then in the second year a practical part that will assume clinical rotations in specialties. After finishing all the years of studies and fulfilling all the educational requirements including getting a Bachelor’s degree, you’ll finally be able to launch yourself in finding the most suitable job.
The salary of a physician assistant has a very good review with a median average that reaches about $93,010 per year. This means higher income compared to those areas of specialty that will assume from your part more years of studies and at the end of the educational process, a lower salary.
The cons enlisted for this job are linked mainly with the tasks. As a physician assistant, you don’t have free autonomy, and you can’t take any decision by yourself without having to go first to the physician that you are under.
However, even if you are earning a good salary, compared with the salary of a Physician is less. This can easily be considered a con in this career. The career opportunities for advancement are not very present and without higher education your chances for advancement in the field are not very present.
Physician Assistant job growth
The employment growth for physician assistants has a projection rate that reaches at 38% increase, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As the health care services are starting more and more to grow these professionals are much needed. This demand is mainly established due to an increase in the aging population and not only.
These professionals are playing an important role in the field, and it is expected to expand even more as the states are allowing more and more physician assistants to provide more procedures. Another reason is based on the fact that many insurance companies are starting to expand their coverage in which concerns these professional’s services. There are plenty of job opportunities for these professionals in various working settings such as hospitals, prisons, academic medical centers, and other institutions as well.
Physician assistant salary
The average annual salary for a physician assistant is based on various factors such as where they are going to work, their education, if they have any area of specialization, and how much work experience they have. Perspective employers may even look at your grades, especially during clinical rounds to see how well you know your work. On average the annual salary for a physician assistant just starting out is $69.410.
Here are some of the average annual physician assistant salaries of medical specialty workplaces.
- $64,475 working in a General Practice
- $68,408 working in Obstetrics-Gynecology
- $69,733 working in Family Medicine
- $70,302 working in Internal Medicine
- $79.372 working in Critical Care Medicine
- $79.605 working in Interventional Radiology
- $80,042 working in Cardiothoracic Surgery
- $81,508 working in Emergency Medicine
In addition to the salary there is usually a nice benefit package that goes along with the job. This benefit package can include paid vacation and sick days, vision and dental care, life insurance, medical insurance that could cover the family, 401K, pension, social security, paid holidays, shift differential if you are working 12 hour shifts or working nights, a stipend towards your cell phone bill each month if you work as an on-call physician assistant.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there is an expected job growth for physician assistants of 38% between 2012-2022 due to the aging population that are now needing the variety of services that physician assistants can do.
Salary of a Physician Assistant in 2015
In the US, the salary of a physician assistant in 2015 is estimated based on the influential factors. The type of employment can influence the salary of a PA, and since you’ll be able to choose from a variety of settings your salary will vary. The state in which you are working has its higher or lower points that will mark the values of income that is monthly and even yearly received.
The larger cities will assume more places of work compared with those who are smaller. As a PA, you don’t have to worry because there are plenty of settings in which you can find work. The only problem that comes and will reach you is the competitiveness that arises.
Physician Assistant Salary in 2016
For the year 2016, in the US, the median income of a physician assistant has an average that is estimated to reach at $87,343 per year. The starting point in the salary of these professionals is $69,627 and up to $111,371. The bonuses that are granted usually reach up to $13,567, while the profit sharing is comprised between $1,006 and up to $15,312. The Commissions for Physician Assistants tend to reach at $56,289, this leading to a total payment that is estimated to range from $71,361 per year and up to $121,073 per year.
The major factor that impacts the salary for this group is the place of residence, followed by the type of employment, industry and years of experience in the field as well as other. The best paying skills that are associated with this career path are Emergency Room or else known as the ER, and the Emergency Medicine.
The payment that is provided for the experience level is very different, and the earnings for this particular group tends to have a modest increase over time. For instance, an entry-level physician assistant tends to get with less than five years in the field, around $85,010 per year, while one individual that has between 5 years and up to 10 years of practice in this job can expect to take home around $96,010 per year.
An experienced professional with 10 and up 20 years of working experience can expect to earnings that usually tend to reach up to $100,010 per year while the veterans in this career field with plenty of experience will gain only around $102,010 per year.
The national average salary for these specialists tends to be evaluated at $90,649 per year. The regions that are found to pay physician assistants with earnings above the national average can be found in Los Angeles, Seattle, Phoenix, Huston, Dallas and other as well. For instance in Los Angeles, the total median average reaches at $101,166 per year while in Seattle the earnings reach up at $95,971 per year. These earnings vary from state to state, due to the various costs of living found in each area and the living expenses.
Physician assistant salary in Canada, Australia and the UK
Working outside of the United States a physician assistant may or may not have an annual salary that is higher, lower, or equal to the average annual salary of a physician assistant working in the United States.
- Canada—working here as a physician assistant you would have an average annual salary of CAD$37,814-CAD$130,370. Starting out the average annual salary is CAD$49,132-CAD$81,444 but by the time that you over 20 years work experience you would have an average annual salary of $77,796-CAD$133,646.
- The United Kingdom—the average annual salary for a physician assistant salary with 1-4 years experience is GBP 15,205-GBP 30,304. Having 5-9 years experience would be 19,000-36,973, having 10-19 years experience would be 18,422-39,159 and with 20 years experience or more would be 13.429-24,566.
- Australia—the average annual salary is AU$80,000.
Conclusion on physician assistant salary
Looking at the average annual salary of under $70,000 for a physician assistant might not seem like much considering the work that they do but you also need to look at the great benefit package. You could work in a business office and maybe in some factories but would they offer the same benefit package. If you enjoy working with people then this would be the job for you as you will be dealing with people most of your working day. Looking at the places of employment for specialized branches of medicine it shows that working as an emergency physician assistant has the larger salary but if you have ever been in an emergency room you have witnessed first-hand can be quite chaotic.
In addition working as a physician assistant you have basically the same duties as a physician without going to school for many years. If you are not sure this is the field that you want to go into talk to a physician assistant if you can to see what they do. Working in medicine as a physician assistant is a great job and the salary of under $70,000 on average plus the benefit package.
- First Published Date: 2 October, 2014
- Last Updated Date: 1 September, 2016