Physician assistants (PAs) are essential members of the health care profession who care for millions of patients every week, providing primary care as well as a broad range of specialty care to people of all ages.
The profession is thriving. From 2010 to 2017, the PA field grew 53.8% and by the end of 2017, there were 123,089 Certified PAs in the United States, according to the 2017 Statistical Profile of Certified Physicians Assistants.
Ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, such as X-rays or blood work.
Diagnosing patient conditions.
Administering treatment, such as setting broken bones and immunizing patients.
Educating patients and their families about disease prevention and other health care issues.
Assessing and recording patient progress.
Researching new treatments in order to provide the best patient care.
Conducting health outreach programs in the community.
Visiting patients at home or in nursing and assisted care facilities.
The typical workday of a physician assistant will vary depending on their medical specialty and the type of practice in which they work.
Top Physician Assistant Specialties
Physician assistants work in many specialties and also provide general primary care. It is often much easier for PAs to switch specialties than it is for medical doctors. Having a PA degree can grant you flexibility to move from one specialty to another according to interest, geography, and job opportunities. While physician assistant job growth is generally rapid, some specialties are in particular demand, such as dermatology, orthopedics, and urgent care.
Dermatology Physician Assistant Careers
Dermatology physician assistants examine patients in order to diagnose and treat a variety of medical, surgical, and cosmetic skin conditions. They also provide screening exams, preventive care, and education. Dermatology PAs collaborate with a dermatologist, often in a private office setting, which enables the practice to care for more patients. A typical day for a dermatology PA might include:
Reviewing labs and biopsy results.
Educating patients on skin care.
Performing skin biopsies, excisions, cryotherapy, and other treatment procedures.
Charting patient conditions and treatments.
Completing continuing medical education.
First-year dermatology physician assistants earn approximately $90,000 per year, a starting salary comparable to other PA specialties, but highly specialized and experienced dermatology PAs have reported a base salary of $150,000 a year and $84,000 in annual bonuses, according to the 2018 American Academy of PAs Salary Report.
Orthopedic Physician Assistant Career
Another physician assistant specialty is orthopedics, the branch of medicine concerned with bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. Physician assistants in orthopedics may perform the following duties:
Recording patient histories.
Ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests.
Prescribing medications, devices, and therapy.
Assisting in orthopedic surgeries.
Performing procedures such as tendon repairs, wound closures and debridement, injection of joints, and fracture management.
As the physician shortage continues, urgent care centers may become an essential source of health care for many people. Because of their generalist medical training, urgent care physician assistants are well qualified to provide urgent care services or practice emergency medicine. Duties of an urgent care physician assistant might include the following for urgent care patients:
Performing medical exams.
Recording medical histories.
Ordering diagnostic tests, including blood work and imaging.
Referring more serious or chronic conditions to the emergency department, primary care doctors, or specialists.
An important part of an urgent care physician assistant’s job is to quickly determine when a patient requires more advanced care than is available at an urgent care facility.
Physician Assistant Salary Expectations
Average Salary of a Physician Assistant
Compensation rates for physician assistants vary by state, experience, specialty, and work context, but the national average salary of a physician assistant is $108,430, according to 2018 figures reported by the BLS. Connecticut has the highest annual average salary of $125,610. Physician assistants working in outpatient care centers have the highest annual salaries compared to PAs working in physician offices, general hospitals, and other health care settings.