Career Development

What Does a Physician Assistant Do?

Find out what a physician assistant does, how to get this job, and what it takes to succeed as a physician assistant.

Physician assistants (PA) are healthcare professionals who practice medicine with the supervision of a physician. They are trained to provide primary care services and may also be involved in more specialized areas such as surgery, obstetrics, or emergency medicine.

Physician assistants have extensive training in medical procedures and diagnosis. However, they do not need to complete the same years-long process that physicians must go through to become licensed. Instead, they attend an accredited Physician Assistant program where they learn about disease processes, human anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, etc.

Physician Assistant Job Duties

Physician assistants have a wide range of responsibilities, which can include:

  • Communicating with patients about their diagnosis and treatment plans, including explaining procedures and answering questions about their care
  • Administering medications or performing other procedures to treat patients’ physical illnesses
  • Performing research on new treatments and technologies in cooperation with other healthcare professionals
  • Coordinating patient care with other medical professionals such as surgeons, nurses, specialists, dentists, and pharmacists
  • Taking medical histories and performing physical examinations to diagnose patients’ conditions and identify risk factors for diseases or other health problems
  • Conducting exams, tests, and procedures to diagnose injuries or illnesses
  • Counseling patients on health issues and providing follow up care
  • Preparing patients for surgery by administering anesthesia, monitoring patients’ vital signs, and assisting surgeons during operations
  • Performing basic lab tests, x-rays, and other diagnostic procedures to assess patient health status

Physician Assistant Salary & Outlook

Physician assistants’ salaries vary depending on their level of education and experience, the type of work they do, and the geographic location of their job.

  • Median Annual Salary: $105,000 ($50.48/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $142,000 ($68.27/hour)

The employment of physician assistants is expected to grow much faster than average over the next decade.

As healthcare costs continue to increase, physician assistants will be needed to help reduce costs while providing quality care. Physician assistants are less expensive than physicians and can provide some medical services without a doctor’s supervision.

Related: In-Depth Physician Assistant Salary Guide

Physician Assistant Job Requirements

A physician assistant typically needs to have the following:

Education: All physician assistants must earn a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from a physician assistant program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant.

The master’s program takes two years to complete and includes coursework in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathology, medical ethics and medical law. The program also includes a clinical component, where students gain hands-on experience working with patients under the supervision of a licensed physician.

Training & Experience: Physician assistants receive most of their training through their educational programs and clinical experiences. They also receive on-the-job training from their supervising physicians.

Certifications & Licenses: Once a candidate completes the PA program, they must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE).

Some employers may also require candidates to pass the Basic Life Support Certification (BLS) test.

Physician Assistant Skills

Physicians assistants need the following skills in order to be successful:

Interpersonal Skills: As a physician assistant, you will be working with patients and their families, as well as physicians and other medical professionals. Excellent interpersonal skills are essential in order to build trust and rapport with patients, communicate effectively, and collaborate with other members of the healthcare team.

Medical Knowledge: Physician assistants are highly trained professionals who work in collaboration with a physician to provide patient care. To provide competent care, it is essential to have a comprehensive knowledge of human anatomy and physiology, common medical conditions, diagnostics and treatments, pharmacology, and laboratory procedures.

Physical Assessment Skills: Part of the job of a physician assistant includes assessing patients’ physical condition by taking their vital signs (temperature, pulse rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure), examining them for signs and symptoms of illness or injury, and ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests.

Organizational Skills: As a member of the healthcare team, it is essential for physician assistants to be able to efficiently manage their time so that they can provide quality care for all their patients. Organizational skills include being able to prioritize tasks, keep accurate records, and coordinate care between multiple providers.

Leadership Skills: As a member of the health care team, physician assistants often have opportunities to assume leadership roles within their practice setting. Good leadership skills include being able to motivate others, make sound decisions under pressure, and problem solve collaboratively.

Physician Assistant Work Environment

Most physician assistants work in physicians’ offices, hospitals, or clinics. They may work in outpatient care centers, nursing homes, or home health care services. A small number work in industrial settings, such as in the oil and gas industry or in mining. Many physician assistants work full time, and about 1 in 4 work more than 40 hours per week. Some may have irregular hours because they must be on call to meet the needs of their patients.

Physician Assistant Trends

Here are three trends influencing how physician assistants work. Physician assistants will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

The Growth of Telemedicine

The use of telemedicine is growing rapidly as more and more people are turning to this method of healthcare delivery. This trend is being driven by the increasing availability of technology that makes it possible to connect with doctors and other health professionals remotely.

Physician assistants can take advantage of this trend by becoming certified in telemedicine services. This will allow them to provide care to patients who live in rural areas or who do not have easy access to traditional medical facilities. It will also allow them to work with doctors and other health professionals who are located in different parts of the country or world.

Patient Engagement Will Be a Top Priority

As patient engagement becomes a top priority for healthcare providers, physician assistants will need to develop skills in communication and relationship building.

This trend means that physician assistants will need to be able to build trust with patients and help them feel comfortable sharing information about their health. In addition, they will need to be able to communicate effectively with other members of the healthcare team in order to ensure that all aspects of patient care are being addressed.

More Use of Technology in Healthcare

Technology is playing an increasingly important role in healthcare, as hospitals and clinics look for ways to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

As a result, physician assistants will need to become familiar with the latest technologies and how to use them effectively in order to provide the best care for patients. This includes learning how to use electronic medical records, as well as understanding the benefits of using video conferencing to conduct remote consultations.

How to Become a Physician Assistant

A career as a physician assistant (PA) offers many opportunities for growth and personal development. As a PA, you can specialize in different areas of medicine, such as emergency medicine, family practice, or surgery. You can also choose to work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, and private practices.

No matter which path you choose, it’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest medical developments and trends. Read medical journals and attend continuing education courses to learn about the latest treatments and technologies. Network with other PAs and physicians to exchange ideas and learn from their experiences.

Related: How to Write a Physician Assistant Resume

Advancement Prospects

PAs may advance in their careers by taking on additional responsibilities, such as supervising other PAs or working in a more specialized area of medicine. Some PAs choose to go back to school to earn a master’s degree, which can lead to advancement in their career. PAs may also advance by becoming certified in a specialty, such as surgery or pediatrics.

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