Career Development

Physician Assistant Job Description: Salary, Duties, & More

Physician assistants are health care professionals who are licensed to practice medicine under the supervision of a physician.

Physician assistants are health care professionals who are licensed to practice medicine under the supervision of a physician.

Physician assistants perform many of the tasks that physicians do, but they do so under the responsibility of the licensed physician. They are educated to perform a wide range of medical tasks including performing physical exams, diagnosing illnesses, ordering lab tests, and prescribing medications.

As physician assistants generally work closely with the supervising physician, they must be willing to work in the same office as the supervising physician. A physician assistant may also be required to work with other medical professionals such as nurses, pharmacists, and physical therapists to provide complete care to patients.

The specific duties of a physician assistant vary by state and according to the specialty of the supervising physician. Physician assistants can be found in most medical specialties including family practice, emergency medicine, anesthesiology, and surgery. Consequently, they can work in a variety of healthcare settings including hospitals, clinics, private practices, group practices, and medical centers.

Physician Assistant Job Duties

Typical duties of physician assistants include the following:

  • Performing physical exams and recording patients’ medical histories and symptoms to diagnose illnesses and determine treatment plans
  • Performing diagnostic tests, such as EKGs, X-rays, blood tests, urinalysis, and chest x-rays
  • Prescribing medications and ordering lab tests to diagnose conditions and monitor treatment progress
  • Providing patients with information about their conditions, options for treatment, and follow-up care
  • Preparing patients for surgery by explaining preoperative instructions and postoperative care needs
  • Administering medications or providing follow-up care for chronic conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure
  • Coordinating with other health care providers to ensure that patients receive the best possible care

Physician Assistant Salary & Outlook

The median annual wage for physician assistants is $96,912. The top earners make over $154,000 per year.

Job opportunities for physician assistants are projected to grow much faster than average over the next decade. This is due to the increasing demand for healthcare services and the growing number of aging baby boomers that need more care from physicians and other healthcare professionals.

Physician Assistant Job Requirements

Physician assistants are educated and trained to work in all areas of medicine, including primary care, emergency medicine, surgery, anesthesia, critical care, obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics, psychiatry, and other specialty areas.

Education: To become a physician assistant, you must complete a two-year graduate program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA).

Experience: Entry-level positions typically require that you have completed an internship or externship before being hired. Physician assistants may gain experience through residency programs or work with a preceptor.

Certification: To become certified, a physician assistant must complete a national certification examination and have at least two years of experience working under the supervision of a physician. The NCCPA administers the certification exam, which is open to graduates of a physician assistant program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA).

Physician Assistant Skills

In addition to the relevant medical qualifications and licences, physician assistants must have the following soft skills:

Compassion: As with all healthcare professions, physician assistants must be caring and sympathetic toward patients.

Communication skills: Physician assistants must be able to work closely with others. It is critical that physician assistants communicate effectively with patients, supervising physicians, and other healthcare workers.

Continued learning commitment: Physician assistants must keep up-to-date on the latest developments in their field by reading journals, attending conferences, and continuing education courses.

Analytical skills: Physician assistants require excellent analytical skills as they must make decisions based on patient test results and clinical observations.

Stress management skills: The pressure that comes with being a physician assistant can take its toll over time, making the ability to manage stress crucial in this healthcare profession.

Physician Assistant Work Environment

Physician assistants work in healthcare facilities such as medical offices, clinics, and hospitals. They work with a variety of people, including patients, doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel.

Physician assistants must be able to work with people who may be in pain or otherwise in distress. They must be able to remain calm with irate patients as well as in emergency situations. As physician assistants work under the supervision of a physician, they share their environment with the physician.

Physician Assistant Career Advancement

If you are interested in becoming a physician assistant, there are many opportunities to advance within the field. Some physicians assistants go on to become nurse practitioners, which is a similar role but with more responsibility.

Other physician assistants move into managerial roles or become directors of their departments. This requires greater communication skills, as the director is the point person for communication between other departments and outside organizations. Although you will have less contact with patients, your position will be much more involved in the overall operation of the hospital or practice.

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 Impact of Population Aging

Physician assistants will need to be familiar with a wider range of patient needs, as more and more elderly patients seek treatment from PAs. As the population ages, physician assistants will be required to take on a greater role in providing preventive care and health education. In addition, older patients often have chronic conditions that require more advanced diagnostic tools and treatments than what might typically be provided by a PA.

Increased Focus on Communication Skills

In addition to their existing responsibilities, physician assistants are increasingly being tasked with communicating the needs of patients to physicians and vice versa.

Due to a shortage of primary care physicians in the United States, physician assistants have become a valuable asset to the medical field as they help provide a more holistic approach to treatment and diagnoses by taking a comprehensive look at patient needs in conjunction with clinical data. 

Advances in Telemedicine

Although telemedicine has been around for decades, it is becoming increasingly popular as doctors and patients alike seek new solutions to make healthcare more accessible.

In addition, the federal government has been expanding telemedicine through Medicare reimbursement programs that can help those with limited access to care receive treatment from a distance.

In the future, medical professionals will likely need a solid understanding of this practice as telemedicine becomes more common and changes the face of healthcare for good. 

How to Become a Physician Assistant

Planning Your Career Path

A career as a physician assistant is challenging but rewarding. This position requires advanced training in medical assistance, so aspiring professionals should be sure to take advantage of educational opportunities at their university or local community college.

Physician assistants also must pass an exam administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). To get the most out of your education and preparation for this test, check out NCCPA’s website for helpful information on test-taking strategies and other important details.

Writing a Resume

Although this is a more specialized position, a physician assistant resume should have the same structure as a general resume. In other words, it should list your work experience first, followed by any educational information, certifications, and licensure. The exception to this rule is if you have only been in the field for a short time. In that case, you can list your education first so that potential employers know where you are coming from. If you were involved in clinical experience during PA school, include that too!

In addition to highlighting your clinical skills, you should also list any medical-related volunteering or extracurricular activities you have been involved in. The more you can demonstrate your compassion for others and interest in the medical field, the better.

You should also make sure to showcase any unique or special skills that make you a good fit for the job. For example, if you speak a second language fluently, this could be a huge selling point in an area with a large immigrant population.

Physician assistants should also tailor their resumes for each position they are applying for. For example, if you are applying for a role at an emergency room, then it would be best to include trauma and emergency medicine skills prominently on your resume.

Applying for Jobs

While completing your training, it’s important to build a network of physicians, so try attending local networking events and conventions. Also, keep your resume updated with volunteer experience, community service projects, and job shadowing experiences.

Physicians’ offices and hospitals are the best places to look for a job as a physician assistant. You can search online for available positions at websites like Doximity and the American Academy of Physician Assistants. If you have a personal connection to someone who works in the industry, ask them to keep an eye out for you.

If you’re having trouble finding a job in your field, consider looking into non-traditional employment options like telemedicine. It’s an emerging trend that is gaining popularity, and there are currently several jobs available.

Ace the Interview

To be a successful physician assistant candidate, you’ll want to demonstrate your ability to work in a fast-paced environment. When answering questions, be sure to use the acronyms for all the medical terms you might know; make sure you are well-versed in anatomy and physiology, and be prepared to discuss specific health issues like diabetes or high blood pressure. Also, be prepared to talk about your education and previous experience. You will want to emphasize your ability to think critically and work well with others.

In order to make a good impression on your interview as a physician assistant candidate, it is important to be well-prepared and to research the company beforehand. You will want to ask questions about the day-to-day responsibilities of the job, and you should demonstrate that you have a solid understanding of how the role fits into the organization.

When it comes to clothing, you should dress professionally but conservatively; remember that there will be other people in the interview room with you, so think about how you would fit in with them. If the interview is held at a hospital, you should also be aware of proper safety procedures.


Dental Hygienist Job Description: Salary, Duties, & More

Back to Career Development

500+ Career Guides by Industry