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.
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.
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
Physician Assistant Education Association
300 N. Washington St., Ste. 505
Alexandria, VA 22314-2544
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.
A physician assistant (PA) career has been rated by U.S. News and World Report as one of the fastest growing and most desirable careers for the future. Job opportunities include work in clinics, care for patients in hospitals, and care for patients in nursing homes. Many of the PA job duties are very much like the job of a doctor. Physician assistants see patients, take a history, do a physical exam, make a diagnosis, and decide on the treatment needed. The difference between a physician and a physician assistant is the amount of education required, the physician supervision, and the level of responsibility. Every PA needs to have a supervising physician, someone who oversees his or her work. The PA and physician work together as a team.
Most physician assistant programs require an undergraduate degree in one of sciences, such as biology or chemistry. Many PA programs require certain courses to get into a PA school, such as general biology, microbiology, general and organic chemistry, biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, psychology, and statistics. The PA education is anywhere from two to three years in length after a minimum of three years of college. All PA programs award a certificate of completion at the end of the program. Some programs also award a degree along with the certificate.
Getting into PA school is quite challenging. As of 2000, there were 125 programs in the United States. The class size for each PA program averages thirty-one. In order to be considered, one needs to get good grades in college, at least consistent Bs. Volunteering and working in the health care field, such as in a nursing home, increase one's chances of acceptance into a program. Many prospective students talk with PAs before starting a program so that they get a better idea of what PAs do on the job.
see also Doctor, Family Practice; Nurse; Nurse Practitioner
Dawn B. Ludwig
American Academy of Physician Assistants. <http://www.aapa.org>.