Physician Assistant Specialties

Physician Assistant Job: Being Patient With A Patient and More

A physician assistant is not just a picture perfect calm face on a spanking white lab coat. There’s more to the job than that. It’s not just about specialized knowledge of fluid dynamics and biochemical pathways either. As a physician assistant you also have to be able to offer “magic bullets” in the form of education and advice to patients about their health and treatment. And of course there would be patients with no idea about your job role, so that might call for some repeated explanations.

As far as decision making is concerned, you would also be making a lot of independent decisions every day, but, since you would be working under the guidance and supervision of an MD, he might end up having the final say in some matters. That calls for some humbleness as well. So, apart from in-depth medical knowledge and excellent communication skills, you also need to have a very cool head. That’s an absolute prerequisite.

At the end of the day all that matters is patient benefit. So, you have to be able to stomach the fact that you would not be at the top of the decision-making chain always and also be prepared for wild patient to patient swings. And, of course you also have to be flexible enough to accommodate changing focal points throughout your career because physician assistants practice in diverse medical streams.

Top 15 Physican Assistant Specialties

Trying to pick your specialty is hard. There are many variables that come into play – what fields are you actually interested in, what are the highest paying specialties, what’s going to play out in the years to come regarding jobs growth and what not. To help you select an interesting field we’ve listed to the highest paying specialties as of 2014 according to the MGMA.

  1. Radiology
  2. Mental Health
  3. Urgent Care
  4. Dermatology
  5. Emergency Department
  6. Cardiothoracic Surgery
  7. Neurosurgery
  8. Orthopedic Surgery
  9. Hospitalist
  10. Nursing Home
  11. Internal Medicine
  12. Occupational Health
  13. Gastroenterology
  14. Neurology
  15. Surgical

So, What Are The Job Responsibilities Of A Physician Assistant?

As the name suggests, a PA practices medicine on the team under the supervision and direction of a physician. According to the American Bureau of Labor Statistics, the following are the job responsibilities of a physician assistant:

  • Reviewing medical histories of patients.
  • Conducting physical examinations to evaluate patient health condition.
  • Ordering diagnostic tests such as x-rays and blood tests and also interpreting the results.
  • Diagnosing injury or illness.
  • Giving treatment such as immunizing patients and setting broken bones.
  • Counseling patients and their family members about patient health and treatment.
  • Prescribing medicines (this is governed by the individual state laws and laws of the Drug Enforcement Administration).
  • Keeping track of a patient’s medical progress.
  • Conducting research on the latest treatment methods to ensure optimal patient care.
  • Participating in outreach programs promoting wellness.

Other Duties

Physician assistants may also have managerial duties and supervise assistants and technicians. In practice settings where the supervising MD is available for only one or two days a week, a PA might be expected to work as the principal care provider (conferring with the supervising physician or as required by law).

The Catch:

Not all patients are familiar with the title, so PA’s have to repeatedly explain their roles and responsibilities to patients and their families.

Market Demand And Career Growth Opportunities

According to the USBL (Bureau of Labor Statistics), the physician assistant job is expected to grow by around 38.4% between 2012 and 2022. The aging population in the country is on the rise and so is the prevalence of chronic diseases. This combined with the increasing shortage of qualified physicians in the country has led to an astounding demand for PAs with the industry boasting of a meager 1.2% unemployment rate – one of the lowest in the country.

How Lucrative It Is A Physician Assistant’s Job?

It is a lucrative job after all. Not only is it a quicker path into the field of medicine compared to an MD, the pay is also attractive. According to CNN Money the median pay for a physician assistant is $93,300 with the top pay reaching up to $121,000. Hourly rates are $43.72. CNN Money actually ranks the PA career as one of the top 25 best jobs in the country.

So How Do You Become A Physician Assistant?

You need a Masters from any one of the approximately 170 accredited PA programs available in the United States. The rigorous training lasts typically for around 25 months. The first year of which is generally devoted to classroom and laboratory training in the second year involves spending training time in different surgical and medical specialties in supervised clinical rotations. Most accredited training programs require the applicants to have college education and some healthcare experience before embarking on physician assistant training. However, successful completion of training does not give you a license to practice – after graduation you have to pass a national certification examination (conducted by the National Commission On Certification Of Physician Assistants) to be able to practice as a PA.

As on 2014, a certified physician assistant is required to complete at least hundred hours of continuing education and also pass a recertification test conducted by the Commission every 10 years.

What About The Working Environment Of A Physician Assistant?

Odd working hours aren’t really considered “odd” in the life of a physician assistant. Schedules can vary greatly depending on the practice hours of the supervising MD, but since at the end of the day it’s all about providing quality medical care, but it mornings, nights and even begins can be part of a physician assistant’s work week. PA’s working in surgery usually have to stand for long periods and also do a considerable amount of walking. Those working in clinics however usually have a 40 hour workweek.


You should have an unwavering passion for the well being of your patients and even though you might not always be at the top of the decision making chain, you will make decisions that can have a positive or negative impact on the well being of a patient. So, you not only need to have a cool head, but should also be a detail oriented humble person with excellent communication skills and great flexibility.

Medicine is a huge subject and there’s just too much to grasp for most students. So, even though it takes fewer years to become a physician assistant than an MD, it’s in no way an easy journey. You would basically be working in the capacity of a “physician extender” (that’s one of the reasons why physician assistants are so well paid and sought after) and the responsibilities match closely to that of a physician. Having said that, it’s a well respected profession with excellent growth prospects and fat paychecks.