What does a physician assistant do?

Last updated: February 25, 2024
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Ashley Wilson
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What does a physician assistant do?
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Physician assistants are in high demand, and this trend is likely to continue over the next ten years. According to the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics), job growth is set to rise by 31%, which is faster than most other industries.

To work as a physician assistant, you’ll need postgraduate education and specific skills. Not sure if a career in healthcare is right for you? To help you decide, we’ve put together the following guide. Read on to find out what a physician assistant does, and what education you need to become one.

We will also share the skills you need, and how much you can expect to make.

What is a physician assistant?

A physician assistant (PA) or physician assistant-certified (PA-C) works with surgeons and other healthcare professionals.

They're trained in medical care, and can perform examinations, ask for diagnostic tests, and make treatment plans.

Most PAs choose an area of medicine to specialize in. For example, they may work in emergency medicine, surgery, psychiatry, or pediatrics.

Physician assistants work under the supervision of a physician. They often work in hospitals, but they can also make house calls and visit nursing homes.

The role can vary depending on the healthcare setting. For example, a physician assistant working in psychiatry may counsel patients and prescribe medication.

Alternatively, someone working in family medicine may order x-rays and give immunizations.

How to become a physician assistant

If you want to work as a physician assistant, you'll need a bachelor's degree and medical care work experience.

You'll also need to enroll in a physician assistant education program and get a master's degree. This study is usually full-time for two years.

Once you've completed your degree, you'll need to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination to get your license. To keep your licence, you'll need to complete continuing education.

You’ll also need to be part of the American Academy of PAs (AAPA).

Physician assistants can work on-site without a supervisor. But they do need to report to a physician in order to keep their license.

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What skills do you need to be a physician assistant?

In addition to a physician assistant education, you'll need excellent communication skills and problem-solving skills to be successful in this role.

You should have compassion and high attention to detail. And you'll need to be cool and calm under pressure, and be able to work as part of a team.

Depending on the type of medicine you want to practice, you may need manual dexterity. You'll need to understand human anatomy, and be comfortable treating wounds and broken bones.

Physician assistants often work full-time. Some positions may require you to work evenings and weekends.

What does a physician assistant do?

Here are some of the top responsibilities that you may find in a physician assistant job description:

1. Records patient’s history

Physician assistants review and record the patient's medical history. They need to keep accurate records of the patient's progress.

For example, they need to write down treatment plans, diagnoses, changes, and medications.

Medical professionals may share these reports, such as nurse practitioners and the supervising physician.

2. Prepares patients

In some communities, the physician assistant will be responsible for primary care. They may see the patient before an operation and support them through the process.

Some PAs who work in surgery may prepare the patient on the day. They may talk to the patient, and perform an examination.

They may also assist during the procedure.

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3. Makes diagnosis

Physician assistants can use their medical knowledge to diagnose patients. They may do this by viewing patient history, asking questions, and performing tests.

They need to use their strong communication skills to listen and speak to patients.

Some patients may have language barriers. The physician assistant needs to make sure their diagnosis and treatment plan is clear.

4. Orders tests and examinations

Physician assistants can order tests to help diagnose and treat patients. The type of examinations will depend on the patient's symptoms and the PAs specialty.

For example, there may be physical exams, x-rays, ultrasounds, and blood tests.

While they wait for the results, the physician assistant may prescribe medicine.

5. Treats illness

Once there has been a diagnosis, the physician assistant can treat the illness. They may use a range of strategies including prescription medication or surgery.

Sometimes they may prescribe preventive medicine, such as drugs that lower blood pressure or reduce the risk of stroke.

The treatment plan may include other healthcare services. For example, PAs may work with a physiotherapist, registered nurse, dietitian, or psychiatrist to offer the best patient care.

How much does a physician assistant make?

The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics says the median physician assistant salary is $115,390 per year, or $55.48 per hour.

The salary can vary depending on where you work. For example, physician assistants in outpatient care centers make an average of $124,610 per year. Those working in education make an average of $110,770 per year.

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Where can you find a physician assistant job?

The job outlook for physician assistants is positive. When you're qualified, you can search physician assistant positions on our job board.

If you'd like to specialize in a specific field, you may like to consider a job as an orthopedic physician assistant or a pediatric physician assistant.

If you'd like to get experience in healthcare services, medical assistants perform administrative tasks. You can search for jobs here.

Getting a job as a physician assistant

​If you want to practice medicine and work with other healthcare providers, you may like to consider working as a physician assistant.

To work in this role, you'll need to complete a physician assistant program, clinical training, and get the correct licensure for your state.

In this article, we told you about the job and the skills you need to be successful.

And we gave you a list of the top responsibilities. Our list included recording patient's history, preparing patients, making a diagnosis, ordering tests, and treating illness.

Not the job for you? Browse vacant positions in your area. If you'd like more interview and job seeking tips, don't forget to visit our resource center.

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