About Physician’s Assistants
A physician’s assistant, commonly referred to as a PA, is a health care professional who collaborates with doctors and other medical providers to examine, diagnose, and treat patients. A PA is responsible for reviewing a patient’s medical history before performing an examination and diagnosing an illness or injury.
The PA may immunize patients, set broken bones, prescribe medications, and perform other tasks a physician would normally do.
Depending on the scope of a PA’s responsibilities, this individual may conduct or participate in outreach programs to help groups of people maintain chronic diseases or achieve wellness. PAs may research the latest treatments and educate patients and their families on how to best manage certain conditions.
While PAs perform many of the same duties as medical doctors, they must be supervised by a physician or surgeon, and the extent of their responsibilities varies from state to state. You can find PAs working in all areas of medicine, including emergency, pediatrics, primary care, and psychiatry.
In underserved communities, a physician assistant may be a primary care provider at local clinics where a medical doctor is present only a few days per week.
Education and Experience Needed
Physician assistants must have a master’s degree from an accredited educational program, which involves at least two years of postgraduate study. PAs must be licensed to work in their states, and those who graduate from an accredited program should have some experience caring for patients.
Admissions requirements for PA programs vary, but most require two to four years of undergraduate coursework with a science focus. Students planning to pursue a PA career should enroll in biology and anatomy courses as undergraduates, majoring in a science-related field if possible. Some PAs work as EMTs, paramedics, or registered nurses before going back to school to become physician assistants.
A typical PA education program involves classroom instruction and laboratory hours in subjects such as human anatomy, clinical medicine, physiology, pathology, physical diagnosis, pharmacology, and medical ethics. Supervised clinical training in areas such as internal medicine, family medicine, pediatrics, and emergency medicine is also provided.
PA students may also serve in clinical rotations working under a physician’s supervision. Since some doctors may be looking to fill positions, a clinical rotation may lead to employment after graduation.
How much a physician assistant can earn depends on the industry in which the individual works. Those working in employment services, outpatient care centers, and hospitals tend to earn higher salaries, while those in doctors’ offices and education services tend to earn lower salaries.
Most PAs work full time, including nights, weekends, and holidays. They are often on call and need to respond to work requests with little notice.
Average Duties and Tasks
Being a physician assistant is a physically and emotionally demanding career that can be equally rewarding. PAs spend most of the time evaluating patients and their conditions. Additionally, PAs who work in operating rooms may be asked to serve in these settings for extended periods of time.
Since PAs work closely with doctors, their duties largely depend on the type of medical setting or practice. A PA may prepare splints or casts, interpret medical tests, or suture small wounds, or the individual may examine and diagnose patients. A typical day could involve assisting doctors with medical procedures or referring patients to specialists.
In underserved communities where a PA is a primary care provider, the PA serves as a doctor in almost every capacity, and can treat patients and prescribe medication to their patients.
Employment opportunities for physician assistants are expected to grow faster than average through 2026 as demand for health care services grows. The United States is currently experiencing a shortage of qualified medical professionals, including PAs. Professionals who are qualified for these positions should be able to secure a job in this profession and advance in their careers.
Advanced education is difficult to obtain while working full time as a PA, but those who pursue additional education or specialties can advance in their careers to become hospital administrators or deans.
Many PAs can also further their reputation by networking within the local PA community. They may choose to publish and present papers, help a physician with research, or take on a supervisory role.
A physician’s assistant can develop a career in health care in different ways, but the experience is what matters most.