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Physician Assistant Jobs: Working in a Rural Community

When physician assistants are looking for employment, many of them look in metropolitan areas. However, there are many great opportunities in rural communities that desperately need quality healthcare.

Job Duties

Physician Assistant JobsOnly fifteen percent of physician assistants work in a rural area, and many tend fulfill the role of primary care provider since they can perform many of the same duties as doctors. They are often responsible for running the clinic and making sure it is stocked with all the necessary supplies and equipment, and based on state laws, they still need to work under a doctor’s supervision. The doctor usually has office hours one or two days a week or checks in using telecommunications. Many physician assistants treat several sports injuries and heat related illnesses during the summer, and a host of frostbite and flu cases in the winter. But no matter the season, they also:

  • Obtain each new patient’s medical history
  • Examine patients
  • Make a diagnosis
  • Note the results of the exam or progress notes in the patient’s chart
  • Order or administer diagnostic testing such as electrocardiogram, lab tests, and x-rays
  • Interpret diagnostic test results
  • Work as a surgeon’s first assistant during a surgery or procedure
  • Prescribe medication (allowed in forty-seven states) and therapy
  • Research the newest treatments
  • Conduct outreach programs

Important Qualities

Detail oriented – It’s important to both focus on the task at hand and be very observant while examining a patient.

Good communications skills – All physician assistants need to explain medical issues in terms that patients can easily understand. It’s also necessary that they communicate well with other healthcare professionals in order to provide the highest level of patient care.

Compassion – Physician assistants should enjoy helping people and show compassion, especially when a patient shows fear.

Problem-solving skills – These skills are essential when it comes to investigating difficult medical conditions and figuring out the best treatment for each patient.


Nearly all physician assistant programs require students to have a bachelor’s degree and a few years of healthcare related work experience in positions such as paramedics, registered nursing, emergency care technicians, and lab assistants. Most programs are two years and offer master’s degrees. Classroom instruction includes Clinical Pharmacology, Clinical Medicine, Disease Prevention, Biochemistry, Medical Ethics, Pathology, and Human Anatomy. Students also receive 2,000 hours of clinical training in areas such as inpatient medicine, surgery, and emergency medicine.


It’s mandatory for all physician assistants to obtain certification. This is done by passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. It consists of three hundred multiple-choice questions and five hours is allotted for completion. It’s necessary to have 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years and re-certification takes place every ten years.


Many states offer scholarships and/or loan repayment programs for physician assistants who are willing to practice in a rural environment.

Two Reasons to Work in a Rural Community

Better quality of life. Usually rural towns are smaller and have lesser amounts of traffic. This lessens both driving times and stress that can come with living in a metropolitan area. It may also be possible to purchase a home with larger acreage than in the city.

Personable Patient Care – Physician assistants in rural towns are usually able to spend more time with patients which means they get to know them better. This can help patients feel more comfortable when they need medical treatment or a routine physical.

Job Outlook and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statics believes the job growth will be at 38 percent until 2022. While the median average salary for physician assistants was $92,970, those employed in a rural community earned around $69,000.

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