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Physician Assistant Work Environment

An In-Demand Medical Profession with High Pay

Physician assistants, also called PAs, administer medicine under the supervision of doctors and surgeons. They can diagnose illnesses and prescribe treatments. Note that they differ from medical assistants who do administrative and simple clinical tasks, and do not have formal medical training. PAs can perform many medical tasks and can specialize in practice areas such as emergency medicine and primary are. Many of their tasks are delineated by state law.

Physician Assistant Work Environment


Although physician assistants can perform many tasks independently, above all, they must work under the guidance of physician. They can examine patients and review their medical histories, order diagnostic tests such as blood work and provide preliminary diagnosis. They can provide treatment such as giving injections, prescribing medications, and set broken limbs. They also do paperwork such as recording patient progress and completing insurance forms. In some areas, they may act as the primary care providers at facilities where doctors visit only once or twice a week.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), over half of physician assistants work in doctors’ offices, with a quarter in hospitals, and the rest in outpatient care centers, government, and schools. Physical stamina is important because PAs spend most of their time on their feet. Most work full-time, with at least 10 percent toiling 50 or more hours per week. Those in doctors’ offices work the same hours or longer as their supervising physicians. Those in hospitals may have shifts during evenings, nights, weekends, or holidays.

PAs need a minimum master’s degree, and many who apply to such educational programs already have a bachelor’s degree and experience as nurses, emergency medical technicians, or paramedics. Physician assistant education programs usually take at least two years of full-time study, which are available at medical schools, academic health centers, and four-year colleges. Courses of study covers such subjects as anatomy, physiology, ethics, medical law, clinical diagnosis and pathology. They include classroom and laboratory instruction as well as supervised clinical training in different specialties, such as internal medicine and pediatrics.
All states require licensing, which mandates passing the Physician Assistant National Examination from the national Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. To maintain their credentials, PAs must take continuing education and every six years, pass a recertification exam or complete an alternative program.

As of May 2012, states the BLS, physician assistants averaged $92,460 a year, or $44.45 per hour. The lowest-earning 10 percent received less than an annual $62,430, or $30.01 hourly, while the best-paid 10 percent earned $124,770 yearly, or 59.99 hourly. The highest-paying employers were specialty hospitals that did not include psychiatry or substance abuse treatment. Pay here averaged $100,060 per year, or $48.11 hourly. Second for wages were home health care services at a mean annual $98,230, or $47.23 hourly. Ranking third were office administrative services, averaging $98,000 yearly, or $47.11 hourly.
The state with the highest pay was Rhode Island, averaging $112,250 per year, or $53.97 per hour. Next was Connecticut at $104,540 yearly, or $50.26 hourly, followed by Washington at a mean $103,890 annually, or $49.95 per hour.
Among metropolitan areas, Racine, Wisconsin, was first for pay at mean $145,860 per year, or $70.13 per hour, followed by Texarkana, Texas, averaging $143,890 yearly, or $69.18 hourly, and Tyler, Texas, at a mean annual $127,160, or $61.13 per hour.

The BLS expects jobs for physician assistants to jump by 30 percent from 2010 to 2020. This is faster than the 26 percent growth for all health diagnosing and treating practitioners and more than twice the projected 14 percent increase for all occupations in all industries. The primary factor for this increase is a growing population that is also becoming older. The baby-boom generation, in particular, will require more medical attention as they become more elderly. Physician assistants can help treat such common conditions as diabetes, heart attack, and stroke.
The best opportunities will be for PAs working in rural and other areas where medical services are hard to come by. As more doctors enter specialty areas, physician assistants will be relied on more and more to give primary and routine care.