The number of physician assistants has grown rapidly in recent years as physicians enter more specialties and physician assistants are called upon to perform routine, general practice duties such as wellness exams. Physician assistants must complete a master’s degree that prepares them exam, diagnose and develop treatment plans. They typically work in physician’s offices and hospitals.
More than half of physician assistants work in a physician’s office, with most of the rest working in hospitals. Others work in outpatient treatment centers or at colleges and universities. While job responsibilities can vary depending on the location and specifics of the job, a physician assistant will typically:
The number of physician’s assistants is expected to continue growing this decade. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the number of physician’s assistants will grow 30% by 2020, adding almost 25,000 new jobs. The BLS notes that there are several reasons behind the growth: more physicians moving into specialties and needing assistants to handle routine duties; the cost-effectiveness of having assistants handle some patient visits; and the overall aging American population that will require more healthcare services.
The median annual pay for a physician assistant was $86,410 in 2010, according to the BLS.
All physician assistants must earn a master’s degree before entering the field. Typically, those interested in becoming a physician assistant will complete a bachelor’s degree program in a related field, such as nursing, then enter the 2-year master’s degree program. Some also will attain healthcare work experience. Often, candidates in the master’s degree program will have worked in other healthcare fields such as emergency medical technician or as a paramedic.
The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant has accredited 165 physician education programs which are offered at allied health schools, medical schools, academic health centers and colleges and universities. Coursework usually involves pathology, anatomy, physiology, clinical medicine, diagnosis and medical ethics. Most also include supervised training in family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine and pediatrics.
All states require physician assistants to attain a license. A license must be obtained by passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants.