The Comprehensive Guide to Physician Assistants: Duties, Requirements, and Progression

The Comprehensive Guide to Physician Assistants: Duties, Requirements, and Progression

If you’re considering joining the healthcare industry, and you enjoy working with patients, then becoming a Physician Assistant might be the right choice for you.

What Is a Physician Assistant?

A Physician Assistant, commonly referred to as a PA, is a healthcare professional who practices medicine under the supervision of doctors and physicians. They work alongside physicians or in teams with other healthcare professionals to collect information, make diagnoses, and provide patient care.

Physician Assistants can work in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities. They may also work in specializations like cardiology, orthopedics, emergency medicine, pediatrics, and much more.

Examples of Job Duties for a Physician Assistant

As a Physician Assistant, you will perform a variety of job duties. There are many different types of tasks and responsibilities that can apply to a PA position, depending on the facility and healthcare setting. Here are a few examples of common job duties for a Physician Assistant:

  • Conduct patient assessments and physical examinations
  • Interpret medical imaging and laboratory results
  • Provide patient education on preventive health measures
  • Diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries
  • Prescribe medications and treatment plans
  • Order and interpret diagnostic tests

Education and Training Requirements for Becoming a Physician Assistant

Before you can become a Physician Assistant, you will need a master’s degree or equivalent, which typically takes two to three years to complete. Below are the requirements for becoming a Physician Assistant:

  1. Get a Bachelor’s Degree: First, aspiring Physician Assistants should obtain a four-year bachelor’s degree. Any degree is acceptable, but you will need to complete specific science prerequisites like anatomy, physiology, biology, and chemistry. A GPA of 3.0 or higher is typically required.
  2. Gain Direct Patient Care Experience: Before applying to a Physician Assistant program, you will need to have some direct patient care experience. This can be achieved through volunteering, shadowing a Physician Assistant, working as a nursing assistant, etc.
  3. Complete a Physician Assistant Program: Once you finish your bachelor degree, you will need to complete a Physician Assistant program, which typically lasts two- to three-years; the program includes both classroom and clinical experience. The program teaches you the essential knowledge you need to become a competent physician assistant.
  4. Become Licensed: After completing your education program, you must pass the PANCE (Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam) to obtain the PA-C (Certified Physician Assistant) credential. After passing the exam, you can apply for a state license in any state you wish to practice in.
  5. Pursue Continuing Medical Education: Physician Assistants should keep up with their continuing medical education requirements to remain knowledgeable about treatments and procedures. In some states, continuing education is necessary to maintain your license and PA-C credential.

Progression of Physician Assistant Roles

Once you have become a Physician Assistant, you can advance your career through continuing education, more extensive patient care, and taking on more responsibilities.

Here are examples of different roles that you can progress to as a Physician Assistant:

  • Clinical Lead: In this role, you work alongside physicians, consult with them, make diagnoses, and recommend treatment plans to patients and other healthcare professionals. You may also supervise and train new PA hires.
  • Specialty Physician Assistant: Specialty PAs usually work in one particular medical field, like cardiology, emergency medicine, or surgery. They get additional training in that field, making them more knowledgeable and independent in their field of expertise.
  • Administrative Roles: Physician Assistants may also transition into more of an administrative role, overseeing operations in a healthcare facility, managing a team of PAs, or working as a medical researcher.

How to Get Started as a Physician Assistant

If you’re preparing to become a Physician Assistant, there are some steps to get started on the right foot:

  1. Focus Your Education: Major in biology, pre-medicine, or health sciences during your undergraduate degree. Take courses in math and statistics.
  2. Get Direct Patient-Care Experience: Hospitals are the best place to gain experience, but you can also look into working in nursing homes or home healthcare organizations.
  3. Find a Physician Assistant Program: Look for physician assistant programs that are accredited and provide the necessary education and training you need.
  4. Get Certified: Pass the PANCE exam to become a Certified Physician Assistant.


Being a Physician Assistant is an extremely rewarding career path with a promising outlook for future growth and development within the healthcare industry. They collaborate with doctors and other healthcare professionals, helping patients get the care they need, and making a difference in their communities.

Physician assistants (PAs) are healthcare professionals who practice medicine under the supervision of licensed physicians. They perform a variety of tasks including diagnosing and treating illnesses, ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, prescribing medications, and assisting in surgeries. PAs work in a variety of settings including hospitals, clinics, and private practices.

According to the salary data provided, the US national average salary for PAs is $135,012.80 per year for Level 11 and $134,180.80 per year for those not able to be leveled. Full-time PAs earn an average of $125,382.40 per year for all levels, while part-time PAs earn an average of $124,966.40 per year for all levels. Time-based pay for PAs is an average of $125,320.00 per year for all levels.

In terms of geography, PAs in the New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA area are the highest paid, earning an average salary of $147,596.80 per year for nonunion workers at all levels. On the other hand, PAs in the Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin, SC area earn the least, with an average time-based pay of $104,041.60 per year.

As for the effects of union on this job, the salary data shows that nonunion PAs earn an average of $126,235.20 per year for all levels, while the average salary for all non-union full-time PAs is $125,382.40 per year for all levels. Unfortunately, there is no salary data for unionized PAs to compare it to.

In conclusion, PAs are an important and highly compensated occupation in the healthcare field. Salaries can vary depending on factors such as level, time-based pay, and geography. While there is no salary data available for unionized PAs, the impact of union on this occupation remains an important topic for discussion.

| Geographic Area | Job Title | Unionized | Average Salary – All Levels | Average Salary – Level 11 |
| US National Average | Physician Assistants | Nonunion | $126,235.20 | $116,126.40 |
| New York-Newark-Jersey City | Physician Assistants | Nonunion | $147,596.80 | $134,014.40 |
| Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin | Physician Assistants | N/A | $104,041.60 | N/A |