Career Summary

Median salary as of March 2012:  $86,410 ($41.54 per hour)

Educational requirement: Minimum of two years of college, bachelor’s degree preferred. However, more and more employers are requiring a master’s degree as the minimum education requirement.

Required work experience: None required, although internships are part of most master’s degree programs

Number of jobs as of March 2012: 83,600

Job Outlook 2010 – 2020: Increase of about 30 percent each year; faster than average rate of growth as compared with most other occupations.

Employment change 2010 – 2020: 24,700 additional jobs in this time period

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Physician Assistants, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physician-assistants.htm (visited June 29, 2013).

 

Career Overview

Physician Assistants, also known as PAS, practice medicine under the direct supervision of doctors and surgeons. The duties of Physician Assistants are varied and they are licensed to perform many of the tasks that were once the sole responsibility of doctors.

Duties of Physician Assistants include:

  • Reviewing patient medical histories
  • Performing physical exams
  • Ordering diagnostic tests and procedures such as blood work or X-rays
  • Making preliminary diagnosis of patient’s condition.
  • Conferring with doctor’s regarding appropriate course of treatment
  • Providing direct care, bandaging wounds, giving immunizations, setting broken bones and assisting in surgery
  • Prescribing appropriate medications
  • Monitoring patent progress and making entries into medical charts
  • Completing insurance paperwork
  • Counseling patients and their families with regard to maintaining a healthy lifestyle in terms of nutrition, exercise and preventative care

Physician Assistants work in all areas of medicine, including family practice, pediatrics, oncology, geriatrics and psychiatry. They make work in hospitals, private clinics and outpatient centers, health care centers of private companies, or the military and other government agencies.

The specific duties of a physician assistant depend on their specialty and the tasks assigned by their supervising doctor. For example a surgical Physician Assistant may provide regular immunizations or perform a physical exam.  A surgical Physician Assistant may also close incisions and monitor the patient’s condition during the procedure.

In rural areas and inner cities, Physician Assistants may serve as the primary care providers due to a lack of licensed doctor’s in those areas. Some Physician Assistants make house calls to those unable to leave their home or visit nursing homes to care for residents.

Education and Training

Those wishing to enter Physician Assistant training programs must have completed a minimum of two years of college with coursework in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and behavioral science.  Most applicants to these programs possess a bachelor’s degree and approximately three years health care experience as a nurse or paramedic.

Physician Assistant training programs typically take two years of full time study to complete. As of 2011, the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant accredited 165 programs. For a list of accredited programs in California, visit http://www.arc-pa.org/acc_programs/. Most of the programs offer a master’s degree. Other programs offer a bachelor’s degree with a few offering an associate’s degree or certificate. However, it’s advised that you obtain a minimum of a bachelor’s degree to be competitive in obtaining an entry-level job and a master’s degree is frequently necessary for promotional opportunities and increased pay.

Physician Assistant programs are offered in college and university settings, health centers, and medical schools, and hospitals. Programs include study in such subject areas as pathology, human anatomy and physiology, clinical medicine, and health care ethics. Specialties are available in such fields as family medicine, emergency medicine, pediatrics, geriatrics and cardiology. Most accredited programs include clinical teaching affiliations with medical schools so that students may gain hands-on experience. In most cases, students will rotate through several specialties so they may identify the area which interests them the most.

Licensure and Certification

California and all states, including the District of Columbia, require that Physician Assistants be licensed to practice. To become licensed, students must pass the Physician Assistant National Certification Examination (PANCE) administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Upon successful completion of the exam, students may use the designation “Physician Assistant-Certified” (PA-C). For full details on the PANCE exam, visit https://www.nccpa.net/Pance

The PANCE is a multiple choice exam that tests student’s basic medical and surgical knowledge. Applicants will need to submit an application and payment in advance and have the choice of over 200 Pearson-Vue testing sites throughout the country. To locate a center near you, visit http://www8.pearsonvue.com/Dispatcher?application=VTCLocator&action=actStartApp&v=W2L&cid=460

For full details regarding initial Physician Assistant certification, visit https://www.nccpa.net/CertificationProcess.

The California Department of Consumer Affairs—Physician Assistant Board requires that applicants for state licensure complete the Board’s application and pass a background check that includes fingerprinting. The application fee is $25. And you will also need to pay $200 for an initial license. To obtain the application visit: http://www.pac.ca.gov/forms_pubs/pa_app_package.pdf

For FAQs regarding the licensing process in California, visit: http://www.pac.ca.gov/applicants/applicant_faqs.shtml#1

Salary Considerations

Below is a chart that shows the median salary range of Physician Assistants holding a bachelor’s degree and less than one year experience in select California cities:

Los Angeles $92-985. – $97,770.
Oakland $96,087. – $101,032.
San Diego $91,434. – $96,139.
San Francisco $104,102, – $109,459

 

Ready to move forward towards a career as a Physician Assistant?  Review our list of Medical training programs in California.  To find a school near you, enter the name of your city in the search box at the top of the page.