Physician Assistant Career Information

A career as a physician assistant is a promising option for the beginning medical professional. Physician assistant positions involve many of the same tasks as a licensed physician. It is a good option for someone who wants to get some experience before deciding on medical school.

Physician Assistant Programs

Physician assistant programs prepare those interested in a career as a physician assistant to practice medicine under the supervision of a doctor. Physician assistant program requirements vary according to location, but some programs require two years of college before enrolling in the physician assistant program. Physician assistant programs are usually offered through a four-year college or university department. Make sure the program is accredited or licensing will be impossible.

Physician Assistant Degree

The physician assistant degree takes two years to complete. Physician assistants may come from a variety of backgrounds, such as nursing and medical technology jobs. Physician assistants should prepare for their degree programs by taking the required prerequisite courses during their first two years of college. Examples include classes in biology, chemistry and psychology.


All physician assistants in the United States are required to take and pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination. The exam is given through the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Continuing education is required for the physician assistant to keep his or her certification. Physician assistants who take this exam must graduate from accredited physician assistant degree programs in order to qualify. Once the exam has been passed, the physician assistant can practice under the title "Physician Assistant-Certified."


Physician assistants should have a good bedside manner and should be able to deal well with stress. Physician assistants should also have good communication and language skills. Depending on the demographic make-up of the region's language speakers, some physician assistants may find more profitable opportunities by learning a second language, since they must work directly with patients.


Physician assistants work in a medical environment and sometimes perform both managerial and medical tasks. Common tasks may include keeping track of inventory and ordering supplies. Physician assistants can prescribe medication in some states and can perform routine medical tasks such as giving stitches, applying casts, taking notes and keeping track of patient information. Physician assistants are required to correspond regularly with the supervising physician.

Employment Options

Physician assistants may find employment in private medical offices, hospitals and other health facilities. Physician assistants always work under a licensed physician. Physician assistants may develop an area of special concentration, like neurology. Developing a specialization helps with advancement. Physician assistants may find employment in low-income areas in which it becomes financially impossible to staff a great number of nurses and/or in which the doctor is sometimes unable to be present every day.

Salary and Advancement

Physician assistants generally earn between $60,000-80,000 per year. The more experience, the higher the salary for a physician's assistant. Private, out-patient treatment facilities tend to pay more than hospitals and medical office environments. Salary is also contingent upon geographic location and experience.

Physician assistants may further their focus areas by pursuing graduate study. Academic programs in areas like biology and physiology are among the options available for the developing physician assistant's career. Medical school is another relevant option, as well.