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Physician assistants play a critical role in our healthcare system. Commonly referred to as PAs, these highly-trained medical providers examine, diagnose, and treat patients much like physicians do. In some states, PAs practice independently. In others, they work under the supervision of a physician. In either scenario, PAs help mitigate a nationwide doctor shortage that’s quickly becoming a crisis. As this shortage continues to play out, PAs will take on more patient-care responsibilities as demand for their services grows.    

Common Physician Assistant Specialties

Just like physicians, PAs work in a variety of settings and focus on many different specialties. Some provide general care, while others work in more specialized fields. A few of the most common physician assistant specialties include:

Family Medicine / General Practice

According to a report from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, 19.2% of all PAs work in family medicine or general practice — making it the most common of all PA specialties. 

Family medicine and general practice PAs often work with a high degree of autonomy and provide many of the same services as physicians. These could include taking patient histories, ordering tests, making diagnoses, and providing treatment plans.   

Surgical Subspecialties

These PAs work in conjunction with surgeons providing pre and post-operative care and diagnostic testing. In some cases, surgical PAs also participate in procedures and first assist in the operating room. There are several different subspecialties PAs can focus on, but some of the most common include cardiology and orthopedics. 

Urgent Care

Urgent care is another popular PA specialty. These providers care for patients on a walk-in basis and treat injuries and illnesses that wouldn’t be considered emergencies. Urgent care PAs often work with a high degree of autonomy, as a supervising physician may not always be on site.

Emergency Care

PAs working in emergency care operate in a fast-moving environment and provide care for patients with life-threatening injuries and illnesses. According to the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, emergency care is the third-most-common specialty area.

General Internal Medicine 

Internal medicine is another popular PA specialty. Working in this discipline, PAs assist physicians in disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. These PAs work closely with patients and enjoy a great deal of autonomy in their work.

Internal Medicine Subspecialties

Internal medicine subspecialties focus on disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment within specific body systems like gastroenterology, hematology, or oncology. These PAs work closely with physicians and patients while honing their expertise in one particular treatment area.

Physician Assistant Specialties in Highest Demand

As the Baby Boomer generation enters retirement, the demand for primary care will only increase. Unfortunately, that demand growth will also coincide with a decline in providers. By 2030, experts estimate that the country could have 120,000 fewer doctors than it needs. Many believe that PAs are the answer to filling this care gap, so their services will be in very high demand for the foreseeable future.

Other high demand areas include surgical subspecialties — the number of PAs working in surgery increased 70% since 2013 — and pediatrics. There’s also growing demand for PAs within internal medicine in fields like cardiology and gastroenterology.

Highest-Salaried Physician Assistant Specialties

As demand for physician assistants grows, so do salaries. According to the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) 2018 annual report, the average salary for Certified PAs was $110,567. However, some PAs earn more by working in certain specialties.


Pathology PAs perform post mortem examinations and prepare the initial anatomic diagnosis. Surgical pathology PAs dissect surgical specimens and prepare tissue samples for laboratory analysis. These PAs earn $111,000 annually on average, which makes them the fifth-highest earning PA specialty. 

General Surgery

Surgical PAs work with surgeons in every aspect of patient care. In many cases, they handle routine problems and procedures in the operating room to free the surgeon up to handle more complex cases. On average, surgical PAs earn $112,396 per year, making them the fourth-highest paying specialty.

Critical Care

PAs working in Intensive Care Units treat patients with life-threatening conditions. These healthcare providers earn, on average, $122,957 annually, making them the third-highest earners among PAs.

Emergency Medicine

These PAs work in a fast-moving, high-stress field where lives are on the line every day. On average, PAs working in emergency medicine earn $123,006 — making it the second-highest earning specialty.


The top-paying specialty for PAs is dermatology. These providers treat patients for medical conditions like skin cancer or rashes. They also work in clinics providing procedures like botox, skin peels, and other elective treatments. Because cosmetic procedures are most commonly paid for with cash rather than through insurance, these clinics can afford higher salaries for their staff. As a result, the average pay for a PA in dermatology is $126,084, making it the highest paying specialty. 

We’ll Help You Find the Perfect PA Position

Physician assistants enjoy lots of flexibility within their jobs. Not only can they move between specialties with ease, but there’s also a growing demand for their services throughout the country. That gives PAs lots of opportunities to maximize their income. Starting that process isn’t always easy, however — especially for busy professionals. Fortunately, recruiting services can help.

Physician Assistant Solutions is a physician assistant recruiting firm owned by PAs and focused exclusively on placing PAs with practices that perfectly suit their needs and expertise. If you’d like to learn how you can take your PA career to the next level, contact us today.

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