The physician assistant (PA) fills a critical role as a healthcare provider. They’re trained with a focus on pathology — much like physicians — so PAs can diagnose patients and prescribe medication. While all PAs work in partnership with a physician, some can operate with a great deal of autonomy, depending on the state they work in.
Over the last several years, the profession has exploded as hospitals and clinics realize how much PAs benefit patients. Not only do PAs help expand patient access to care by improving efficiency, but they can also deliver care at a lower cost than physicians. Given this bright employment picture, it’s no surprise that more and more people are interested in becoming PAs.
Is a Physician Assistant Above a Nurse Practitioner?
In many ways, PAs and nurse practitioners inhabit the same provider space. Both can make diagnoses and prescribe medication. Both types of positions are valuable to the healthcare industry because their services are more cost-effective than doctors. As a result, PAs and nurse practitioners often compete for the same type of jobs. There are subtle yet important differences.
When it comes to training, PA and nurse practitioner prerequisites are often similar. Both professions stand on a strong foundation in natural sciences. When students enter their respective professional training, their paths begin to differ. PAs are trained as generalists in the medical tradition, while nurses focus on the whole person and general wellness and typically serve specific populations.
So, while PAs and nurse practitioners fill very similar roles, people considering a healthcare career should think about the type of work they’d like to do before choosing a provider track.
What Does it Take to Become a Physician Assistant?
Physician assistant candidates must first complete a bachelor’s degree with a strong focus in chemistry, physiology, anatomy, and biology classes before moving on to graduate school. Most PA programs require 1,000 hours of medical experience before a candidate can begin their studies. As a result, some prospective students work as EMTs, medical scribes, medical assistants, or even nurses before submitting their applications.
After finishing their undergraduate education and obtaining the necessary medical experience, prospective PAs must then complete a certified two-year master’s program. Before they begin practicing, program graduates need to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam — administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. Once a PA passes the certification test, they must then obtain a license in the state where they plan to practice.
How Much Money Do Physician Assistants Make?
PAs can expect to earn a higher-than-average salary. Depending on where you work and in what specialty, a PA’s average wage is between $86,000 and $130,000. PAs practicing in New York Massachusetts, and New Hampshire earn the highest average salaries. Also, PAs who specialize in critical care, emergency care, and dermatology fall on the higher end of the pay scale.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where Do PAs Work?
PAs work in every state and can practice in every medical specialty.
Is There a High Demand for PAs?
Yes. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the PA profession will grow by 30% between 2018 and 2028 — much faster than most other professions.
Can PAs Deliver Babies?
Yes. PAs who work in obstetrics can deliver babies.
How Do PAs Work With Physicians?
PAs work in a team setting with physicians and other healthcare providers. To practice, most states require PAs to have an agreement with a specific physician.
What do PAs Do?
PAs are medical professionals who diagnose and manage illnesses, prescribe medications, and often serve as primary healthcare providers.