Physician assistants are extremely important for keeping the doctor's office running smoothly. Their versatility and ability to handle a challenging workload makes them an invaluable member of any medical staff.
It also gets them a sizable paycheck, especially if one works in the right location or specialized office. The job of a PA is demanding and one that will be in-demand; their yearly salary matches this.
So, exactly how much does your average physician assistant make?
Physician Assistant Salary
The most recent information available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) claims that in May 2018, the median annual wage for a physician assistant in America was $108,610. Already a significantly above-average yearly salary, physician assistants in the highest percentile of salaries make $151,850 or more.
Top Physician Assistant Salary by State
The BLS also reported which states had the best mean salary for physician assistants, with interesting results. The state with the highest mean annual wage for physician assistants was Connecticut, with a $125,610 mean salary. Washington was second at $123,980 while Alaska was an extremely close third at $122,260. In fourth was Hawaii, with a mean of $121,120, while California was fifth on the list at $117,230.
States like Alaska and Hawaii may be a bit of a surprise, as they're not states with massive urban populations with many high wages. However, the volume of physician assistants is much lower in states like these; Alaska and Hawaii have, respectively, 520 and 320 physician assistants, a far cry from the 2,470 in Washington.
National Average Physician Assistant Salary and Statistics
The occupation of physician assistant can be an intriguing one to people because it offers the potential of a large salary in places beyond just major metropolitan areas; according to the BLS, physician assistants in the northwest Nebraska nonmetropolitan area had a mean annual wage of $113,530. In the Central Louisiana nonmetropolitan area, it's a whopping $129,890.
Here are some more statistics on the physician assistant salary, all as of May 2018.
- Mean annual salary: $108,430
- Wages for the lowest 10th percentile: $69,120
- Advanced range salaries (75th percentile): $127,220
- Wages for the highest 10th percentile: $151,850
- Number of jobs: 114,710
- Job outlook: 37% increase from 2016-2026
What Does a Physician Assistant Do?
Physician assistants are capable of administering physicals, diagnosing medical conditions, prescribing medications, and much more. Don't let the job title fool you into thinking it's a mere assistant job; physician assistants take on enough responsibilities that they can ably serve as a person's primary care provider.
Physician assistants can be found in all manner of medical facilities, from hospitals to pediatrician's offices, health clinics to nursing homes. They may be performing medical procedures on a patient, or they could be assisting surgeons in the operating room. Some physician assistants thrive in more of an educational setting; this can mean counseling patients and their family on disorders and the steps for treatment, but it can also mean doing extensive clinical research as well. This is a large part of what has made the occupation appealing to many; it's a job that offers surprising variety.
Physician Assistant vs. Nurse Practitioner
Much of the job description of physician assistant can sound similar to another fast-growing profession in the medical field, nurse practitioner, or NP. There are a lot of similarities in the professions, as both are educated in medical knowledge and disease prevention with similar guidelines and requirements to getting certified.
The biggest difference between the two is directly in their names. Each requires a master's degree, but the education for a physician assistant is modeled on the medical school curriculum of an aspiring doctor, whereas an NP is trained in advanced nursing.
In addition, physician assistants receive a generalized education in medicine. Nurse practitioners, on the other hand, decide on a specialized area to focus on for their training, such as pediatrics.
A similarity of note between PAs and NPs: The salary. The BLS claims that the median annual salary for a nurse practitioner in May 2018 was $107,030.
Physician Assistant Expectations and Tasks
Physician assistants have an extremely important job with a lot of pressure; many of them provide care to those in areas with a shortage of physicians. According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), "an estimated 15% of PAs practice in rural areas, where provider shortages are most pronounced."
PAs working in areas like these are providing a necessity for the citizens, expert medical care for those who have struggled to find it. It can mean working in tandem with a physician, but a level of independence may also be expected of a PA in conditions like these. It's an inherently collaborative position, but in areas where the medical field is sparse, physician assistants have to take on a larger role.
A lot of the expectations and tasks of a PA depend primarily on the environment in which they work. A physician assistant at a hospital can expect to be making rounds throughout the day and meeting with patients. They may consult with a patient's physician on the correct treatment, or assist a surgeon during a procedure.
According to the BLS, 56% of PAs work in a physician's office, while 23% work in a hospital setting. Because physician assistants receive such a generalized medical education, the biggest expectation for them is simply knowledge; a PA is expected to be able to quickly adapt to anything a patient comes to them with. If they work in a specialized office - pediatrics, obstetrics, etc. - they are expected to have an updated knowledge of that focused medical area as well.
Medicine evolves at a rapid pace. A working physician assistant should expect to be doing extensive research to ensure he or she is aware of proper treatments. As a medical professional who is also expected to be something of an educator, this is also crucial to helping talk with families about how they continue to help with the treatment of a relative at home.
As previously mentioned, being a PA is inherently collaborative. You'll need to have good working relationships with the doctors and surgeons you work with in order to successfully help treat their patients. Expect to work unusual hours depending on the patient's condition; PAs may have to work on call as a result of a patient's needs, and night hours and holiday shifts are common occurrences.
The role of a physician assistant can be a grueling one with a lot of work and long hours. It is also, though, a rewarding and necessary job.
Physician Assistant Facts
The BLS states the following about the job of physician assistant, as of May 2018:
- The job outlook for PAs from 2016-2026 is 37% growth, a much higher number compared to other professions. This can be attributed to an aging American population that will require more medical care in the near future.
- Approximately one quarter of working PAs worked more than 40 hours.
- 64,540 physician assistants worked in physician's offices, while 28,050 worked in hospitals. 2,620 PAs worked in colleges, universities, and professional schools.
- Physician assistants require a master's degree from an accredited physician assistant program, as well as passing a certification exam from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, or NCCPA.
- PAs must receive 100 hours of continuing education every 2 years in order to maintain their certification.