Physician Assistant Job Description, Salary, and Skills

physician assistant
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Are you interested in a career as a Physician Assistant (PA)? It can be an alternative career path for someone who is interested in medicine, but wants to get started on a career sooner than the time it takes to become a physician. In addition, PAs often have more limited costs for medical liability insurance.

Physician Assistants carry out many of the same functions as traditional medical doctors including examining patients, prescribing medicine, and ordering diagnostic tests. In most cases, they work under the supervision of physicians or surgeons. In some states, rural areas and inner-city areas, physician assistants work more independently, consulting with physicians only when they need help with a case.

A job description, education and training requirements, certification, and salary information for Physician Assistant positions follows.

Physician Assistant Job Description

Physician Assistants interview and examine patients to determine a diagnosis. They order tests to ascertain the nature and extent of illnesses and injuries. They prescribe medications and suggest lifestyle changes to remedy medical problems. 

Treatments provided by Physician Assistants include stitching wounds, setting bones and administering immunizations. They maintain patient records and provide documentation for insurance companies.


Physician Assistants can specialize in areas like psychiatry, pediatrics, dermatology or surgery. They work for hospitals, group medical practices, colleges and government agencies.

Education and Training Requirements

Physician Assistants are formally educated to examine patients, diagnose injuries and illnesses, and provide treatment. Graduate school, typically a master’s degree from an accredited educational program, is required.

In general, two years of full-time postgraduate study is required to earn the degree. Most applicants to Physician Assistant education programs already have a bachelor’s degree and some healthcare-related work experience.

The graduate programs include classroom and laboratory instruction in subjects including pathology, human anatomy, physiology, clinical medicine, pharmacology, physical diagnosis, and medical ethics. To become a Physician's Assistant, you will also need hundreds of hours of supervised clinical training in different practice areas, including family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine, and pediatrics.

Licensing Requirements

Physician's Assistants must be licensed in every US state and the District of Columbia. To become licensed, you must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE). A physician assistant who passes the exam can use the credential “Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C).

Continuing education is required to maintain certification. To keep their certification, physician assistants must complete 100 hours of continuing education every two years. A recertification exam is required every ten years.

Physician Assistant Salaries

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Physician Assistants earned an average of $101,480 in 2016. The bottom 10% of Physician Assistants earned less than $65,620 while the top 10% earned at least $142,210.

Employment Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of physician assistants is expected to expand by 37% from 2016 to 2026. Increased demand for medical services from an aging population and efforts to limit the costs of delivering medical services are factors impacting this growth.

Physician Assistant Skills

Here's a list of physician assistant skills that employers seek in the candidates who they hire. Skills will vary based on the position for which you're applying, so also review our list of skills listed by job and type of skill.

A - D

  • Active Listening
  • Administer Diagnostic Tests
  • Administer Injections
  • Advocacy
  • Analysis
  • Apply Knowledge of Pharmacology to Medical Cases
  • Assertiveness
  • Attention to Detail
  • Calm Demeanor
  • Care Planning
  • Caring
  • Casting and Removing Casts
  • Comfort with Blood, Injuries, Bodily Disfigurement
  • Comforting
  • Communication
  • Confidence
  • Consulting
  • Cooperating with Other Medical Staff
  • Counsel Patients
  • Customer Service
  • Deductive Reasoning
  • Dependability
  • Diagnostic
  • Documentation

E - M

  • Effective Interaction with Diverse Patient Population
  • Electronic Medical Records
  • Energetic
  • Examining Patients
  • Explaining
  • Facility with Medical Terminology
  • Foreign Language
  • Inductive Reasoning
  • Instructing
  • Integrity
  • Interpreting Medical Tests
  • Interpreting Research Findings
  • Interviewing
  • Maintaining Confidentiality
  • Making Referrals
  • Managing Staff
  • Manual Dexterity
  • Medical Histories
  • Mechanical Reasoning
  • Medically Related Computer Applications
  • Memory
  • Motivating
  • Multitasking

N - W

  • Negotiating
  • Observation
  • Ongoing Learning
  • Order Diagnostic Tests
  • Patience
  • Patient Care
  • Patient Education
  • Patient Screening
  • Persuasive
  • Physical Examinations
  • Prescribing Medications
  • Prioritizing
  • Problem Solving
  • Psychosocial Assessments
  • Quantitative
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Scientific Reasoning
  • Social Perceptiveness
  • Speaking
  • Stress Tolerance
  • Suturing Wounds
  • Time Management
  • Tolerance for the Pain of Others
  • Understanding of Anatomy and Physiology
  • Understanding of Psychology and Behavior Change
  • Understanding One's Limitations
  • Visual Acuity
  • Writing