The Physician Assistant Profession

Physician Assistants (PAs) are graduates of accredited PA programs who are licensed to practice medicine in collaboration with a supervising physician.  There are more than 148,000 certified PAs nationally, with over 11,000 in California alone. PAs provide diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventative health care services as a member of the healthcare team. 

PAs conduct physical examinations, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret laboratory tests and x-rays, counsel on health care issues, and assist in surgery.  They also treat injuries, record progress notes, instruct and counsel patients, and order or carry out therapy.  All fifty states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands have enacted laws that authorize PA prescribing.  PA practice is centered on patient care, and may include education, research, and administrative duties. 

Growth of the Profession

Employment opportunities are excellent for PAs, particularly in underserved areas or settings that have difficulty attracting Physicians, such as rural and inter-city clinics.  PAs can work in any medical specialty and can work in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, academic medical centers, and public clinics.

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 31% growth in PA jobs between 2020 and 2030.  The PA profession has been ranked multiple times as one of the top five careers in the nation.  Physicians and institutions are expected to employ more PAs to provide primary care and work in many medical and surgical specialties, as PAs are productive and effective members of the healthcare team.

The most recent PA Census reports the mean total income for PAs is $110,000 nationwide and $130,000 for California.  Median annual compensation for PAs range between $110,000 for primary care and $111,000 for specialty practice.

Physician Assistant Competencies

The Competencies for the PA profession were developed in a joint effort by four national PA organizations.  These competencies are a list of objectives that outline the knowledge, skills and attitudes for successful PA practice and are often used by PA programs to guide curriculum development.

Competencies for the PA Profession  include the effective and appropriate application of medical knowledge, interpersonal and communication skills, patient care, professionalism, practice-based learning and improvement, and systems-based practice.

Graduate Employment

While PAs practice in over 60 different specialty fields, 24.4% of PAs practice in primary care fields: family medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics.  Other prevalent specialties for PAs include general surgery/surgical subspecialties, emergency medicine, internal medicine subspecialties, dermatology, urgent care, and obstetrics/gynecology.