Career Pathway: Physician Assistant

Physician assistants (PA) are an important part of the healthcare field. For those who want to help patients in a healthcare capacity and desire more responsibility than a registered nurse (RN), but do not want to go to medical school, the PA career is a fantastic path.

What can I do with physician assistant skills?

Physician assistants (PAs) practice medicine alongside physicians, surgeons, nurses, and other healthcare workers. PAs are still able to examine, diagnose, and treat patients. They also perform procedures and prescribe medication. The primary difference between a PA and a physician is that a PA works primarily under the supervision of a doctor,  but they generally perform up to 80% of a doctor’s duties. 

According to the BLS, the job outlook for PAs is expected to increase 31% between 2020 and 2030, far faster than average. Some PAs enter the healthcare field as medical technicians or pharmacy assistants before deciding to pursue a PA master’s degree. Some PAs then choose to pursue a doctorate of medicine and go on to become physicians. PAs can also choose to specialize within their profession.

Possible specialities include:

  • Emergency Medicine 
  • General Surgery
  • Women’s Health
  • Primary Care
  • Pediatrics 
  • Ambulatory Medicine
  • Cardiology
  • Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Dermatology
  • Gastroenterology
  • Neurosurgery

Work settings include:

  • Physicians’ Offices
  • General Medical Hospitals
  • Outpatient Care Centers    
  • Other Health Practitioners’ Offices
  • Colleges, Universities, and Schools

To pursue a career as a physician assistant, you must obtain a required certification that allows you to apply for a state license. with that certification. Other certifications may not be required, but some employers may seek them in candidates. 

A PA-C credential demonstrates clinical knowledge in a wide-variety of healthcare specialties with a focus on primary care. To become eligible to sit for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE), one must graduate from a master’s level physician assistant program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). Once a student passes the PANCE, they can refer to themselves as a Physician Assistant – Certified and apply for a state license to practice as a physician assistant.

The CAQ is an optional credential that demonstrates advanced knowledge and experience in seven specialties: cardiovascular and thoracic surgery, emergency medicine, hospital medicine, nephrology, orthopaedic surgery, pediatrics, and psychiatry. To obtain one of these credentials, you must 1) be a certified PA-C 2) have an unrestricted PA license issued by a state 3) have completed the requisite number of experience hours for that specialty and 4) pass the examination for that specialty.

How can I acquire physician assistant skills and turn them into a career?

If you are interested in pursuing your own career as a PA, we recommend exploring these skills:

Transferable skills and qualities

  • Critical thinking
  • Communication
  • Collaboration 
  • Adaptability
  • Flexibility
  • Analytical ability 
  • Self-awareness
  • Interpersonal communication skills
  • Commitment to lifelong learning
  • Leadership skills

Field-specific skills

  • Diseases diagnosis
  • Therapeutic decision making
  • Clinical problem solving
  • Medical history intake 
  • Physical examination conducting
  • Treatment plan development and monitoring
  • Data and test result interpretation
  • Patient education and empowerment
  • Cultural competence practices

What could my career look like with a physician assistant skill set?

Becoming a physician assistant is an appealing choice for numerous reasons. Firstly, there is a growing demand for PAs in the healthcare industry, making it a career with excellent job prospects. PAs play a crucial role in providing healthcare services, which not only offers a fulfilling and meaningful path but also contributes to the well-being of patients. Moreover, it’s a high-paying career, with competitive compensation that reflects the significant responsibilities they undertake. For those who aspire to practice medicine but wish to bypass the lengthy medical school journey, being a PA offers a similar role with a more streamlined educational path. This combination of factors makes a career as a physician assistant a compelling choice for those interested in healthcare.

What are my next steps?

Learn more about physician assistant skills:

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