How to Become a Physician Assistant: Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary
Working as an EMT or a Paramedic is an excellent way to gain medical field experience.
In addition to providing an essential service by caring for and transporting sick and injured patients to hospitals, emergency medical workers can gain broad exposure to other medical professionals. For some EMTs, these experiences may inspire them to advance their careers by pursuing different jobs in healthcare.
For this edition of our “EMT alternative careers” series, we will explore how someone can change their career from EMT to Physician Assistant.
(See our full list of alternative jobs for EMTs and paramedics).
What Is a Physician Assistant?
A Physician Assistant (PA) is similar in many ways to a medical doctor, but the position requires far less training and time in school.
A PA’s responsibilities are close to those of a doctor—including making diagnoses, performing procedures, and directly treating patients. The main difference between these roles, however, is that while a doctor can work autonomously, a physician assistant must always works under a doctor’s supervision.
For an EMT or paramedic interested in a career change, becoming a physician assistant could be a lot more attainable than you think.
Physician Assistant Requirements
How to Become a Physician Assistant
Becoming a Physician Assistant takes a considerable amount of time and training—more than is required to become an EMT or Paramedic, but significantly less than becoming a medical doctor.
Aspiring Physician Assistants must complete both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree before passing the PANCE exam (Physician Assistant National Certification Exam).
The exam covers everything from internal organs to diseases to medical assessments, and all states require PA’s to be licensed before practicing medicine.
Becoming a Physician Assistant May Be a Good Career Choice for You If…
- You are comfortable administering injections and other medications.
- You are a naturally compassionate person.
- You are academically gifted.
- You handle responsibility well.
- You can be calm under pressure.
- You can work multiple projects simultaneously.
- You communicate well with people.
- You work well with others.
Physician Assistant Duties & Responsibilities
What Does a Physician Assistant Do?
Physician Assistants, like medical doctors, can work in any variety of fields, ranging from family medicine to emergency medicine to psychiatry. Within each field, PA’s handle many of the same job functions as medical doctors while under the direct supervision of an MD.
Common responsibilities for Physician Assistant include:
- Taking patients’ medical history
- Examining patients
- Ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, such as x-rays or blood tests
- Diagnosing patients’ injuries or illnesses
- Prescribing treatment or medication
- Tracking and recording patient progress
- Researching new techniques and tools for patient care
Exact responsibilities may vary according to the field chosen by the Physician Assistant.
Physician Assistant Job Description
What Is a Typical Day for a Physician Assistant?
The daily schedule of a Physician Assistant is, again, very similar to that of a medical doctor.
Days typically begin with a review of scheduled appointments which vary according to the field in which you practice. A family medicine PA, for example, might review a day’s schedule that includes an infant with a fever, a new patient with a skin irritation, an elderly patient with a persistent cough, and three or four standard physicals.
Between appointments, Physician Assistants may be asked to return calls to patients—advising them on whether they should book an appointment, go to a hospital, or treat themselves at home.
When not working with patients, PA’s may spend a few hours in their office, looking over test results, examining readings, and strategizing over the best course of action for their patients.
Physician Assistant Hours
Most Physician Assistants work a full 40-hour week. Each practice will vary, but as with any medical office or hospital, that week may include weekends or holidays. PA’s may also be asked to be “on call” for periods of time—standing by to come in should a medical emergency arise.
Physician Assistant Uniform
Exact uniform requirements will vary from office to office, but in general, most physician assistants wear scrubs for work.
In addition to the scrubs, Physician Assistants (like doctors and nurse practitioners) also wear the traditional white coats.
Physician Assistant Education
What Training Is Required to Become a Physician Assistant?
While some of the core principals of EMT and paramedic training still apply (wound dressing, patient stabilization, infection prevention, etc.), building on your emergency medicine focus will require additional coursework and training.
EMT’s and Paramedics can become a Physician Assistant by completing a Bachelor’s degree followed by a Master’s degree from an accredited physician assistant program.
Physician Assistant Programs
Physician assistant courses may vary depending on your chosen program/college. However, most PA programs typically require you to study the following topics:
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Hands-on clinical training
- Medical Terminology
- Principles of Medicine
- Principles of Surgery
- Physical Diagnosis and Patient Evaluation
How Long Does It Take to Become a Physician Assistant?
Becoming a physician assistant can take anywhere from four to six years.
Determining how long it takes to become a Physician Assistant depends entirely on where you start. If you are an EMT or Paramedic who already has a Bachelor’s degree, then attaining your Master’s degree may take up to two to three years.
If you don’t have an undergraduate degree, or have not yet completed it, you will need to factor in those remaining semesters as well.
Physician Assistant Certification
Once you’ve completed your physician assistant training, you’ll need to pass a certification exam, the PANCE.
This five-hour exam focuses primarily on medical content with 300 multiple choice questions (nccpa.net). The test is administered in 60-minute blocks with 60 questions per block.
The PANCE is a PSI exam (computer taken and scored) so EMTs and paramedics will be familiar with the testing process.
Taking the PANCE requires a $550 exam fee, and the exam can be taken up to six times.
Physician Assistant Required Skills
Besides the educational and certification requirements, PA’s should exhibit the following skills to achieve success:
- Communication – PA’s work directly with doctors and other medical staff, but they also communicate with patients (some of whom may be anxious, distraught, or in need of education on a procedure or diagnosis).
- Compassion – Physician Assistants treat patients of all ages and who could be suffering from any number of injuries or illnesses. A good bedside manner is vital for success.
- Organization – A PA may be responsible for treating multiple patients, so keeping patient records and test results organized, schedules efficient, and procedures lined up correctly is vital to providing proper care.
- Detail Oriented – Not only must patient schedules stay organized, every detail of diagnosis and treatment must be locked down as well.
- Problem Solving – Physician Assistants work directly under a medical doctor, so help is available when needed, but PA’s are still expected to analyze situations, identify problems, and prescribe the best route for solving them.
- Emotional Stability – Physician Assistants, like medical doctors, have a lot of responsibility. Lives literally hang in the balance, which means that to make it as a Physician Assistant, you must be able to handle the pressure.
From EMT to Physician Assistant
How Will My EMT Experience Help Me Become a Physician Assistant?
EMT and Paramedic experience can be beneficial for a future Physician Assistant in many ways. Some of those include:
- Shift Experience – Physician Assistants may work standard office hours during a normal week, but emergency situations may call for weekend, evening, or holiday hours. As an EMT, you already know how to balance this.
- Proof of Performance – EMTs and paramedics have valuable field experience treating injuries and illnesses in the field, so their ability to handle emergency medicine is already established.
- Patient Care – Learning to work with an injured or upset patient in the field is something that can’t be learned from textbooks alone. Real world experience and bedside manner are skills quickly learned in the field of emergency medicine.
- Communication – As an EMT, you’re already familiar with much of the terminology and communication styles of the medical world, and you know the vital pieces of information that have to be communicated quickly, accurately, and efficiently.
- Organizational Skills – EMTs have real-world experience in collecting and organizing patient information while in the field, a skill that directly applies to working as a Physician Assistant.
- Strong Stomach – PA’s and EMTs see nearly every type of injury or illness under the sun, and many of the emergency situations will be similar. EMTs and paramedics have established field experience that proves they can handle whatever emergency arises, and this skill is vital to success as a Physician Assistant.
Physician Assistant Salary
How Much Does a Physician Assistant Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a Physician Assistant is $112,410 per year (or $54.04 per hour).
Physician assistants who earn in the top 10 percentile can make over $157,120.
Furthermore, this job field is also growing very rapidly, with an astounding 31% growth expected in the coming years (BLS).
Of course, there are factors, such as experience, specialization, and location that will determine your pay as a physician assistant. The following section provide a high-level snapshot of PA salaries based on industry and region.
Highest Paid Industries for Physician Assistants
Here is a list of occupational settings where Physician Assistants can work, ranked in order of average salary:
|Industry||Average Hourly Wage||Average Salary|
|Personal Care Services||$60.23||$125,280|
|Outpatient Care Centers||$58.33||$121,320|
|Individual and Family Services||$57.26||$119,110|
|Offices of Other Health Practitioners||$52.02||$108,190|
Highest Paying States for Physician Assistants
|State||Average Hourly Wage||Average Salary|
Highest Paying Cities for Physician Assistants
|City||Average Hourly Wage||Average Salary|
|New Bern, NC||$70.62||$146,880|
|Santa Rosa, CA||$69.34||$144,230|
|Yuba City, CA||$65.96||$137,210|
Beginning Your Career as a Physician Assistant
Becoming a Physician Assistant is just one of many career opportunities for those seeking additional training to build on their EMT or paramedic experience.
If you’re not already an EMT and would like to gain real-world experience before taking the leap to Physician Assistant, you can start by enrolling in an EMT basic training program.
While not required to become a physician assistant, EMT training and experience can lead to career advancement. Jobs for both Physician Assistants and EMTs are in high demand, and employers are constantly looking for hard-working, smart, and dedicated employees for their teams. If that sounds like you, take the first step towards a bright new career in emergency medicine.