How to Become a Physician Assistant: Duties, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary
It should come as no surprise that working as an EMT or a Paramedic is an excellent way to gain medical field experience. From the rigorous hours to the unpredictable circumstances and the challenging medical situations, there’s no better way to gain real-world 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 professions. For some EMTs, these experiences inspire them to advance their careers by pursuing different, often more advanced, or higher-paying jobs in healthcare.
If you view EMT work as a starting point and are curious about what it takes to become a Physician Assistant, read on as we explore this exciting career path and dive deep into the job requirements and expectations.
(See our full list of alternative jobs for EMTs and paramedics).
What Is a Physician Assistant?
A Physician Assistant (PA) is similar to a medical doctor in many ways, but the position actually requires far less training and schoolwork.
A PA’s responsibilities closely mirror those of a doctor—including making diagnoses, performing procedures, and directly treating patients. Really, the biggest difference between these roles, is simply that, while a doctor can work autonomously, a physician assistant must always work under a doctor’s supervision.
For an EMT or paramedic interested in a career change, becoming a physician assistant is a great step up, and it could actually be a lot more attainable than you think.
Physician Assistant Requirements
How to Become a Physician Assistant
Be prepared, becoming a Physician Assistant does take a considerable amount of time and training—a good bit more than is required to become an EMT or Paramedic, but still significantly less than becoming a medical doctor.
Aspiring Physician Assistants must complete both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree before then going on to pass the PANCE exam (Physician Assistant National Certification Exam).
This five-hour PSI exam focuses primarily on medical content, covering everything from internal organs to diseases to medical assessments with 300 multiple choice questions, 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. All states require PA’s to be licensed through the PANCE before practicing medicine.
Taking the PANCE requires a $550 exam fee, and the exam can be taken up to six times.
For more information on the PANCE exam, visit the NCCPA website devoted to the topic.
Becoming a Physician Assistant May Be a Good Career Choice If you…
- Are comfortable administering injections and other medications.
- Are a naturally compassionate person.
- Are academically gifted.
- Handle responsibility well.
- Can be calm under pressure.
- Can work multiple projects simultaneously.
- Communicate well with people.
- 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 often handle many of the same job functions as the medical doctors they assist.
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 will, of course, vary depending on the field chosen by the Physician Assistant.
Physician Assistant Job Description
What Is a Typical Day for a Physician Assistant?
As previously mentioned, the daily schedule of a Physician Assistant is very similar to that of a medical doctor.
Days typically begin with a review of scheduled appointments, which vary according to the field of 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. Whereas, an orthopedic assistant will have an entirely different looking schedule.
Between appointments, Physician Assistants may be asked to fill in some of the smaller things on a physician’s list, such as returning calls to patients—advising them on whether they should book an appointment, go to a hospital, or treat themselves at home.
When not working directly 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. A whole lot like a real physician.
Physician Assistant Hours
Most Physician Assistants work a full 40-hour week. Each practice will vary, but as with any medical office or hospital, those 40 hours may include weekends or holidays. PA’s may also be asked to be “on call” for certain periods of time—being at home but standing by to be able to rush in should a medical emergency arise.
Physician Assistant Uniform
Uniform requirements will vary from practice to practice, but in general, most Physician Assistants wear scrubs for work.
In addition to scrubs, Physician Assistants (like doctors and nurse practitioners) will also wear the traditional white coats from time to time.
Physician Assistant Education
What Training Is Required to Become a Physician Assistant?
While most of the core principals covered in EMT and paramedic training still apply (wound dressing, patient stabilization, infection prevention, etc.), building on your overall medical knowledge will require additional coursework and training.
EMT’s and Paramedics can become Physician Assistants by completing a Bachelor’s degree followed by a Master’s degree from an accredited Physician Assistant program. Click here to find a program near you.
Physician Assistant Programs
Physician assistant courses will vary depending on your chosen program/college. However, most PA programs typically require 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, attaining your Master’s degree may take only two to three years.
However, 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 Required Skills
Besides the educational and certification requirements, successful PA’s typically exhibit the following skills:
- Communication – PA’s work directly with doctors and other medical staff, but they also need to communicate effectively 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 is often 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. Just like physicians.
- 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 have to 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 emergencies may call for weekend, evening, or holiday hours. As an EMT, you have experience balancing this.
- Proof of Performance – EMTs and paramedics have valuable field experience treating injuries and illnesses, so their ability to handle stressful 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. Real-world experience and bedside manner are skills that need to be quickly learned in the field of emergency medicine.
- Communication – As an experienced EMT, you’re already familiar with much of the terminology and communication styles of the medical world, and you are familiar with 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. This underrated skill, as much as any other, directly applies to working as a Physician Assistant.
- Strong Stomach – PAs and EMTs see nearly every type of injury or illness imaginable, and many of the emergencies will be similar. EMTs and paramedics have established field experience that proves they can handle whatever emergency arises, no matter how shocking or disturbing, a skill that 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 in 2021 was about $119,000 per year (or about $57 per hour). Physician assistants who earn in the top 10 percentile can make over 164,000. 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 actual pay as a Physician Assistant. The following section provides a high-level snapshot of PA salaries based on industry and region.
Highest Paying States for Physician Assistants
According to the BLS, these are the highest-paying states for Physician Assistants:
|Average Hourly Pay
Highest Paying Cities for Physician Assistants
According to the BLS, these are the highest-paying cities for Physician Assistants:
|Average Hourly Pay
|Panama City, FL
|San Francisco, CA
|San Jose, CA
|Santa Rosa, CA
Beginning Your Career as a Physician Assistant
Becoming a Physician Assistant is just one of many potential career opportunities for those seeking to build on their EMT or paramedic experience and take a big step forward in their career.
If you’re not already an EMT and would like to gain real-world experience before taking the leap to becoming a Physician Assistant, start by enrolling in an EMT basic training program near you.
While not part of the requirements for becoming a physician assistant, EMT training and experience can be a good starting point for future 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 today.