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Career Information

Physician Assistants: Career, Salary and Education Information

Career Profile: What do Physician Assistants do?
Physician assistants perform therapeutic, diagnostic, and preventative health care under the supervision of physicians and surgeons. They treat minor injuries, splint broken bones, apply casts, and interpret x-rays. Physicians and surgeons appreciate their assistants' ability to work well with a range of clinical issues.

Physician assistants are trained and experienced medical professionals who enjoy facing a variety of daily challenges. Self-motivation is a key quality among these trained assistants, as is organization, a good bedside manner, and the ability to work under stress.

A Day in the Life of a Physician Assistant
A physician assistant's specific daily duties depend heavily on their location. In rural or inner city clinics, physician assistants can work as primary care providers. They may also be responsible for ordering equipment, supervising technicians, or focusing on emergency medicine, orthopedic, or geriatric care.

Some physician assistants hold two or more part-time jobs, often rotating through hospitals and clinics. If the facility is looking to hire a full-time physician's assistant, these rotations can lead to a permanent position. Some physician assistants prefer to keep multiple jobs, however.

Physician Assistant Training and Education
Most applicants to training programs for physician assistants already hold a bachelor's degree, and some have experience as registered nurses, military medics, physical or respiratory therapists, or EMTs. Physician assistant programs typically take two years to complete and some programs also require clinical coursework.

Typical coursework in a physician assistant training programs includes anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, and health-related coursework in subjects like nutrition, immunology, and virology. Education programs can lead to associate's and bachelor's degrees and many lead to a master's degree.

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Physician Assistant Employment & Outlook
More than half of all physician assistants work in physicians' offices. They held 66,000 jobs in 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), though there were more jobs than practicing physician assistants because many hold multiple jobs. Employment is expected to grow 27 percent through 2016, much faster than the average for all occupations. Cost containment is a big reason behind the expected growth. Many physicians' offices want to take on more patients without hiring additional physicians or surgeons.

Job opportunities for physician assistants are expected to be good, with 18,000 new jobs created through 2016. Opportunities are expected to be best for states in which physician assistants can prescribe medications and have a wider scope of practice.

Typical Physician Assistant Salary
The BLS reports that physician assistants earned mean annual wages of $77,800 in 2007. Those working in residential mental retardation, mental health, and substance abuse clinics earned the highest wages for the profession, with mean earnings of $104,310. Physician assistants working in physician's offices--the field's largest employer--earned $77,620.

Sources
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Physician's Assistant
Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Master of Science in Health Sciences Physician Assistant Studies