Physician Assistant

Physician assistants, also known as PAs, practice medicine under the direction of physicians and surgeons. They are formally trained to examine patients, diagnose injuries and illnesses, and provide treatment.


Sample of Reported Job Titles

Physician Assistant (PA), Physician Assistant Certified (PAC), Physician's Assistant, Family Practice Physician Assistant, Midlevel Provider, Neurosurgical Physician Assistant, Orthopedic Physician Assistant, Cardiology Physician Assistant, Cardiothoracic Surgery Physician Assistant, Cardiovascular Physician Assistant



Physician assistants typically do the following:

  • Work under the supervision of a physician or surgeon
  • Review patients’ medical histories
  • Do physical exams to check patients’ health
  • Order and interpret diagnostic tests, such as x rays or blood tests
  • Make preliminary diagnoses concerning a patient’s injury or illness
  • Provide treatment, such as setting broken bones and giving immunizations
  • Counsel patients and their families; for example, answering questions about how to care for a child with asthma
  • Prescribe medicine, when needed
  • Record a patient’s progress
  • Complete insurance paperwork

Physician assistants are different from medical assistants. Medical assistants do routine clinical and clerical tasks; they do not practice medicine.

The work of physician assistants depends in large part on their specialty and what their supervising physician needs them to do. For example, a physician assistant working in surgery may close incisions and provide care before and after the operation. A physician assistant working in pediatrics may examine a child or give routine vaccinations.

In rural areas and inner cities, physician assistants may be the primary care providers at clinics where a physician is present only 1 or 2 days per week. In these locations, physician assistants confer with the physician and other healthcare workers as needed and as required by law.

Some physician assistants make house calls or visit nursing homes to treat patients, reporting back to the physician afterward. Some physician assistants supervise medical technicians and medical assistants.


Educational Requirements

An aspiring physician assistant (PA) must first earn a bachelor's degree in an area of science and some health-related work experience. However, admissions requirements vary from program to program.

Following this, students apply to and enter a physician assistant program. That usually takes at least 2 years of full-time study and typically leads to a master’s degree. All states require physician assistants to be licensed. This degree program includes a mixture of classroom training, laboratory work and practical training.

Physician assistants may choose to go on for additional training in a specialty area of medicine. Specialties can be obtained in emergency medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, geriatrics, occupational medicine and surgery.


Median Salary 2012



Want to know more?

O*NET-Physician Assistant

Bureau of Labor Statistics-Physician Assistants

American Academy of Physician Assistants


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Belonging to professional organizations & LinkedIn groups can provide you with networking, informational interviewing, & job shadowing opportunities, as well as assist you with finding internships and jobs.

Physician Assistant Networking & Mentoring LinkedIn Group

Advanced Practice LinkedIn Group

List of Professional Organizations

The Career Connector for Purdue College of Science Students & Alumni


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American Academy of Physician Assistants


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