Top Physician Assistant Careers

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Physician Assistant Specializations

Read about the job duties of various specializations, like anesthesiology, pediatrics, and surgery.

Career Resources

Broaden your job search by perusing the job boards for these industry specific professional associations for physician assistants.

See What Physician Assistants Do

Physician assistants work with medical personnel like surgeons and physicians, and practice medicine under their supervision. They perform patient examinations, take medical histories, and consult with families regarding ongoing medical issues. Some physician assistants choose to specialize in certain areas, such as specific body systems or types of medical work. The most popular physician assistant specializations are listed below, all of which typically require either an extended bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree from an accredited university.

Physician Assistant Career Information

Physician Assistant

  • Projected national job growth: 30%
  • Average Salary: $86,410/year
  • Entry-level education: Master’s degree, including certification from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA)
  • Job description: Physician assistants help medical professionals carry out their duties by performing basic medical tests, conducting procedures, and handling communication with patients. These professionals use a broad base of medical knowledge to explain medical concepts to patients and sometimes handle issues doctors are too busy to attend to or need assistance to perform.
  • Why would I want to do this? Choose to become a physician assistant if you have an eye for detail and want to work in a field that requires you to apply your knowledge of science in a healthcare setting. You must be able to communicate well with people, as you will have regular, direct contact with patients and their families. You can expect to carry out the same duties as physicians, providing care, diagnosing illnesses, and prescribing treatment regimens.

Explore Popular Physician Assistant Specializations

Addiction medicine is the practice of helping patients overcome addictions, and includes diverse skills from fields like psychology, pharmacology, medicine, and clinical social work. About three physician assistants out of 1,000 specialize in addiction medicine. As an addiction physician assistant, you can expect to treat the physical side of an addiction while also communicating with patients and families about how to prevent relapses into addiction and help the patient develop new, healthier habits. You will also screen patients for drug abuse and manage the withdrawal symptoms of those who are attempting to break an addiction.
Anesthesiology is the practice of helping to apply numbing agents and other forms of anesthesia before surgical procedures. About two out of every 1,000 physician assistants work in this area of the field. Though they share some job duties with anesthesiologist assistants, physician assistants who work in this area have a broader medical background and thus must often assist with other aspects of an operation. You can expect to assess patients’ surgical and anesthesia history prior to surgery, administer anesthesia, and monitor patients under anesthesia.
Dermatology is the area of medicine that focuses on skin conditions and diseases. About 30 out of every 1,000 physician assistants specialize in this area of the field. You can expect to help physicians and surgeons treat a diverse range of skin conditions, including cancer, rashes, and infections. Working under physicians and surgeons who also specialize in dermatology, these physician assistants help patients receive faster, higher-quality care for conditions like melanomas and carcinomas, using procedures such as surgical removal of cancerous skin growths and application of skin grafts.
Hospital medicine focuses on caring for patients who have recently been admitted to the hospital for acute illness. As a hospital physician assistant, you can work in areas such as emergency rooms, intensive care units, and urgent care facilities. About 15 in 1,000 physician assistants specialize in this area of the field, working with emergency room doctors, emergency medical technicians, surgeons, and other intensive care providers. This is a high-pressure area of the physician assistant profession, and requires that you have the ability to work under pressure due to the urgency of the cases.
Occupational medicine is a unique area of specialization for physician assistants that is concerned with helping employees of a variety of industries overcome the injuries and illnesses they suffer on the job. In this physician assistant specialization, you will provide information to employees about how to recover from strains, lacerations, and repetitive stress injuries. You can also expect to consult with management members alongside physicians and surgeons to make recommendations regarding employee assignments during healing periods and conduct on-site follow-up visits to ensure the employee is healing adequately. These PAs also conduct tests typically required by employers as part of a hiring process, such as drug screenings and fitness tests.
Oncology is the area of medicine that focuses on cancer treatment, surgery, and management. Oncology is a fairly common specialization for physician assistants, with about 15 out of every 1,000 physician assistants specializing in oncology. If you choose to work as an oncology PA, you will perform physical exams and develop treatment plans alongside physicians, ensuring that patients receive timely, high-quality treatment for cancerous growths. You will also track test results for potentially cancerous tissue, talk to patients who have already received treatment, and answer questions from patients and families. Physician assistants in this field also often become part of surgical teams, helping to remove cancerous body tissues and cysts.
Pediatrics is the area of medicine that focuses on serving children and their families, and is a very common specialization for physician assistants. Out of every 1,000 physician assistants, about 40 work in pediatrics. As a pediatric physician assistant, you will diagnose illnesses in children, answer parents’ questions, and perform basic medical duties to ensure physicians have time to attend to more severe cases. The most important duties these professionals have, however, relate to their bedside manner, as they are often called on to stay with children through each step of a medical procedure, providing a familiar and reassuring face.
The surgical specialization involves assisting during operations on patients to remove growths, clear obstructions, and perform other internal corrections. This is a common enough physician assistant specialization that some schools offer a master’s in surgical physician assistant practice. Much like hospital medicine, this is a high-pressure physician assistant specialization, where good judgment and quick decision making are critical skills. As a surgical physician assistant, you will help provide care for patients before their operations, help manage the surgical environment, serve as a surgeon’s first assist, ensure equipment is ready, and write orders in the postoperative recovery room. You will also see surgical patients in a surgeon’s private practice and prescribe medication as needed.

Apply to Jobs Using These Resources

Graduates of physician assistant programs can use several different resources to find jobs, including general job boards, professional association sites, and government job sites.

Professional Association Resources

These organizations are intended for physician assistants and other healthcare personnel, providing job listings and specialized continuing education opportunities.

American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) – The American Academy of Physician Assistants, in addition to its news and publications, provides career development assistance and other information for new physician assistants.

Society of Emergency Medicine Physician Assistants (SEMPA) – This organization serves physician assistants and students who specialize in emergency medicine, providing links to jobs in fields like emergency room assistance and urgent care.

Association of Family Practice Physician Assistants (AFPPA) – The Association of Family Practice Physician Assistants is intended specifically for students and professionals who are interested in family practice. The AFPPA has a robust career center feature on its site.

Association of Physician Assistants in Cardiovascular Surgery (APACVS) – This association primarily serves students and professionals who are involved in the cardiovascular side of physician assistant work. The APACVS allows members to post their resumé and access continuing education opportunities.

American Academy of Physician Assistants in Allergy, Asthma & Immunology – This association focuses on students and physician assistants who work with allergies and asthma and provides access to job listings for a nominal fee. Members can access the listing of PA jobs.

The Agape Center – While this site does not have a career center or job board of its own, it provides a comprehensive list of links to state physician assistant organizations that often have specialized information on physician assistant careers in those states.

General Job Sites

These sites list openings in a wide range of fields, including medical professions, and are a good starting point for students who are graduating and must find employment.

Indeed – Using Indeed, you can search through millions of available job listings and post your resumé online for prospective employers to review.

Monster.com – Regardless of which area of medicine you choose to specialize in, you can search for openings in your field of practice on Monster.com.

SimplyHired – SimplyHired lists several million job openings at any given time, in addition to providing salary information for PAs in your area.

CareerBuilder.com – CareerBuilder has a diverse list of jobs, including more than 60,000 openings in the healthcare field, as well as career advice and resumé-writing assistance.

Government Job Sites

These sites are provided by government organizations, and provide links to government jobs in many fields, including medical work.

USAJOBS– USAJOBS lists available positions at all levels of government across the country, as well as several physician assistant jobs through agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

United States Department of Labor– Although not a job site in and of itself, this site provides links to state job boards and other government employment organizations.