How to Become a Physician Assistant

Physician Assistant Key Stats
Avg. Salary / year $95,470
Avg. Pay / hour $45.90
Education 4+ Years
Job Outlook 31%

The healthcare industry is currently experiencing one of the fastest sector growths and has caused a demand for professionals such as Physician Assistants, also known as P.A.s.

A growing and aging population and the shortage of physicians and has caused an upswing in the health industry and many positions related to health care.

Individuals who want to become a Physician Assistant will benefit greatly from the demand expected to last through the year 2022.

These professionals typically work in a team environment assisting doctors or surgeons take care of patients.

Education Requirements to Become a Physician Assistant

Individuals wanting to become a Physician Assistant will need to complete several years of study in order to pursue a job in this field.

Individuals must first attain a college degree and then pursue a minimum of a Master’s degree.

An individual who wants to become a Physician Assistant will need to earn their Bachelor’s degree before applying to a Physician Assistant program to attain their Master’s degree.

The undergraduate degree should preferable be related to health, medicine or biology.

Many applicants who want to become a Physician Assistant also gain experience in the healthcare profession before applying for a Physician Assistant program.

Experience can be gained by working an entry level position in the healthcare field.

Some individuals gain hands on experience as a Emergency Medical Technician , Registered Nurse, or Paramedic before applying to a Physician Assistant education program.

In fact, many individuals applying for this education program have several years of experience working in a healthcare profession before deciding to take on the role of being a Physician Assistant.

Most Physician Assistant education programs require applicants to have an undergraduate degree with a focus in science.

An individual will then complete 2 years of study to prepare them for the tasks to perform healthcare on patients.

The two year program typically includes laboratory work in addition to classroom work.

The classroom and laboratory work will include topics on physical diagnosis, pharmacology, human anatomy, physiology, pathology, clinical medicine and medical ethics.

Physician Assistant education programs also include hands on supervised training in numerous specialties such as internal medicine, emergency medicine, pediatrics or family medicine.

This part of the training is supervised to ensure quality in an individual’s performance.

After completing a two year program, individuals must then work to attain licensure and certification for the state they would like to work in.

The exam needed is called the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE).

This exam is provided by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants .

Once an individual has passed this exam, they may use Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C) as their credentials.

Beginning in 2014, individuals will need to take a re-certification exam every 10 years to remain licensed.

Physician Assistant Job Description

A Physician Assistant works under a team being led by a Physician or Surgeon.

Their training and education has prepared them to perform various tasks in relation to a patient’s health.

Some of these important tasks include examining patients, diagnosing illnesses or wounds and providing treatment that will improve a patient’s health.

A Physician Assistant also has the capacity to perform the following tasks in relations to a patient’s health:

  • Review a patient’s medical history
  • Complete physical exams
  • Diagnose injuries or illnesses
  • Providing treatment for illnesses or injuries
  • Order medical tests for blood work or x-rays
  • Prescribe medication or treatments needed
  • Document a patient’s health and progress

A Physician Assistant’s exact duties will depend on the area of specialty they work in.

A Physician Assistant may work for a surgeon, psychiatry, family medicine, primary care or emergency care.

For example, a Physician Assistant working for Pediatric will have different duties than a profession working for a Surgeon.

Physician Assistant Salary and Career Path

The median annual income for Physician Assistants in 2012 was $90,930.

Individuals interested in this field will also benefit from increased employment opportunities as this profession is expected to grow by 38 percent through 2022.

This growth rate is faster than other professions with several factors which include a growing aging population.

For individuals who would love to work with patients in the health care industry but not have the same level of responsibility as a doctor, becoming a Physician Assistant may be a great alternative.

Although working under the supervision of a doctor or surgeon, a Physician Assistant would still be able to diagnose common illnesses or ailments, provide treatment to patients and work towards improving the health of their patients.

BLSThe below information is based on the 2021 BLS national averages.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$122,890
New Hampshire$137,330
New Jersey$140,080
New Mexico$132,370
New York$131,810
North Carolina$116,110
North Dakota$122,470
Rhode Island$146,880
South Carolina$97,370
South Dakota$114,150
West Virginia$117,430
Puerto Rico$33,640

The top earning state in the field is Rhode Island, where the average salary is $146,880.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Rhode Island - $146,880
Alaska - $145,830
Connecticut - $141,790
New Jersey - $140,080
New Hampshire - $137,330
* Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Physician Assistants, OCC Code 29-1071, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a physician assistant?

Physician Assistants work with surgeons, physicians, and other healthcare professionals to examine, diagnose and treat patients.

Their roles vary depending on the place of employment but they usually have to perform a variety of tasks, which include reviewing patients’ medical history, examining patients, ordering and interpreting blood tests or x-rays but also giving treatment and immunizing patients.

Depending on the state, the extent in which physician assistants are supervised by physicians or surgeons varies.

In remote and rural areas, where physicians are present at the clinic only a few days a week, the physician assistant has to fulfill the role of a primary care provider.

Physician assistants need a variety of skills, including compassion, communication skills, emotional stability and problem-solving skills.

Most of them work full-time and they may be on-call outside standard business hours to accommodate their patients’ needs.

How much does a physician assistant make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for physician assistants was $108,610 in May 2018.

Salaries vary widely, depending on the assistant’s level of experience, the region, and place of employment.

Some earn less than $70,000 a year while others make more than $150,000 a year.

How much does it cost to become a physician assistant?

Physician assistants typically need a master’s degree from an accredited program, which can cost anywhere between $25,000 and almost $120,000 in total, depending on the school you choose.

Most applicants to physician assistant graduate programs have completed an undergraduate program in science.

Bachelor’s degree programs can cost anywhere between $3,500 and more than $30,000 a year.

What is the demand for physician assistants?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for physician assistants is expected to grow 31 percent from 2018 to 2028.

As the population is growing the demand for healthcare services will increase and more physician assistants will be needed to provide these services and to work in teams with physicians, surgeons, and other professionals.

How long does it take to become a physician assistant?

Physician assistants typically hold a master’s degree which typically can be obtained after 2 years of post-secondary education.

Most physician assistant education programs require a bachelor’s degree and some work experience but admission requirements vary from program to program.

In most cases, you will need to complete an undergraduate program with a focus on science which usually is 2 to 4 years long.

Most applicants to physician assistant programs already have experience as paramedics or registered nurses.

All states require physician assistants to be licensed which means passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination.

Licensed physician assistants must complete 100 hours of continuing education every 2 years in order to keep their license and they are required to take a recertification exam every 10 years.

Jamie Willis
Career Specialist at BecomeopediaHi, my name is Jamie Willis, and I have been helping students find their perfect internships and education paths for the last ten years. It is a passion of mine, and there really is nothing better than seeing students of mine succeed with further studies.

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