What Physician Assistants Do
Physician assistants practice medicine on teams with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers.
Physician assistants work in physicians’ offices, hospitals, outpatient clinics, and other healthcare settings. Most work full time.
How to Become a Physician Assistant
Physician assistants typically need a master’s degree from an accredited educational program. All states require physician assistants to be licensed.
The median annual wage for physician assistants was $112,260 in May 2019.
Employment of physician assistants is projected to grow 31 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. As demand for healthcare services grows, physician assistants will be needed to provide care to patients.
Physician assistants, also known as PAs, practice medicine on teams with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers. They examine, diagnose, and treat patients.
Physician assistants typically do the following:
- Take or review patients’ medical histories
- Examine patients
- Order and interpret diagnostic tests, such as x rays or blood tests
- Diagnose a patient’s injury or illness
- Give treatment, such as setting broken bones and immunizing patients
- Educate and counsel patients and their families—for example, answering questions about how to care for a child with asthma
- Prescribe medicine
- Assess and record a patient’s progress
- Research the latest treatments to ensure the quality of patient care
- Conduct or participate in outreach programs, talking to groups about managing diseases and promoting wellness
Physician assistants work on teams with physicians or surgeons and other healthcare workers. Their specific duties and the extent to which they must be supervised by physicians or surgeons differ from state to state.
Physician assistants work in all areas of medicine, including primary care and family medicine, emergency medicine, surgery, and psychiatry. The work of physician assistants depends in large part on their specialty or the type of medical practice where they work. For example, a physician assistant working in surgery may close incisions and provide care before, during, and after the operation. A physician assistant working in pediatrics may examine a child and give routine vaccinations.
In some areas, especially rural and medically underserved communities, 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 collaborate with the physician as needed and as required by law.
Some physician assistants make house calls or visit nursing homes to treat patients.
Physician assistants are different from medical assistants. Medical assistants do routine clinical and clerical tasks and do not practice medicine.
Physician assistants held about 125,500 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of physician assistants were as follows:
|Offices of physicians||54%|
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||26|
|Outpatient care centers||8|
|Educational services; state, local, and private||4|
Working with patients can be both physically and emotionally demanding. Physician assistants spend much of their time on their feet, making rounds and evaluating patients. Physician assistants who work in operating rooms often stand for extended periods.
Most physician assistants work full time. Some work more than 40 hours per week. Physician assistants may work nights, weekends, or holidays. They may also be on call, meaning that they must be ready to respond to a work request with little notice.
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of physician assistants.
For more information about physician assistants, visit
For a list of accredited physician assistant programs, visit
For information about certification requirements, visit
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Physician Assistants,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physician-assistants.htm (visited ).