How You Can Become a Physician Assistant
PAs practice in every state and in every medical setting and specialty.
For people who are interested in a medical career but who don’t necessarily want to make the long-term commitment of many years of medical school, learning how to become a physician assistant is an excellent choice.
“PA students have told us their top reasons for becoming a PA include wanting to practice medicine while maintaining work-life balance, to work closely with patients, to work in a team-based setting, and to have flexibility that the profession provides,” says Carrie Munk, vice president of communications for the American Academy of PAs (AAPA).
Becoming a physician assistant still requires and advanced degree and lots of hands-on clinical training, but for many, it’s more attainable and offers a flexible career. Here’s what you need to know about how to become a PA.
What does a physician assistant do?
Physician assistants, called PAs for short, are medical professionals who diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications, and often serve as a patient’s principal healthcare provider. PAs practice in every state and in every medical setting and specialty. In fact, if you’ve been to a doctor’s office, urgent care, or hospital in recent years, there’s a good chance you’ve been seen and treated by a PA.
Physician assistant hours and work environment
PAs typically work a full-time schedule, and like doctors, may be “on call” to respond to patient emergencies or staff shortages. Depending on where a PA works, hours might be steady or include rotating hours with nights, weekends, and holidays.
For example, a PA who works in a pediatrician practice will likely have a more regular schedule than someone who works in a hospital emergency room. Over half of PAs work in physician offices, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Because of the nature of patient care, a PA’s workday requires physical stamina, as well as the ability to handle emotional and stressful situations. Check out Monster’s physician assistant job description for more details.
Physician assistant education requirements
Formal education is a big part of how to become a physician assistant. PAs must obtain a master’s degree, which takes two years or more after the bachelor’s degree. There are some accelerated PA programs in which students enter a combined program in which they earn both the bachelor’s and master’s degrees in a shortened time frame.
How long does it take to become a physician assistant?
“Physician assistant programs are approximately 27 months (three academic years) and include classroom instruction and more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations,” says Munk. And, aspiring PAs are typically required to have some health care experience in order to gain entry into a program of study. “Incoming PA students bring with them an average of more than 3,000 hours of direct patient contact experience, having worked as paramedics, athletic trainers, or medical assistants, for example.”
PAs are educated in general medicine, which offers a comprehensive view of all aspects of medicine. Physician assistant programs use a curriculum modeled on medical school education.
Online physician assistant programs are available, but students will ultimately have to take some classes in person. Therefore, you can’t get a fully online PA degree, but you can enroll in a blended program that combines online and in-person instruction.
How much do physician assistants make?
The PA profession is one of the fastest growing in the country. “As the need for health care providers across the country continues to rise, there is a high demand for PAs,” says Munk.
According to the BLS, employment of physician assistants is projected to grow 31% from 2019 to 2029. The median annual salary for physician assistants was $112,260 as of May 2019, with the highest 10% earning more than $157,120. You can look up the average salary for physician assistants in your location by using the Monster Salary Guide.
How to find a physician assistant job
What makes the profession versatile is that PAs can work in a variety of health care settings, from medical offices to hospitals to state/local entities, as well as specialize in an area of care. “Their training as medical generalists gives them the flexibility to switch specialties throughout their career,” says Munk.
As for where the jobs are, as per the BLS, these are the top five states with the most job openings for PAs. Click through to find job opportunities on Monster:
Top five areas:
- New York City/Newark, NJ/Jersey City, NJ
- Los Angeles/Long Beach, CA/Anaheim
- Philadelphia/Camden, NJ/Wilmington, DE
- Boston/Cambridge/Nashua, NH
- Dallas/Fort Worth/Arlington, TX
Now that you know how to become a physician assistant, you'll want to stay informed on job information. Need some help? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of PA jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox to cut down on time spent looking through ads. Let Monster assist you along your career path today.