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Why Be a Physician Assistant?

Think you want to be a physician assistant? Learn more about what the career has to offer and if it is something you are interested in pursuing.

According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), physician assistants (PAs) are health care professionals who are licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. PAs perform a variety of medical duties, from basic primary care to high-tech specialty procedures. Physician assistants often serve as first or second assistants in major surgeries and provide pre- and postoperative care. In some areas, PAs serve as the primary providers of health care (usually in rural areas where physicians are in short supply). PAs can be found in virtually every medical and surgical specialty.

Key Characteristics of Physician Assistants

To be successful in a physician assistant education program, and as a physician assistant, you need excellent observation, communication, motor and sensory skills. PAs must have the strength and mobility as well as visual integration to respond to a variety of medical situations. They must possess strong intellectual, conceptual, integrative and quantitative abilities. Good physician assistants should exhibit the compassion, integrity, concern for others and interpersonal skills that are needed to work in a health care environment.

Becoming a Physician Assistant

There are more than 140 accredited physician assistant programs in the United States. Currently, you can get an associate, baccalaureate or master’s degree in physician assistant studies. Regardless of the academic degree awarded, all graduates sit for the same national certifying exam given by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).

Physician Assistant Education

The average PA program consists of approximately 2 years of study. The first year is generally devoted to classroom study, while the second year consists of varying clinical rotations. During the first year you will study anatomy, physiology/pathophysiology, pharmacology, microbiology, clinical preventative medicine, medical genetics, physical diagnosis, clinical patient assessment and more. Second year rotations may occur in specialty areas such as adult primary care, family practice, emergency medicine, surgery, psychiatry, dermatology, pediatrics, etc.


As an undergrad, plan carefully, so you complete all required prerequisite coursework and health care experience hours prior to graduating. Find a complete list of our prerequisite courses and healthcare experience requirement here.

  • Study hard! Our average GPA for accepted students is 3.6.
  • Shadow physician assistants and talk with students who are in physician assistant school.
  • Join your school’s pre-PA or pre-med club, if available, and discuss your plans for graduate school with your academic advisor.
  • If you have questions about preparing for PA school, be sure to contact us at or 800-240-2767 extension 7854.

Physician Assistant Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of physician assistants is expected to grow by 39 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. The average annual salary for physician assistants in 2008 was $81,230 and varies based on geographic location, experience, specialty and practice setting.

Physician Assistant Careers

PAs work everywhere! They work in rural settings to major urban areas, in doctor’s offices, clinics, hospitals and in the armed forces.

What do Physician Assistants do?

A physician assistant is licensed to practice medicine with the supervision of a licensed physician. Here are some of the professional services PAs provide:

  • Take medical histories
  • Perform physical exams
  • Provide routine immunizations
  • Perform minor surgeries
  • Suture simple wounds
  • Cast uncomplicated fractures
  • Order and interpret diagnostic tests
  • Diagnose and treat illnesses
  • Prescribe medications (most states)

More Information About Physician Assistants: