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Learn how to become a physician assistant and how to get a great job

CareerBuilder | June 22, 2022

Check out our guide on how to become a physician assistant and what makes this job especially appealing and rewarding.

A career in health care is appealing to many, but if becoming a doctor isn't in the cards for you, why not consider a career as a physician assistant instead? This role allows individuals to provide direct patient care and make a difference in the lives of others without having to complete quite as many years of school as are required to become a practicing physician.

Learn more about this role and its responsibilities, as well as how you can score a job after completing the necessary education and training. Using CareerBuilder to find and apply for positions makes it easier to get in front of hiring managers, especially when you create a profile so employers can find you.

What does a physician assistant do?

Just like a medical doctor, a physician assistant is responsible for direct patient care. However, a physician assistant falls under the category of medical support professional. This means that a PA works under a doctor's supervision — but it doesn't mean that the overseeing physician is hovering over the PA's shoulder all the time. How much monitoring physician assistants are subject to varies between states and medical organizations.

Generally speaking, physician assistants can:

  • Perform examinations
  • Diagnose illnesses
  • Create treatment plans
  • Order and interpret X-rays and laboratory tests
  • Prescribe medications
  • Advise patients on health practices and preventive care
  • Perform minor procedures

Some of these duties may require a physician's approval. A PA isn't qualified to perform surgery, but they can assist in the operating room. Many physician assistants work alongside surgeons, assisting with surgical procedures, helping to monitor patients during operations, and providing post-operative care.

Education and training for physician assistants

Physicians have to work hard to operate independently, often in the form of years of schooling. An undergraduate degree typically takes about four years to complete, while a medical degree usually requires four more years in school. After graduating from medical school, the next step is spending three to seven years in a residency program (and possibly a fellowship program) before obtaining a medical license to practice independently.

One option to consider is working as a physician assistant, a role that's still in the health care field but differs slightly from the role of a physician.

By contrast, the education for a physician assistant doesn't take nearly as long to complete. Qualifications do vary on the state level, but most physician assistants can earn their license after finishing:

  • An undergraduate degree
  • A master's degree from an accredited physician assistant program
  • A one-year clinical rotation

Physician assistants must complete more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations over the course of 12 months. Each rotation usually lasts one to two months, offering PAs plenty of hands-on experience while working in various medical specialties. These specialties may include:

  • Emergency medicine
  • Pediatrics
  • General surgery
  • Cardiology
  • Dermatology
  • Plastic surgery
  • Geriatrics

After completing around seven years of higher education, you can become a physician assistant. By contrast, physicians may spend up to double this amount of time to earn their qualifications.

Why become a physician assistant?

Now that you know how to become a physician assistant, you might wonder why this career is worth pursuing. Here are a few reasons you might want to consider this particular career:

  • Becoming a PA is very rewarding: PAs focus more on patient care. More of their time can be spent on caring for patients and attending to their needs, rather than managing other health care professionals.
  • PAs get paid well: A physician assistant typically earns between $77,940 and $175,000 per year, with a median salary of $121,530 (according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics).
  • Flexible career options: A physician assistant finishes their clinical rotation with the qualifications needed to work in any medical specialty. If you prefer one area over another, you can transition between specialties without having to complete additional education.
  • PAs are in demand: BLS data projects over 12,000 openings for physician assistant roles each year, marking a growth rate of 31% between 2020 and 2030.

Determine if this job is a good fit

Before pursuing the educational requirements to become a physician's assistant, you might want to explore other health-related jobs to see if the field seems like a good fit for you. Entry-level jobs in the health care industry can provide insights into working in a medical office or hospital and interacting with patients. Some of the jobs to consider include:

  • Patient service representative or receptionist
  • Billing assistant
  • Office assistant
  • Intern

How to find a physician assistant job

When you complete your education and training, you can start applying for physician assistant jobs in local hospitals and health care facilities. CareerBuilder offers access to the latest jobs, so create a profile, upload your resume, and apply for the positions that appeal to you.

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