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Physician Assistant

Job Duties

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 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. Typically, physician assistants take or review patients’ medical histories, examine patients, order and interpret diagnostic tests, diagnose and treat an injury or illness, and educate patients and their families about health issues.

Education and Certification Requirements

Most physician assistants enter the occupation with a master’s degree. Admission to graduate programs for physician assistants generally require a bachelor’s degree and specific coursework, including biology and physiology. Many programs also require applications to have volunteered or worked in the medical field.

Physician assistant education programs usually take at least 2 years of full-time study. About 200 education programs were accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc (ARC-PA) in 2017.


The median annual wage for physician assistants was $104,860 in May 2017. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $66,590, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $146,260.

Job Outlook

Employment of physician assistants is projected to grow 37 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for healthcare services will increase because of the growing and aging population.

UI students preparing for health-related careers should consult Health Professions Advising at the Career Center for help in identifying appropriate prerequisite courses, preparing for professional school exams, and learning how to construct an effective professional school application.

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