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How Much Do Physicians Assistants Make?

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By Johnny Bevers

If you’re interested in becoming a physician assistant, but are curious about how much they make, we’ve uncovered some little known facts you should know about before beginning your educational program.  A physician assistant, also referred to as a PA, practices medicine under the direct supervision of a medical doctor or MD.  They may work for surgeons as well, and typically work in hospital or clinical settings.  They are educated and trained to examine patients, diagnose illnesses and injuries, and provide treatment (including prescriptions). The amount of supervision a physician’s assistant needs depends on the laws of the state, but most are required to work under a licensed medical doctor. PA’s work in various areas of medicine, including family care, emergency medicine, primary care and even psychiatry. Depending on the office and specialty they work in, their duties can vary.

In private practices, physician’s assistants see patients just as often as medical doctors. In fact, they may help medical doctors lighten their load and do initial diagnoses of their patients. In a surgical setting, a physician assistant can close incisions and provide care before and following the surgical procedure. Some companies hire physician assistants privately to visit nursing homes or visit patients in their homes for on-call treatment. A physician assistant is not a medical assistant and they go through extensive training compared to medical assistants.

Working Conditions for a Physician Assistant

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The job of a physician assistant is highly demanding. They spend a lot of time on their feet, work long hours, and evaluate patients several days per week. They can work in operating rooms, standing for extended periods of time, but despite the stressful environment, most physician assistants report enjoying their job. In most cases, a physician assistant can expect to work full-time, and if they work for a hospital they may be required to work holidays, weekends or night shifts. Some companies hire physician assistants for on-call positions, which means they must respond with little notice.

Education and Training Required to Become a Physician Assistant

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Most physician assistants are required to have a master’s degree from an accredited school program.  The degree itself can take two years of full-time postgraduate work.  To apply to a physician assistant program at a university, you will need a bachelor’s degree as well as some healthcare related experience.  After graduation, you are required to be licensed in your state before you can start seeing patients.

Also, some physician assistant programs may require two to four years of undergraduate work that focuses on science.  Most people who apply to physician assistant programs worked previously as nurses, paramedics, or EMTs.

Physician assistant programs are extensive and the two years includes full-time study.  Most programs include classroom and laboratory instruction.  Students will go through human anatomy, pathology, clinical medicine, pharmacology and medical ethics courses.  They will also undergo hundreds of hours of clinical training that is supervised by a medical professional.

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To become licensed, a physician assistant must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination or PANCE from the National Commission of Certification of Physician Assistants. Once the examination is passed, they may use that credential for employment.  To keep the certification active, physician assistants must complete 100 hours of continuing education and this must be done every 2 years.

In Texas, there are several physician assistant programs available.  A Master of Physician Assistant Studies can be obtained through the University of North Texas Health Science Center.  Also, Baylor College of Medicine offers a Physician Assistant Program as part of their Department of Community Medicine curriculum.  Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center also has their own program as well as the University of Texas.

Becoming a physician assistant isn’t just about the right training, however.  To become a successful PA, students need to possess certain characteristics, including:

  • Excellent communication skills
  • Problem-solving capabilities
  • Be detail-oriented and highly organized
  • Have a level of compassion
  • Be patient
  • Be emotionally stable and be able to work well under extreme pressure — such as working in the surgical field

Physician assistants can pursue further education after they receive their Master’s Degree.  In fact, they can specialize in surgery, emergency medicine and other specialty fields.  To enter these specialty programs, they must first complete a physician assistant program and be certified by the NCCPA.

How Much Do Physician Assistants Make?

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In May 2012, the medium annual salary for a physician assistant was $90,930.  The top 10 percent earned an average of $124,770 per year, while the lower 10 percent only earned $62,430 per year.  Where a physician assistant works also can impact their pay.  For example, physician assistants who work for hospitals typically earn the most, making an average of $93,660 per year, while physician assistants working for government agencies made the lowest at $86,870 per year.

In the state of Texas, physician assistants are some of the highest paid in the country.  As of 2014, however, physician assistants only averaged $63,000 per year.  Some jobs posted over the past year have had significant variances in pay.  Physician assistants working in a surgical office or setting earned an average of $92,000 per year, while physician assistants in urgent care facilities only earned an average of $81,000 per year.  Physician assistants who worked in private family care offices in Texas earned an average of $94,000 per year.

The Future Of The Field

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The demand for physician assistants is still strong in 2014.  In fact, it is projected to grow by 38 percent from 2012 to 2022 — faster than other healthcare related position.  Physician assistants can perform similar services to doctors, which is why they are in such high demand.  More hospitals, clinics and private offices are looking to hire physician assistants over traditional medical doctors because they are paid less, require less training and are just as useful to their facility.

Also, as insurance companies start to cover more services from physician assistants, the field is expected to grow even further.

Why More Students are Choosing PA Programs Versus MD

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More students are also going into PA programs versus MD programs.  But, there is good reason for it.  Some of the common reasons people chose a PA program versus MD include:

  • Higher return on the investment for their master’s.  Unlike an MD, which can take decades to pay off, most physician assistants report higher incomes and the ability to pay off student loan debts faster.
  • Physician assistants are one of the 6th highest paid jobs in the healthcare industry.  As they become specialized in different disciplines, they become even more valuable and are able to earn more each year.
  • There is more personal freedom to being a physician assistant compared to a medical doctor.  You aren’t typically called into work after hours, for example.
  • The long term outlook for physician assistants is looking better and more favorable than medical doctors.

While there will always be a need for medical doctors, physician assistants are on the rise and the high demand for these positions will most likely increase annual salaries over the next decade.

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Nov 9, 2014 @ 5:16 pm

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