Physician’s assistants (PAs) are trained professionals that practice a general form of medicine under the supervision of a doctor or surgeon. PAs may work in several different environments, including hospitals, private offices, and rural clinics. Unlike medical assistants, who are responsible only for clerical work, a physician’s assistant may serve as a primary caregiver for a patient. PAs enjoy enormous flexibility in their employment, as they often rotate from workplace to workplace in the course of their career. Individuals with a desire to help patients, a good bedside manner, and a willingness to work long hours.
The duties of a physician’s assistant depends on the state law and the supervising physician. Generally, however, PAs can perform many different health care procedures such as the treatment of injuries, casting of fractured bones, and examination of x-rays. In most states, physician’s assistants can also prescribe medication to patients. Depending on a PAs educational background, they may be called upon to work within certain health disciplines such as geriatrics, internal medicine, or family medicine. In addition to medical care, PAs may perform office work such as ordering supplies and inventory as well as managerial work. Surgeons and doctors rely on physician’s assistants diverse skill set to keep a clinic or hospital running smoothly.
As PAs gain more and more experience in the field they may be afforded more responsibilities. However, a surgeon or doctor will always supervise their work.
Education and Licensure
The typical physician assistant program will last 2 years with a full-time course load. Most such programs will be offered by allied health schools or 4-year medical schools, but it is possible to earn a credential through the military as well. Many physician’s assistant students have worked previously as nurses or in other capacities the the health care industry and are supplementing their work experience with specific training. In addition, most PA students already possess a Bachelors or Masters degree prior to enrollment. Topics covered in physician’s assistant programs include pathology, anatomy, physiology, microbiology, pharmacology, home heal care, and ethics, among other essential subjects. Students may also choose to specialize in prenatal care, emergency medicine, or psychiatry.
After completing the program, graduates must seek licensing from the State in order to practice. All States currently require physician’s assistants to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination, administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) before beginning work.
Career Opportunities and Earning Potential
Skilled physician’s assistants have numbers on their side. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Employment & Wages database the number of available positions is expected to grow by 39% over the next ten years. PAs are in demand in a number of industries, from hospital surgical rooms to prisons. A swiftly growing market for PA expertise is rural clinics in need of part-time help to look after the population.
The earning potential of a PA varies based on the level of education and experience, but the average salary for a full-time assistant is currently $86,410.
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