A physician assistant (PA) is a dependent health care provider that works under the supervision of an MD or DO. What is officially defined as supervision differs by state and by practice setting. It may mean direct physician review of each patient encountered or, in rural or medically undeserved areas, it may mean one half day of physical supervision per week and 10% of chart review.
A Physician Assistant is trained and qualified to perform a large percentage of medical tasks traditionally carried out by physicians. PAs take medical histories, perform physical examinations, order diagnostic tests, assist in surgery, manage medical emergencies, and perform numerous medical procedures – the amount and extent of supervision of which is determined by state medical boards and state regulations. Thirty-nine states allow PAs prescription writing privileges, the Federal DEA has approved separate prescription writing numbers for PAs, and almost all states allow prescription writing privileges to PAs practicing in medically underserved areas.
The PA Profile
The mean age of a Physician Assistant is 40 with 56% being male and 44% female, but female numbers are increasing rapidly. In regards to the ethnicity ratio, 90% of PAs are White, 4% are Black, 4% Hispanic, and 2% Asian. Sixty-three percent of Physician Assistants work in offices with other PA’s. The mean number of years for PAs in their current position is 4.2. The mean number of years overall is 8.8 for PAs. These figures reflect the high demand for PAs and the number of job opportunities currently available.
Physician Assistants days and hours worked vary depending primarily on where they are employed. For PAs employed in inpatient settings, they see a mean of 15.6 patients per day and work a mean of 44.6 hours per week. PAs employed in clinical settings see a mean of 21.7 patients per day and work a mean of 41 hours per week. Lastly, PAs employed in nursing homes see a mean of 15.1 patients per day and work a mean of 32.2 hours per week. Also, the mean number of on-call hours worked for those PAs who have jobs which require call is 30.5 hours and 20% of PAs moonlight. In regards to the practice area of a PA, 48.5% of them work in primary care areas of medicine (Family/General Practice, General Internal Medicine, OB/GYN, and General Pediatrics). The remaining PAs work in 55 different medical specialty areas. The number of PAs choosing to work in specialty areas is increasing which could possibly be reflecting market demand, salary, or work environment. Also, you will find a physician assistant practicing anywhere you find physicians which includes private practice, hospitals, health maintenance organizations, rural and urban clinics, military institutions, nursing homes, prison systems, and student health services.
Physician Assistant Education
There are many programs across the U.S. for PAs. Texas has five programs – UTSW at Dallas, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston (private), UT Medical Branch at Galveston, UNTHSC in Ft. Worth, and a Galveston ext. program called UT-Pan America concentrating on providing PAs to medically underserved areas of Texas. Texas also has one army program in San Antonio and one Air Force program in Wichita Falls.
After graduation from the program, 7.5 percent of the graduates will be accepted into a one year residency program at a very competitive level. Half of these residencies are for surgery and 15% are for emergency medicine. Many people want to know what type of degrees currently practicing PAs have after their program is completed. 72% of practicing PAs have obtained their Bachelors degree, 12% have a Masters, 1% Doctorate, 6% Certificate, 9% Associate, and 12 PA programs offer Master’s degrees (e.g. Master of Public Health, Master of Health Sciences, Master of Physician Assistant Studies). There were approximately 40,469 practicing PAs in 2001. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be approximately 98,000 practicing PAs by 2008.
Entrance requirements vary by PA program, but in general, two years of college coursework with courses completed in the health sciences and premed type curricula are needed. The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center specifically requires general biology, chemistry, microbiology, college algebra, psychology, and sociology. Most programs also require anatomy and physiology. All of the science courses must include laboratory. Some form of previous health care experience is required by all programs. The mean health care experience of applicants is 50 months.
Applications are increasing every year with the average program containing 300 applicants (accepts 40, enrolls 37). About one of nine or ten applicants is enrolled. The cost of the program must also be considered. It varies widely by program setting and it is generally equal to or slightly higher than regular undergraduate tuition rates. Programs affiliated with state university systems are generally less, and state resident tuition is less, but these programs are limited in the number of out of state applicants they may accept.
PA Job Opportunities
The amount of opportunities available for PA graduates is increasing rapidly. It has been estimated that there are currently anywhere from 7-12 employment opportunities for each graduating PA. Health care reform may add to this number but, the number of new programs opening may offset it.
PA Salary Data
According to statistics, the mean salary for new graduates is $45,961 and the overall is $56,289. Most PAs make between 49 and 60K; however, some make much more than this and a few less. The hest paid are those in specialty areas, especially surgical, specialty surgical, and cardiothorasic surgical assisting. Most recent salary survey results may be obtained from the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA).
PA Certification and Licensing
Registration and/or Licensing is required in all states where PAs are allowed to practice. Mississippi is the only state which does not allow PA practice. PA Certification is required in all states but Texas. Certification requires the passing of a national certifying examination after the completion of an accredited PA Program. This is administered by the NCCPA (National Commission on the Certification of PAs). PAs are required to recertify every six years, and complete 100 Continuing Medical Education credit hours every two years in much the same way as family practice physicians. Guidelines of PA practice are defined by each state’s registration or licensing authority – which in most cases is the states medical board.
- American Academy of Physician Assistants
950 North Washington Street Alexandria
The AAPA is the national PA organization where all types of information and most recent data concerning the profession may be obtained. A directory of PA Programs is available through the AAPA for $25
- The Texas Academy of Physician Assistants
P.O. Box 80075
Austin, TX 78727-0075
(512) 310-1653 (fax)
The TAPA is the state chapter of the AAPA. Information of regional concern or statewide statistics may be obtained
- All of the above information was provided by
M.ED, PA-C Director of Clinical Education
University of Texas-Southwestern Physician Assistant Program
- Updated: January 4, 2006