Physician Assistant Job Description

Physician assistants evaluate patients and administer care to treat illnesses, diseases, and physical or mental problems. Hospitals, medical clinics, and doctors’ offices hire physician assistants to work full time during all shifts, including nights, weekends, and holidays. Physician assistants work in collaborative environments with other medical staff, and primarily report directly to one or more physicians. Typically, physician assistants work within a specific medical facility and do not travel to perform their duties.


Physician Assistant Duties and Responsibilities

Daily duties performed by physician assistants vary considerably based on the medical conditions and number of patients they’re treating. However, there are several core tasks associated with this career:

Evaluate and Examine Patients

Physician assistants assess patient symptoms and conditions, conducting careful examinations to determine the nature of their illness and any potential treatments. They write notes in patient charts detailing these symptoms and treatments.

Provide Patient Care

Physician assistants provide patient care in clinical settings in general or specialized medicine or mental health.

Collaborate with Physicians

Physician assistants work closely with other members of the medical team, particularly one or more physicians. This includes performing tasks assigned by physicians, usually pertaining to patient examination, testing, and treatment.

Conduct Diagnostic Research

Physician assistants research medical or mental health conditions and treatments when necessary to provide care to patients.

Prescribe Medication

Physician assistants prescribe medication to patients after obtaining physician approval.

Order and Interpret Tests

Physician assistants order diagnostic tests to learn more about patient conditions. They interpret these tests to look for abnormalities.


Physician Assistant Skills and Qualifications

Physician assistants interact with patients to evaluate, examine, and treat them for medical or mental conditions, and work collaboratively within a larger medical team. Medical facilities that hire physician assistants look for professionals who have all the skills required to perform this job:

  • Medical knowledge – a thorough understanding of medicine and treatment best practices, including examining, diagnosing, and treating patients, is essential for working as a physician assistant
  • Interpersonal skills – physician assistants use interpersonal skills to interact with patients of all ages
  • Analytical thinking – physician assistants use analytical skills to determine what patients are suffering from and devise possible treatments to bring them back to good health
  • Attention to detail – physician assistants use attention to detail to carefully assess and evaluate patients
  • Communication skills – physician assistants use verbal communication skills to interact with the rest of the care staff, and written communication skills to record notes in patient files
  • Computer skills – as many medical facilities and physician offices use digital software to store diagnostic test results, patient files, and other data, good computer skills are essential for physician assistants


Tools of the Trade

Physician assistants commonly work with the following tools:

  • Sterilization tools (autoclaves, solution)
  • Diagnostic tools (stethoscopes, examination tables, exam lights, blood pressure meters, thermometers, scopes)
  • Treatment tools (syringes, suture materials)


Physician Assistant Education and Training

To be eligible for hire as a physician assistant, individuals must be a licensed physician assistant in their state of employment. In most states, this means that physician assistants must have a Master of Science degree in physician assistant studies or an associate’s degree in physician assistant studies in addition to a bachelor’s degree in biology, anatomy, or a similar field of study. For most employers, previous experience in clinical medicine is strongly preferred. Some employers may additionally require CPR certification, which can be obtained after passing a simple training course.

Brief training is provided to physician assistants, usually less than one week, to help them become familiar with the hiring medical facility and the protocols they are required to follow. While in training, physician assistants work closely with experienced physicians.


Physician Assistant Salary and Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, physician assistants earn a median annual salary of $104,860, or about $50.41 hourly. Employment in this field is expected to rise 37 percent through 2026. This is much faster than the national average rate of job growth.

Benefit packages including health insurance with medical, dental, and vision coverage are typically provided to physician assistants. Vacation days, retirement options, and life insurance are also common benefits. Some physician assistants may receive additional perks, including free meals and free access to fitness rooms.


Helpful Resources

Use these books and websites to search for jobs, find educational programs, browse research tools, and learn workplace tips:

Physician Assistant Education Association – find educational workshops, upcoming training events, research tools, and study materials for physician assistants at this website

Physician Assistant: A Guide to Clinical Practice – written with a succinct, clear style, this book provides guidance to physician assistants, with information that includes clinical questions and treatments

American Academy of PAs – search for physician assistant jobs, read news updates, look for upcoming events, and take advantage of industry events at this professional website

Physician Assistants: Policy and Practice – this book draws on practitioner expertise and research to provide an in-depth look at this profession and how it will continue to evolve in the future

National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants – this website offers job openings, news updates, research resources, and medical reports to keep physician assistants up to date and advancing in their careers

The Ultimate Guide to the Physician Assistant Profession – written by a professional PA, this book offers advice, tips, and workplace strategies, and includes detailed stories of personal experiences from actual physician assistants


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