Physican Assistant

Job Duties

Physician assistants (PAs) provide healthcare to patients under the direction of physicians. They are delegated work by a physician, including diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive healthcare services. They perform a wide range of duties, such as taking medical histories, examining and treating patients, ordering and interpreting laboratory tests and x rays, making diagnoses, and prescribing medications. They keep track of patients' progress and counsel them regarding treatment options. They are allowed to prescribe medications in 47 States and the District of Columbia. Some PAs have duties such as managing other workers or ordering supplies and equipment.

In rural areas or inner city clinics where physicians are not always present, PAs may serve as the principal care providers. In these situations, PAs consult with a supervising physician as well as with other medical professionals. Some PAs make house calls; others travel to hospitals and nursing care facilities to check on patients and report their progress to physicians. Supervising physicians, as well as State law, determine the specific duties of physician assistants. Many PAs work in primary care specialties, such as general internal medicine, pediatrics, and family medicine. Or they may specialize in general and thoracic surgery, emergency medicine, orthopedics, and geriatrics.

Job Skills

Physician assistants need to be natural leaders and have high self-confidence and emotional stability. In order to stay current on advances in medical technology, they must be willing to continue their studies throughout their entire career.


In 2002, physician assistants earned a median annual salary of $64,670. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $35,410, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $90,350.

Training and Education

In all States, PAs must graduate from an accredited, formal education program, of which there are about 133 offering master's and bachelor's degrees. Almost all PAs have at least a bachelor's degree. Admissions requirements for these programs usually include 2 years of college and some work experience in the healthcare field. Most applicants have either a bachelor's or a master's degree. Many have worked as registered nurses. PA programs usually last about 2 years. Programs are full time and are located in schools of allied health, academic health centers, medical schools, or 4-year colleges. A few are found in community colleges, the military, or hospitals.

Physician assistants are required to pass the Physician Assistants National Certifying Examination, which is administered by the Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) and only open to graduates of accredited PA education programs. Those who pass the exam are granted the credential "Physician Assistant-Certified." PAs must complete 100 hours of continuing education every 2 years in order to renew their certification. And every 6 years, they are required to pass a recertification exam.


In 2002, physician assistants held about 63,000 jobs. More than 50% worked in offices of physicians or other health practitioners. About 25% worked in hospitals.

Job Outlook

Between 2002 and 2012, employment of physician assistants is expected to increase faster than the average. This will be due to an expected expansion of the health services industry. Another factor will be a new focus on cost containment within the industry, which will result in physicians and healthcare institutions relying more on physician assistants due to their cost-effective and productive nature. Opportunities will be best for physician assistants in States that allow them a wider range of practice options.

For more information on becoming a physician assistant, please see our directory of schools offering Medical Training.

Physican Assistant Training

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            Medical Assisting
            Unitek College , South San Francisco
            • Offers programs in nursing, medical assisting, pharmacy technology, dental assisting, and more.
            • Six Campuses across Northern CA: Fremont, San Jose, Sacramento, S. San Francisco, Hayward, and Concord.
            • Accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, with programmatic approvals from the California Board of Vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians and the Board of Registered Nursing.
            • Approved by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) with an A+ rating since 2010.
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            Associate of Science in Medical Assisting Science
            • Has students attend one four-week class at a time and take their final exam before moving on to their next class.
            • Offers 24/7 online tech support, with a typical response time of 4 hours or less.
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            • Provides job placement assistance to all its students and alumni.
            • Researches trends for growing fields to tailor a more effective curriculum.
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            Medical Assisting
            Platt College , Anaheim
            • A Los Angeles-based private college offering programs in medical sciences, legal studies, and graphic design since 1985.
            • Has weekend programs, including certified  veterinary technology, nurse assistant, and hemodialysis technician.
            • Showcases visual communication students’ artwork and design through campus magazine.
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            • Accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).
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            Respiratory Therapy (AS)
            • Offers several scholarship opportunities for students who qualify.
            • Laptop computers are issued to each student at the beginning of their program.
            • Provides programs in health care, business, information technology, and graphic arts.
            • Respiratory Therapy program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC).
            • Accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).

            Our family of non-profit colleges admits students of any race, color, and national or ethnic origin.

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            Certificate - Medical Assistant
            • Many programs require externships, allowing students to gain real-world experience.
            • Approved A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) since 1984.
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            Medical Assistant Program
            • Offers training in various types of massage therapy, physical therapy/sports rehab, and personal fitness training & wellness.
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            Medical Assistant
            North-West College , West Covina
            • Features the Success Education Program, with numerous scholarship opportunities to students who qualify.
            • Offers a paralegal program and several healthcare programs including pharmacy technology, medical assisting, massage therapy, and diagnostic medical sonography.
            • Provides an active Placement Assistance Program for all qualified gradutes.
            • Accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).
            • 7 southern California campuses available in West Covina, Pomona, Pasadena, Glendale, Riverside, Santa Ana, and Long Beach.
            • Part of the Success Education Colleges (SEC) group.
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            Medical Assistant
            Mayfield College , Cathedral City
            • A Better Business Bureau (BBB) Accredited Business, with an A+ rating.
            • Computer Support Technician program is based on guidelines set by the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) and Microsoft.
            • Offers free student services, including tutoring, campus internet access, career placement, and a student lounge.
            • Accredited by the Council on Occupational Education (COE).
            • 2 locations in Cathedral City and Twentynine Palms, California.
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            • Flexible Scheduling
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            Medical Assistant
            • Offers career placement assistance services to recent graduates.
            • Our short-term allied health programs will give you the skills and knowledge to become a part of the exciting health care field.
            • Programs include Medical Office Specialist, Medical Assistant, Dental Assistant and Healthcare Administration.
            • Accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).
            • Main campus is located in Van Nuys, California, north of Los Angeles.
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            • Flexible Scheduling
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