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How Much Does a Physician Assistant Make?

Masked female physician assistant wearing a white lab coat and stethoscope consults with an elderly male patient while holding a tablet.

Whether you’re a seasoned physician assistant or just considering the path to starting your physician assistant career, you probably know that this is a lucrative and rewarding career choice. On top of that, PAs tend to be very, very happy in their field. But what is the typical PA salary?

According to U.S. News & World Report's Best Jobs of 2023 rankings, PAs snagged the #2 spot in the "Best Healthcare Jobs" category and the #4 spot for all jobs.

What Does a Physician's Assistant Do?

The American Academy of Physician Assistants defines PAs as "licensed clinicians who practice medicine in every specialty and setting."

As licensed medical professionals, PAs diagnose illnesses, perform physical exams, suture wounds, assist in surgery, provide preventative healthcare counseling, order and interpret lab tests, and develop and carry out treatment plans. In 39 states, PAs can write prescriptions.

Essentially, a PA can carry out whatever patient care is assigned to them by a supervising physician and is allowed by law in that state. In the majority of states, the PA is allowed to treat patients when the supervising physician is away from the practice. These medical providers' work settings include physicians' offices, nursing care facilities, and hospitals.

The scope of what a PA practices is the same as the supervising physician's office. Whether the physician providing direct supervision practices general medicine, hospital medicine, adolescent medicine, primary care, or critical care, the PA will possess the same clinical skills.

To become a new PA, most physician assistant programs prefer the pre-PA to have some prior college education and healthcare experience. This typically includes a bachelor's degree and four years of healthcare services experience. Those accepted to these professional schools often have work experience in medical services, such as nurses, EMTs, sports trainers, and paramedics.

A physician assistant degree is a master's degree level program and typically lasts 25 months. PA students study subjects as diverse as pediatrics, obstetrics, emergency medicine, pharmacology, geriatrics, surgery, and psychology. Aspiring PAs' health education will include at least one year of clinical rotation, treating patients in all major medical disciplines.

After graduation, PAs are required to take continuing education classes and be retested on their skills continuously.

Much of this job growth is due to the aging of America and resulting staff shortages. The number of open positions only continues to grow in skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes.

What’s the Typical Physician Assistant Starting Salary?

Entry-level PAs have an average annual base salary of $105,856 as of March 2023, according to However, starting salaries will vary depending on factors like your education level and location. For example, if you start your PA career in the top-paying states, you could earn 6% more than the national average and be among the highest-paid physician assistants.

How Much Does a Physician Assistant Make Per Year?

Most PAs are paid an annual salary. The typical PA salary can also vary by specialty. For example, PAs with an emergency medicine specialty earn more than $200,000 per year on average.

Average Physician Assistant Salary

Recently certified PAs can expect to move into an amazing career with a generous salary, incredible job security, outstanding non-salary benefits as part of their compensation package, and regular salary increases.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a job growth rate between 2021 and 2031 of 28%, much higher than the standard rate of 5%. The BLS salary data shows the median annual salary for full-time PAs to be $121,530 per year in 2021.

The AAPA Salary Report shows that PA compensation rose by 4.5% in 2021 for employed PAs. In 2021, PAs saw the median amount of their professional development funds return to pre-pandemic levels.

In addition, 51% of PAs see an average bonus of $6,000 yearly from the healthcare providers for which they are employed. Many PAs have salary structures that include a base salary and an annual percentage of collections after they double their base salary in collected revenue.

Physician Assistant Median Salary

The median salary for a PA is $121,530, with the top and bottom percentiles earning $164,620 and $77,940 per year, respectively.

Physician Assistant Salary by Specialty

The BLS ranks the following as the top-paying industries for PAs as of May 2021. Here is the average salary for each specialty:

  • Physicians’ Offices: $117,370
  • Outpatient Care Services: $128,430
  • Scientific Research and Development Services: $133,830
  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals: $122,870
  • Skilled Nursing Facilities: $133,550

How Much Does a Physician Assistant Make Per Hour?

Independent contractors and PAs who work in urgent care or emergency medicine are more likely to make an hourly wage than an annual salary. Data from the BLS shows that the median hourly rate for a PA is $58.43 as of May 2021. PAs who are paid hourly may also be eligible for overtime pay.

How Do I Become a Physician Assistant?

The path to becoming a PA isn’t always easy, but it’s well worth it for anyone looking for a high-paying, flexible career working with medical patients.

Like doctors, PAs are required to have a postgraduate degree and have experience working with patients before they begin practicing. However, students can generally complete PA requirements within two to three years, and residency training isn’t required.

According to the American Academy of Physicians Assistants (AAPA), students typically have a bachelor’s degree and four years of healthcare experience before they begin a PA program. There’s no specific PA undergraduate degree, but most PA programs require behavioral science classes as prerequisites. It typically takes students 25 to 27 months to complete a PA program. Experience with patients may include prior work as a medical assistant, paramedic, registered nurse, surgical technician, or volunteer in the Peace Corps.

Like most colleges, the costs of PA schools have risen substantially in recent years. Inspira Advantage reported in December 2022 that the average cost of a 27-month PA program was $52,000 for resident tuition, $94,000 for non-resident tuition, and $95,000 for private tuition. Many students take out student loans to cover the costs of schooling. In fact, 22.2% of PA school students anticipated graduating with between $100,000 and $125,000 in student debt, according to the most recent available report from the Physician Assistant Education Association.

PAs must also be licensed in the state where they practice. To obtain a license, they must graduate from an accredited PA program and pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE). The PANCE exam must be taken after you successfully complete a program, and there is a $550 fee to apply. Once a PA is licensed, they can switch specialties anytime without furthering their education.

How Is a Physician Assistant Different From a Nurse Practitioner?

While both professions are highly regarded, have the autonomy to make decisions about patients — while still working under a physician — and make similar incomes, NPs, and PAs consider themselves very different. PAs go to a medical-focused school, while NPs attend nursing school and get an advanced degree. Here’s a breakdown of the differences between the two professions:

Physician Assistant Nurse Practitioner
Medical school or medical-focused school (but six years of school, rather than physicians who go for nine) Nursing school with an advanced degree
Disease-centered model Patient-centered model
Focus on biologic and pathologic health Focus on disease prevention and health education
Practice assessment, diagnosis, and treatment Handle assessment, diagnosis, and treatment
Generalized education, but can specialize in emergency medicine, orthopedics, and general surgery Often specialize in a particular area (e.g., geriatric medicine, ICU, mental health, women’s health, etc.)
Always work under the supervision of a physician Depending on state laws, NPs have varying levels of freedom diagnosing and prescribing medications without a physician’s supervision

Do PAs Get Sued by Patients?

Just like all healthcare providers, PAs can be sued by their patients or their patient’s families claiming malpractice or negligence. MyPATraining states, PAs, though supervised by physicians, can and do make errors for which their supervising physicians are not responsible.”

PAs may also be named in a claim with a larger team of healthcare providers. So whether they are part of a group or named individually, it’s important to be prepared with medical malpractice insurance, as well as always following these five best practices for avoiding a malpractice lawsuit.

Get a quote for PA malpractice insurance!

Image courtesy of Trade

Last updated on May 05, 2023.

Originally published on May 04, 2023.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Berxi™ or Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Company. This article (subject to change without notice) is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute professional advice.

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