Whether you’re a seasoned physician assistant or just considering the path to becoming a PA, 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 don't just take our word for it.
According to U.S. News & World Report's Best Jobs of 2020 rankings, PAs snagged the #1 spot in the "Best Healthcare Jobs" category and the #3 spot for all jobs. (Meanwhile, physicians took the #3 and #5 spots, respectively.) In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports PA jobs are projected to grow about 31 percent between 2018 and 2028. While it’s not uncommon for a PA to earn a six-figure income, your actual earning potential will depend on several factors, including your employer, location, and specialty.
What’s the Typical Physician Assistant Starting Salary?
Entry-level PAs earn around $91,540 per year on average, according to PayScale.com. However, starting salaries will vary, depending on factors like your education level and location. For example, if you start your PA career in a high-paying city, you could earn 6 percent more than the national average.
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
According to 2020 data from the BLS, the average annual salary for a PA is $116,080. PAs who work in personal care services tend to earn the highest salaries ($144,260), followed by those who work in outpatient care centers ($128,820).
Physician Assistant Median Salary
The median salary for a PA is $115,390, with the top and bottom percentiles earning $162,470 and $76,700 per year, respectively.
Physician Assistant Salary by Specialty
The BLS ranks the following as the top paying industries for PAs. Here is the average salary for each specialty:
- Personal Care Services: $144,260
- Outpatient Care Services: $128,820
- Scientific Research and Development Services: $124,400
- Employment Services: $120,400
- Residential Intellect and Developmental Disability, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse Facilities: $119,970
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 average hourly wage for a PA is $55.81 and the median hourly rate is $55.48 as of May 2018. 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 PAs (AAPA), students typically have a bachelor’s degree and three 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 volunteering in the Peace Corps.
Like most colleges, costs of PA school have risen substantially in recent years. In 2020, the average cost of a 27-month PA program was $50,289 for resident tuition, $88,677 for non-resident tuition, and $91,639 for private tuition. Many students take out student loans to cover the costs of schooling. In fact, 65.2 percent of PA school students anticipated graduating with at least $75,000 in student debt, according to a 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 $500 fee to apply. Once a PA is licensed, they’re able to switch specialties at any time without furthering their education.
How Is a Physician Assistant Different From a Nurse Practitioner?
While both professions are highly regarded, have autonomy to make decisions about patients — while still working under a physician — and make similar incomes, NPs and PAs consider themselves to be very different. PAs go to a medical-focused school, while NPs go to 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|
Image courtesy of iStock.com/FG Trade