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. U.S. News & World Report ranked the PA profession as #1 in their "Best Healthcare Jobs" category, and #3 in their "100 Best Jobs" category. (Meanwhile, physicians took the #7 and #9 spots, respectively.) In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports PA jobs are projected to grow by 37 percent from 2016 to 2026.
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 close to $90,000 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. In 36 states, the average salary for a PA is more than $100,000. 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 2018 data from the BLS, the average annual salary for a PA is $108,430. PAs who work in outpatient care centers tend to earn the highest salaries ($116,780), while those who work in ambulatory healthcare services earn the lowest ($97,540).
Physician Assistant Median Salary
The median salary for a PA is $108,610, with the top and bottom percentiles earning $151,850 and $69,120 per year, respectively.
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 $52.13 and the median hourly rate is $52.22 as of May 2018. PAs who are paid hourly may also be eligible for overtime pay.
Breakdown of Physician Assistant Salaries by Specialty & State
Average Physician Assistant Salary by Specialty
|Specialty||Average Hourly Rate||Average Annual Salary|
Average Physician Assistant Salary by State
|State||Average Hourly Rate||Average Annual Salary|
|District of Columbia||$55.16||$114,740|
Source: BLS, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2018
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 2017, the average cost of a PA program was $71,369 for resident tuition and $89,975 for non-resident 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|