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Physician Assistant

Career Overview

A physician assistant (PA) is trained to act as medical practitioner under the supervision of an M.D. The position is somewhat comparable to a nurse practitioner. A physician assistant examines patients, take histories, order tests and interpret them, and generally provide diagnostic and therapeutic services to the patient. They treat injuries by suturing, splinting and casting.

In 48 states and the District of Columbia, a PA is authorized to write prescriptions for certain classes of medication. Some physician assistants also play a supervisory role in a doctors office, providing oversight for staff and handling office management chores such as ordering equipment and supplies.


A physician assistant academic program usually lasts two years. Some institutions won't take student applicants unless they already have already completed two years of academic study at the college level, preferably in the health care field. Some institutions also require health care experience at some level. Many PA students are registered nurses or have worked in physical therapy.

All states require that a physician assistant be licensed and have passed the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination, administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).

Current Employment

There were about 66,000 physician assistants working in the U.S. in 2006.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Department of Labor expected this job classification to grow 27% from 2006 to 2016, much faster than the national average for overall job growth. Institutionalized health care has led to extended use of PAs in order to control costs.

Salary Range

Lowest 10%  $22.47  $47,650
Median Salary  $37.72  $78,450
Highest 10%  $50.81  $105,680

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