When it comes to career paths and the jobs we aspire to, it’s easy to feel like there are only a few options on the table. But actually, there’s a whole world of different types of jobs and roles out there, and we’re on a mission to bring them to light and explain what they actually involve. Ahead, a look at physician assistants—and over here, we’ve also got pharmacists, marketing managers, and architects.
The role of a physician assistant is an interesting one, especially if you have a particular interest in healthcare diagnosis and treatment. In this job, you’ll work under the supervision of a physician. You may work in a clinic, doctor’s office, or hospital setting.
Although you will always be working under the supervision of a doctor, this job is certainly not for the faint of heart. You’ll regularly be tasked with the job of examining, diagnosing, and treating patients, so it’s a big job that assumes a lot of responsibility.
As Nisha Shah, a physician assistant based out of New Jersey, says, “you kind of become an extension of the supervising physician.” Your role is partly to undertake the more routine physician work so that the supervising physician can concentrate on the non-routine work.
Here’s what you need to know about the role of a physician assistant.
So, what does a physician assistant typically do?
While some physician assistants work in general medicine, many physician assistants work in specialist areas such as geriatrics, cardiology, pediatrics, etc. Unsurprisingly, your duties will vary depending on the area you’re in. With that said, there are some basic duties common to the job.
According to Alison Davis Lavandosky, a physician assistant at Pediatric Critical Care of South Florida, the responsibilities common to the role of a PA are “interviewing and examining patients, developing treatment plans, following up on test results, and educating the patient (and their family) on their [diagnosis] and how they will be treated.”
In some cases, the physician assistant may be the first point of contact for a patient. In fact, you may stand in, so to speak, for the physician. According to Shah, your number one responsibility is to help your supervising physician with their patient load. “This includes seeing the patients and caring for them in the same way [the] doctor would.”
Who is this job ideally for?
The role of a physician assistant is best suited to someone who is “flexible, open-minded and a team player,” says Lavandosky. You need to be able to multitask and have strong organization skills, especially because you’ll nearly always be working in a fast-paced and unpredictable environment.
A willingness to learn is also imperative, according to Shah, especially in the early stages of your career.
“You’re going to feel like a fool, but a happy fool … you’re going to pick up on so many new things,” says Shah. “The way you respond will show your supervising doctors how much of an asset you are.”
Finally, as with any career in medicine, you should be calm under fire, as you’ll nearly always be working with patients under some amount of stress.
What are the usual job requirements?
You will need a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as biology, to begin with. Once you’ve graduated, you’ll need to pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) in order to qualify for a physician assistant program. From there, you’ll get a master’s degree. Throughout your career, you’ll be required to stay up to date on board certification licenses.
Hiring managers will want you to note any relevant experience you’ve had in the field on your resume.
What’s the average salary like?
PayScale reports that the average salary for a physician assistant is $92K per year. However, you can expect your salary to vary widely depending on location. Physician assistants in Seattle and Los Angeles earned up to 12 percent more than the national average salary. On the flip side, New York, Tampa, and Atlanta clock in at up to 5 percent less than the national average salary.