Physician Assistant Jobs: 10 Specialties to Consider

Physician assistants benefit from six-figure salaries and high demand. Learn more about the earning potential and job duties of 10 physician assistant specialties.

portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Published August 26, 2022

Edited by Kristina Beek
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Physician Assistant Jobs: 10 Specialties to Consider
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Physician assistants, also called PAs, provide medical care in a variety of specialties. Unlike physicians, PAs do not attend medical school. Instead, they graduate from a two-year master's program with clinical training.

PAs earn high wages and are increasingly in demand as the U.S. population ages. Learning more about specialty areas can help launch your PA career.

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How to Become a Physician Assistant

Wondering how to become a physician assistant? The process takes several years and includes the following steps:

10 Types of Physician Assistant Specialities

Dermatology

  • Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $98,820
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 31%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Physician Assistant License

The dermatology specialty focuses on skin conditions. Physician assistants treat skin conditions and often perform minor surgical procedures. They also prescribe medication and provide follow-up care. Dermatology physician assistant jobs require surgical training and strong communication skills. In this specialty, PAs work with patients of all ages, including children and older patients.

Around 4% of PAs specialize in dermatology, according to the NCCPA 2020 physician assistant specialty report. NCCPA will begin offering a Certificate of Added Qualifications in Dermatology in 2023.

Family Medicine

  • Average Annual Salary (August 2022): $97,530
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 31%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Physician Assistant License

One of the most popular physician assistant specialties, family medicine is the primary care of people of all ages. Family medicine PAs conduct wellness screenings, diagnose illnesses, and treat injuries. They also treat patients with chronic conditions. As part of their responsibilities, these PAs order lab tests, perform minor procedures, and prescribe medication. They also educate patients on health and wellness.

The NCCPA 2020 physician assistant specialty report found that over 18% of PAs practice family medicine. These PAs work in doctor's offices, community health clinics, hospitals, and other facilities.

Pediatrics

  • Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $94,980
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 31%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Physician Assistant License

Physician assistants who specialize in pediatrics work with children from birth through young adulthood. Many work in pediatricians' offices or pediatric care units. In these settings, pediatric physician assistants conduct health assessments, diagnose medical conditions, and treat illnesses. They may also conduct wellness checks and screenings.

A pediatric care specialty requires strong communication skills and patience. These PAs must interact well with children and provide information to their family members. PAs can earn a Certificate of Added Qualifications in Pediatrics from NCCPA to demonstrate their skills.

Internal Medicine

  • Average Annual Salary (August 2022): $89,180
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 31%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Physician Assistant License

With an internal medicine specialty, physician assistants diagnose and treat medical conditions in adult patients. They offer comprehensive healthcare that focuses on disease prevention, long-term treatment of chronic conditions, and treating acute conditions. Some internal medicinal PAs act as generalists and treat a spectrum of patients, while others specialize in internal medicine.

Around 14% of physician assistants specialize in internal medicine, according to the NCCPA 2020 physician assistant specialty report. Within internal medicine, they practice in areas such as cardiology, oncology, gastroenterology, and geriatrics.

General Surgery

  • Average Annual Salary (August 2022): $100,060
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 31%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Physician Assistant License

Physician assistants can specialize in surgery. Known as surgical PAs, these clinicians care for patients in perioperative settings and assist surgeons during procedures. They work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, surgical centers, and outpatient clinics. In particular, these PAs assess patients before surgery, provide post-surgical instructions, and offer follow-up care.

Nearly 22% of all physician assistants specialize in a surgical area, according to the NCCPA 2020 physician assistant specialty report. In addition to general surgery, PAs work in orthopedic surgery, cardiothoracic surgery, and neurosurgery.

Obstetrics and Gynecology

  • Average Annual Salary (July 2022): $100,960
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 31%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Physician Assistant License

Physician assistants in the OB-GYN specialty typically provide outpatient care in doctors' offices, clinics, community health centers, and urgent care centers. In these settings, PAs diagnose and treat common gynecological issues, recommend family planning methods, and treat sexually transmitted diseases. They may also perform annual gynecological exams.

On the obstetrics side, PAs offer prenatal and postpartum care, including patient education and resources related to childbirth. These roles require strong communication skills and an ability to connect with patients. Related physician assistant specialties include women's health and family medicine.

Occupational Medicine

  • Average Annual Salary (June 2022): $117,180
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 31%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Physician Assistant License

Occupational medicine specialists typically work in the private sector where they provide healthcare in workplace settings. Their job duties may include treating minor injuries or medical conditions. PAs in occupational medicine may also create health and wellness programs for the workplace. They suggest changes to improve workplace health and safety.

Compared to other physician assistant specialties, occupational medicine overlaps more with public health. Instead of working in a hospital setting, these PAs often work in an office or on-site in factories or manufacturing facilities.

Critical Care

  • Average Annual Salary (August 2022): $94,620
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 31%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Physician Assistant License

Critical care physician assistants specialize in treating patients who require intensive care. They often work in ICU settings, where they monitor patients, provide treatments, and communicate with other members of the care team. Critical care PAs may work under a physician's supervision or independently, depending on the state and work setting.

These physician assistant jobs require strong clinical skills, the ability to work well under pressure, and good decision-making abilities. In critical care settings, PAs must respond quickly to emergencies and provide appropriate interventions.

Pathology

  • Median Annual Salary (August 2022): $105,050
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 31%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Physician Assistant License

Pathology represents one of the less common physician assistant specialties. In pathology, PAs examine patients, diagnose conditions, and determine the cause of death for deceased patients. Distinct from a pathology physician's assistant, these PAs specialize in diagnosing diseases. They may prescribe treatments and bring a background in forensic science.

Like other physician assistant jobs, those specializing in pathology must graduate from an approved PA program and pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam. Then, these PAs apply for a license in their state and pursue pathology roles.

Emergency Medicine

  • Median Annual Salary (August 2022): $104,250
  • Job Outlook (2020-2030): 31%
  • Licenses/Certifications: Physician Assistant License

Emergency medicine physician assistants work in emergency rooms, urgent care settings, and critical care units. In these roles, they take patient histories, conduct triage assessments, and treat injuries or illnesses.

As part of their duties, emergency medicine physician assistants may perform diagnostic or laboratory procedures, interpret tests, and recommend treatments. They may also provide wound care, repair lacerations, or apply casts on broken bones.

According to the NCCPA 2020 physician assistant specialty report, over 12% of physician assistants specialize in emergency medicine. The Society of Emergency Medicine Physician Assistants represents PAs in this specialty.

Physician Assistant Salary

The median physician assistant salary was $121,530 in May 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Entry-level physician assistants can expect a salary of around $92,000 per year, according to July 2022 data from Payscale. Salaries increase with experience. Physician assistants with 5-9 years of experience earn around $108,000 per year.

How to Find a Physician Assistant Job

Physician assistants can begin preparing for the job market during their master's program. While meeting clinical rotation requirements, PA students can expand their professional network and gain valuable hands-on training. During a master's program, graduate students can also prepare for physician assistant specialties through electives and clinical training.

PA programs often provide career services, including connecting graduates with employers or recruiters. Joining a professional organization can also help early career physician assistants identify career opportunities. In addition to general job search sites, PAs can check the Career Center run by the American Association of Physician Assistants (AAPA). In addition to job search and practice tools, AAPA offers a job board that seekers can filter by specialty.

Physician Assistant Professional Organizations

American Academy of Physician Assistants

The largest professional association for physician assistants, AAPA dates back to 1968. The academy provides resources on becoming a PA and student-focused content on creating a PA portfolio, student scholarships, and career planning resources.

Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants

SDPA advocates for dermatology PAs. Dating back to 1994, the society has offered educational resources, continuing medical education opportunities, a webinar series, and a career center.

Physician Assistants in Orthopedic Surgery

PAOS represents physician assistants who specialize in orthopedic surgery. The organization hosts an annual conference with networking and continuing education opportunities. PA students can also apply for scholarships through the organization.

Frequently Asked Questions About Physician Assistant Jobs

What is the highest paid physician assistant specialty? true

The highest-paid physician assistant specialties include surgery, OB-GYN, and occupational medicine. According to Payscale data from July 2022, these fields all report average salaries in the six figures. Within the surgical field, some PAs specialize in general surgery, orthopedics, or cardiothoracic surgery. Many other PA specialties earn high salaries, including in pediatrics, internal medicine, and family medicine. Overall, PAs in many specialties report high salaries. According to the BLS, physician assistants reported a median salary of $121,530 in May 2021, significantly higher than the median wage for all jobs of $45,760.

What physician assistant specialty is the most popular? true

In 2020, NCCPA analyzed the most popular specialties for physician assistants. Surgical specialties ranked the most popular, representing around 22% of all PAs. Family medicine and general practice ranked as the second most popular, representing over 18% of PAs. Other popular specialties include internal medicine at around 14% and emergency medicine at 12.4%. Pediatric care and dermatology each made up around 4% of the field.

In addition to the most popular specialty areas, physician assistants specialize in less-common fields like pathology, neurology, pain medicine, and psychiatry.

Can I become a physician assistant with an online degree? true

Yes, you can earn an online degree to become a physician assistant. Several top-ranked universities offer online physician assistant programs that blend distance learning courses with hands-on clinical training. Many programs use a hybrid format with on-campus immersive experiences. These physician assistant schools connect online learners with clinical opportunities in their local areas.

Prospective physician assistants can also prepare for graduate school with an online bachelor's degree. PA programs typically require similar prerequisites to medical school, so majoring in health science or the natural sciences often meets the admission requirements.

How much money can I make as a physician assistant? true

Physician assistants report a high median salary. According to the BLS, physician assistants earned a median of $121,530 per year in 2021. The lowest-paid physician assistant jobs paid around $78,000, while the highest-paid PAs made over $164,000.

Several factors affect earning potential, including work setting, location, and experience. For example, PAs in hospitals and outpatient care centers reported salaries above the occupation's median, while those in the public sector and education reported below-average salaries. The states with the highest physician assistant salaries included Rhode Island, Alaska, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New Hampshire. In these states, physician assistants earned an average of more than $137,000 in May 2021.

What is the fastest way to become a physician assistant? true

Physician assistants must hold a master's degree and pass a certification exam to receive their PA license. Professionals with a bachelor's degree who meet the prerequisite course requirements can become a PA in as little as two years. Most master's programs take around 24-27 months, which includes over 2,000 clinical hours.

Graduates then take the certifying exam through NCCPA and apply for their PA license. However, those without a bachelor's degree must complete their undergraduate education before applying to PA programs. Some physician assistant schools also require prior healthcare experience, for example as a paramedic, registered nurse, or medical assistant. This requirement can add to the total time to become a physician assistant.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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