How Much Do Physician Assistants Make?

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  • Physician assistants tend to hold high-paying jobs, with some salaries above six figures.
  • Physician assistant jobs require a master's degree and experience in healthcare.
  • Physician assistant salaries typically vary by location, experience, and industry.

Physician assistants (PAs) work under a doctor's supervision to provide healthcare to patients. PAs can diagnose some conditions and prescribe treatments. Other duties include taking and reviewing patient histories, performing physical exams, educating patients and families, staying updated on medical research, and participating in community outreach programs.

Physician assistants typically earn high salaries relative to some healthcare providers and workers in other industries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that physician assistants made a median annual salary of $121,530 in 2021.

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Most physician assistants hold a master's degree from an accredited program, which takes about two years to complete. When applying to graduate school, most applicants must have experience in healthcare as emergency medical technicians, registered nurses, or other medical providers. After graduation, physician assistants must also hold a state-issued license to practice.

Work setting and occupation can influence physician assistant salaries. Outpatient care centers and state and private hospitals tend to pay more than physician offices. Physician assistants in government and education also tend to earn lower pay. Certifications for work in specialties like cardiology, dermatology, and neurology can increase a physician assistant's salary potential.

What Is the Average Physician Assistant Salary?

According to the BLS, the median physician assistant salary totaled $121,530 in 2021. This figure exceeds the median annual wage of $81,270 for other healthcare providers who diagnose and treat patients. The top 10% of physician assistants made $164,620 in the same year. Gaining work experience tends to contribute to salary increases.

Physician assistants who worked in outpatient care centers and hospitals earned median annual salaries of $128,430 and $127,240, respectively, in 2021. Professionals in government and physician offices made $121,010 and $106,910 during the same period, according to the BLS.

Job Growth for Physician Assistants

Individuals pursuing a physician assistant education might see a promising employment outlook. The BLS projects that physician assistant jobs will grow by 31% between 2020 and 2030. Many outpatient centers, clinics, and hospitals hire physician assistants to lessen the burden on doctors. Also, the growing number of baby boomers needing long-term care and medical services drives this demand.

How Much Do Physician Assistants Make By State?

Physician assistant jobs in some parts of the U.S. pay more than in other locations. Much of the difference relates to the cost of living. Many positions in states and cities with higher housing, transportation, and additional costs pay more so that workers can afford to live in these locations.

On the other hand, physician assistants might not need such high salaries to work in places with lower living costs. In these locations, their dollars will likely go further.

Physician Assistant Average Salary by State (2021)

Where Can I Make the Most Money as a Physician Assistant?

Some states like New Jersey have relatively high living costs, which drive up the average physician assistant salary. While wages in the highest-paying states might seem attractive, job seekers should compare their prospective pay with the cost of living. A seemingly high salary might not be enough for some people to pay living expenses.

The Highest-Paying States for Physician Assistants
State Annual Mean Salary (2021)
Rhode Island $146,880
Alaska $145,830
Connecticut $141,790
New Jersey $140,080
New Hampshire $137,330

Source: BLS

Highest-Paying Metropolitan Areas for Physician Assistants

Some physician assistants pursue jobs in California, New England, and Florida because of the competitive pay and locations. Although graduates might find these opportunities, they need to consider the standard of living. For instance, some employers might offer higher wages because of the relatively high cost of housing, food, and other living expenses in the area.

Highest-Paying Metropolitan Areas
Metropolitan Area Annual Mean Salary (2021)
Portsmouth, NH-ME $167,240
Panama City, FL $165,000
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA $164,150
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA $163,720
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA $162,030

Source: BLS

Highest-Paying Nonmetropolitan Areas for Physician Assistants

Highest-Paying Nonmetropolitan Areas
Nonmetropolitan Area Annual Mean Salary (2021)
Alaska $151,120
West North Dakota $142,110
Eastern New Mexico $141,600
North Valley-Northern Mountains Region of California $139,930
North Coast Region of California $139,680

Source: BLS

Highest-Paying Industries for Physician Assistants

systems or operate as independent businesses. Although smaller organizations and individual practices can set their own salaries, they often lack the access to finances that larger systems can use.

Highest-Paying Industries
Industry Annual Mean Salary (2021)
Scientific Research and Development Services $133,830
Nursing Care Facilities (Skilled Nursing Facilities) $133,550
Outpatient Care Centers $129,910
Management of Companies and Enterprises $129,280
Local Government, excluding schools and hospitals $124,270

Source: BLS

How Can I Increase My Salary as a Physician Assistant?

1 Choose a Specialty

A physician assistant might choose or change specialties to find an area of medicine that interests them or a position that pays more. Most physician assistants can change specialties easily without having to earn a certification. Recent graduates from master's programs might choose a lower-paying concentration to gain experience and then move to a new specialty that pays more or offers more challenging work.

The National Certification Commission on Physician Assistants (NCCPA) identifies general and family medicine as the most common specialty for physician assistants. Other popular areas include surgical subspecialties, emergency medicine, and internal medicine. NCCPA reports that dermatology, emergency medicine, and critical care professionals earned median salaries of $115,000 each and represented the highest-paid physician assistants in 2018.

2 Increase Skills

Physician assistant education teaches students the importance of multitasking, performing under intense pressure, and communicating effectively with peers, patients, and families. Physician assistants must also demonstrate attention to detail, compassion, emotional intelligence, mental soundness, and problem-solving capabilities.

Brushing up on current skills and acquiring new ones can help professionals transition into higher-paying positions. Physician assistants can pursue certification in a specialty, which typically requires about 100 hours of continuing education every two years. Also, they must recertify every 10 years.

3 Consider Relocating

Moving to another state might help physician assistants find better job prospects and higher-paying positions. States with the top physician assistant salaries include Rhode Island, Alaska, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New Hampshire. Individuals willing to move to high-paying states with lower living costs might consider Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, or Oklahoma.

4 Change Industries

While any industry can help physician assistants gain valuable experience, some tend to pay better than others. According to the BLS, physician assistants in scientific research and development earned an average of $133,830 in 2021. Professionals who want to increase their earning potential might also consider working in nursing facilities, outpatient care, management, and local government.

Frequently Asked Questions About Physician Assistant Salary

Is becoming a physician assistant worth it?

Physician assistants earn some of the highest salaries among healthcare providers. They perform meaningful hands-on work like examining patients, prescribing medications, and treating conditions. Individuals who enjoy lifelong learning and interacting closely with patients and families might find this career path rewarding.

The demand for physician assistants will likely remain high in the coming years, contributing to job security for many professionals. A physician assistant education allows people passionate about helping others to enter the workforce without going through years of medical school and postgraduate training.

Where do physician assistants make the most money?

Physician assistant jobs in some states and cities tend to pay higher than others due to differences in living costs. For instance, physician assistants in Alaska made a mean of $151,120 annually in 2021, according to the BLS. However, basic needs like housing, food, and transportation tend to cost more.

On the other hand, western North Dakota and eastern New Mexico residents pay much lower living costs. However, physician assistant salaries in these areas are some of the highest in the country, partly because these states experience challenges in recruiting qualified medical providers.

Which physician assistant jobs pay the most?

Salary represents an important consideration for some professionals pursuing physician assistant jobs. Pay for these individuals varies by specific occupation and specialty. According to the NCCPA, physician assistants in emergency medicine, critical care, and dermatology represents some of the highest-paid professionals in this field.

Also, some industries or work settings offer jobs with more pay than others. For example, outpatient care centers, hospitals, and physician offices tend to offer higher wages than government agencies and educational service organizations.

How can a physician assistant make more money?

Most physician assistants can take one or more steps to increase their earning potential. Some individuals move to states or metropolitan areas that pay more. However, the pay increase might not be enough if the move results in a higher cost of living.

Physician assistants who have chosen lower-paying specialties to gain experience might switch to a position in a higher-paying field like dermatology or critical care. Finally, physician assistants can obtain certifications to boost current skills or learn new competencies. Enrolling in additional training might give a professional a competitive edge in the job market or help them advance their careers.

What is the highest salary a physician assistant can make?

According to the BLS, the top 10% of physician assistants earned more than $164,620 in 2021. Choosing a high-paying specialty like dermatology or critical care medicine might lead to a growth in earnings. Individuals might also increase their income by pursuing jobs in states or regions with more competitive physician assistant salaries.

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