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Becoming a Physician Assistant: I Choose PA

student proudly becoming a physician assistant

It is often said that working in the medical field requires a calling because it is one of the most rigorous and highly specialized fields in the world. But most people tend to limit their thinking about careers in healthcare to medical doctors (physicians) and nurses. However, that’s not the full scope of what opportunities exist for aspiring medical professionals. Some people, for various reasons, decide to foray into healthcare by choosing to become a physician assistant (PA) instead.

The demand for PAs

The demand for the services of PAs continues to grow. According to the NCCPA’s 2018 Statistical Profile of Certified Physician Assistants, it has become more evident that certified PAs are valuable members of healthcare teams. From 2013 to 2018, the rate of certified PAs per 100,000 population increased from 31 to 40. This correlates to an increase in compensation for PA services, with the average salary for certified PAs reported to have increased 15.7% over that period to $110,000. 

With the outlook for PAs looking more promising than ever, a growing number of undergraduate students with interest in healthcare are turning to the PA profession. Perhaps you find yourself among them. By all accounts, there has arguably never been a better time to join the PA profession. Still, before we vision cast you enjoying a fulfilling career as a PA, we must first answer one fundamental question: what does a PA do? 

The work of a PA

A PA is a medical professional who works under the direction and supervision of a doctor, surgeon, or other medical professionals. While the definition of “supervision” can be subjective and varies from one state to another, PAs must perform their duties under the supervision of a physician. This means they cannot run their own independent practice, e.g., owning a clinic. 

That said, in most cases, the type of procedures a PA can perform depends on the physician supervising the PA. This allows for a broad scope of what a PA can and cannot do based on their supervising physician’s understanding of their skill level and core competencies. Another factor that influences the type of functions PAs can perform is their field of practice. For example, PAs working with a surgeon may perform a range of pre-operative and post-operative procedures while the surgeon performs more complex operations. 

The relationship with physicians

Many aspiring PAs often wonder if a doctor must always be onsite while they practice, effectively micromanaging the PA throughout their career. While it is true that PAs are required to work under the supervision of a physician, the doctor may be off-site. Most states permit this dynamic as long as the PA has access to the doctor if needed. 

A fundamental difference between the career path of a PA and a physician is that the former doesn’t necessarily have to go through residency after completing a PA program. While PA residency is an option PAs may pursue to receive additional specialized training, it is not required to practice. Similarly, PAs also enjoy flexible careers without having to meet stringent training requirements. For example, a PA may transition from emergency medicine to internal medicine without having to go through additional training.

Besides other factors, decisions about what career path in healthcare to pursue are often personal. Still, with the increasing popularity of the PA profession, evidence suggests that now is a good time for aspiring healthcare professionals to consider becoming PAs. If you find yourself deliberating that decision, check out the top 10 reasons why PAs were number one among American healthcare jobs in 2019. Perhaps one or more of these reasons might be just what you are looking for to choose to become a physician assistant.


If you are a PA student prepping for an upcoming PANCE exam and want to optimize your chances of success, click here for your FREE trial of our PANCE QBank. We’ll have you ready to ace the PANCE on exam day.