Why Become A Physician Assistant?

"I know that I want to work in healthcare, but I can’t decide yet what I want to do. I keep thinking about becoming a doctor, but I don’t know if I am ready to make that kind of commitment to my future. But I don’t want a low-paying job either. I want something where I can get paid well and really make a difference, maybe specialize in something too. I’ve been thinking about several other options—nurse practitioner, physician assistant, and medical assistant. Why should I consider physician assistant as a possible career? It is the one I know the least about."

asked by Penny from Great Falls, MT

Out of the three careers you mentioned, physician assistant and nurse practitioner are the most lucrative by far. Medical assistant actually probably is not what you think it is; it is a relatively low-paid position, though there is a lot of demand for it. A lot of students confuse medical assistant with physician assistant, but they are very different jobs.

Physician assistants, like nurse practitioners, are highly paid and empowered to do many more medical tasks. Unlike nurse practitioners, though, they must do so under the supervision of a physician or surgeon.

If you become a physician assistant, you will be able to diagnose patients and treat them. The work involves a moderate amount of responsibility, since you will be making decisions, but you will still be subject to the oversight of a doctor.

You might work in a clinic, or at a hospital, or at an outpatient care center. Some physician assistants work in the university system or for the government.

There are two excellent reasons to consider this occupation as one of your top choices. The first is the demand. Demand for physician assistants is currently growing at a rate of around 30% according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That translates to around 24,700 new jobs between 2010 and 2020. That means that there are lots of openings you can compete for.

The second reason this job is particularly appealing is the money. The median annual salary listed by the BLS in 2010 was $86,410. That comes out to $41.54 per hour, which is pretty great pay. The highest earners made more than $117,720. No matter what setting you work in, you have a chance to earn these high wages. If you pursue a specialization, like you were talking about, you have a chance to earn even more money. With experience, you will also be able to earn a higher salary.

The nice thing about becoming a physician assistant is that you do not need to pursue the long career path that a doctor would. You do need to have a master’s degree, so you will probably spend around six years in school.

After that, you will have to take and pass an exam to earn your license as a physician assistant. Then you will have access to high paying jobs in an in-demand field.

Career Spotlight: Physician Assistant

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