Physician assistants specializing in urology work for doctors who provide care to patients for diseases of the female and male urinary tract and the male reproductive organs, ranging from kidney stones to cancer. Physician assistants employed by urologists are part of a larger trend within their profession in which physician assistants enter medical specialty fields just as many doctors do.
Physician assistants, or PAs, fill an employment category similar to paralegals, reporting to supervisors possessing more in-depth education and training. The first physician assistant training programs were founded in the 1960s, in response to a shortage of primary care doctors. As physician assistants increased in number, they assumed new roles, including joining medical specialties such as urology.
Surgical PA Responsibilities
Urology is a complex medical specialty, offering treatments drawn from the fields of surgery, oncology and internal medicine. Urology physician assistants' job duties vary depending on the setting in which they practice. For example, a surgical physician assistant working in a hospital's urology practice may prepare preoperative history and physical examination forms, assist in urological surgery and create patient discharge plans.
Office Urology Practice
A physician assistant working in a private urologist's office might specialize in a particular area of urology, such as male sexual dysfunction. In this context, a PA may evaluate and diagnose patients' sexual problems, attempting to determine whether surgery is necessary. A PA might conduct preoperative patient education classes to help patients understand recommended surgeries and common post-operative complications.
A physician assistant working for an academic medical center may be aiding several urologists who are also doing research. A PA in this environment may screen patients who wish to participate in studies of new medications or procedures. A physician assistant might carry out the initial patient interviews, trying to determine the most appropriate urologist to treat a patient's particular medical condition. Physician assistants might carry out long-term follow-ups of patients after they receive surgery.
Education and Training
Future PAs first complete a four-year bachelor's degree in any major they wish, but they must include classes in biology and other scientific and math subjects. Students typically enter their physician assistant studies through enrolling in a two-year physician assistant master's degree program. After completing a master's degree, PAs must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam and obtain a license from the state where they will practice. Urology PAs may then apply for admission to a one-year physician assistant urology residency program. PAs who do not enter a urology residency program may qualify as urology specialists by seeking out positions where they receive six to 12 months of intensive on-the-job training.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that physician assistants in all fields made an average salary of $86,410 per year in 2010. Physician assistant jobs are expected to increase by 30 percent between 2010 and 2020, a growth that is much faster than average. Because the U.S. population is aging, creating more urology patients, and the supply of urologists has grown only a little, physician assistants who specialize in urology will be needed to fill in the gap.