Many physicians rely on physician assistants to help manage the work in a busy practice. Although not physicians, PAs are trained in the medical model, and can perform many medical tasks under a physician’s supervision, such as prescribing medications or ordering laboratory tests. PAs can work in almost any area of health care.
PAs typically have a bachelors’ degree, often in a science. Most PA schools require several years of experience in health care prior to admission. By the time she graduates, a PA has the equivalent of a master’s degree, although not all PA schools offer an actual master’s degree. Unlike physicians, PAs are trained as generalists and gain specialty experience after graduation. PAs often choose to become certified, either as generalists or in a specialty. All states require PAs to be licensed.
Routine and Exotic Settings
Like physicians, PAs work in a variety of settings. As might be expected, the physician’s office is the most common work setting, with 54 percent of PAs working in that setting in 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hospitals are the next choice, with 24 percent of PAs, followed by outpatient care centers and colleges or other types of schools. In addition, PAs may work for the government in settings such as military hospitals, including military installations overseas. The website HealthECareers notes a need for PAs in countries such as Haiti, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Somalia , Kenya, Uganda, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
An Array of Specialties
PAs have the option to become specialized, which may affect their work setting. Emergency medicine, for example, is one PA specialty. A PA with an emergency medicine specialization might work in an emergency room or urgent care clinic. PAs who specialize in surgery work in the operating room alongside the surgeon. Some PAs leave clinical medicine to become administrators. A PA who specializes in oncology might work in a cancer treatment center, while a psychiatric PA could work in an inpatient mental health hospital. Others specialize in addiction medicine and work in substance abuse programs.
Lifesavers in Rural Areas
Although most PAs work in urban and suburban areas, one of the places they are most valuable is in rural areas. The use of PAs in rural health was encouraged by a 1977 law, the Rural Health Clinics Act. Small communities may not be able to support a physician, but can support a PA, according to an article in the Journal of Rural Health. PAs in rural areas may be the only health care provider and often have a broad scope of practice compared to PAs who work in more populated areas. Seventeen percent of PAs practice in rural areas, compared to 10 percent of physicians, according to the AAPA.