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Physician Assistants

At a Glance

  • Perform a range of medical duties
  • Are supervised by doctors
  • Usually wear a lab coat or uniform
  • Constantly interact with doctors and patients
  • May work weekends, nights, early mornings, or on-call
  • Most have a master's degree
  • Must be licensed, certified, or registered

Career summary

Physician assistants (PAs) provide health care services under the supervision of doctors.

#No alternate titles CJ

Physician assistants perform a range of medical duties. They work in all areas of medicine including primary care, family medicine, and emergency medicine. Specific duties and how much they need to be supervised by a physician vary by state.

Physician assistants provide basic care. They gather information from patients, perform physical exams, and order lab tests. They explain test results and review treatment options with patients and their families. If more than one treatment is available, they help patients decide which option to choose.

PAs can also do more complex tasks, such as:

Many PAs work in primary care areas, such as family medicine, general practice, or pediatrics. They set up goals and overall health plans for patients. They counsel patients about medications and teach them healthy living techniques.

Some PAs manage doctors' offices and order supplies and equipment. PAs also may supervise technicians and other medical office assistants. In areas where doctors are in short supply, PAs may be the only health care providers available on a regular basis. In this case they are required by state law to consult with physicians.

Related careers

This career is part of the Health Science cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Military careers

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to physician assistants.

Common work activities

Physician assistants perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, physician assistants:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Physician assistants frequently:

It is important for physician assistants to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for physician assistants to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Physician assistants need to:


Reason and problem solve

Use math and science

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as a physician assistant, you typically need to:

Education after high school

Physician assistants typically need a master's degree. Most applicants to PA programs already have a bachelor's degree and some health-related work experience. Schools of allied health, medical schools, or four-year colleges offer physician assistant programs. In these programs you study anatomy, biochemistry, and medications. You also learn about primary care medicine, surgery, and home health care.

On-the-job training

Near the end of your training you get supervised work experience. You work in many different departments of a hospital or clinic. Experienced physicians supervise your work. These rotations often lead to permanent jobs.

Working as a registered nurse is a great way to gain experience for this occupation.

Military training

Some branches of the military train people to be physician assistants. Training lasts about 40 weeks. Additional training occurs on the job. The military also offers work experience for those who received their degree as a physician assistant from a source other than the military.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum may be different from your state's graduation requirements. Physician assistants need a strong background in science and math. If possible, take math through Trigonometry and science through Physics.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

All states require that new physician assistants (PAs) complete a formal training program. Most employers look for experience or clinical rotations in their specialty area. Some PAs are hired by the doctors who supervised their clinical rotations.

Employers look for assistants who have leadership skills and emotional stability. PAs must be willing to study throughout their career. Studying keeps them up to date on medical advances.


Most physician assistant program applicants have four or more years of prior health care experience. Gain experience by working in a hospital or other health care facility, or in the military or Peace Corps. Another route is through emergency medical technician training. Working with a physician assistant to find out about the job is beneficial. A college education and formal health care training will increase your chances of being accepted to an accredited program.

#Deleted recommendation to seek certification with the NCCPA as way to increase chances of employment since the exam required for state licensing leads to this cert anyway, 3/20/07, CJ.

Costs to workers

Physician assistants usually belong to state and national professional associations, which require membership fees and annual dues. Physician assistants who wish to receive national certification pay to take the exam and an additional fee every two years for renewal. For information on national certification, contact the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) (external link).

#Updated medical PA app & renewal fees & checked other info, 3/24/09, cj. Updated fees and test cost 3/24/10 lh. Natl cert info still ok, 3/22/11, 4/16/13, 3/18/15 cj. no fee information for 2016 so removed. lh. New 10-yr recert cycle started in 2014 but site still focuses more on those who are likely to still be on 6-yr cycle so left info as is, 1/03/17 cj. Removed the detailed info on nat'l certification requirements we had & made link to the association here, 4/5/19 cj.


Physician assistants must be licensed by the State of Washington. Licensing requires:

Medical doctor physician and osteopathic physician assistants must pay an initial application fee and national examination fees.

For more information, contact:

Washington State Department of Health
Medical Quality Assurance Commission (external link)

PO Box 47866
Olympia, WA 98504-7865

Individuals who want an osteopathic physician as their sponsoring physician must go through the Board of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery. The Board may be contacted at:

Washington State Department of Health
Board of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery (external link)

PO Box 47877
Olympia, WA 98504-7865


Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


Physician assistants (SOC 29-1071)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $42.38 $50.13 $59.00 $68.54 $77.35
Monthly $7,344 $8,688 $10,225 $11,878 $13,405
Yearly $88,150 $104,280 $122,710 $142,560 $160,880
    Bellingham Hourly $34.27 $40.46 $56.77 $65.42 $77.82
Monthly $5,939 $7,012 $9,838 $11,337 $13,486
Yearly $71,282 $84,164 $118,079 $136,075 $161,860
    Bremerton-Silverdale Hourly $22.59 $42.48 $50.90 $69.55 $77.34
Monthly $3,915 $7,362 $8,821 $12,053 $13,403
Yearly $46,986 $88,360 $105,865 $144,673 $160,869
    Kennewick-Richland Hourly $40.36 $45.44 $53.36 $61.19 $68.69
Monthly $6,994 $7,875 $9,247 $10,604 $11,904
Yearly $83,944 $94,512 $110,995 $127,262 $142,870
    Longview Hourly $53.35 $60.64 $85.35 $96.11 (1)
Monthly $9,246 $10,509 $14,791 $16,656 (1)
Yearly $110,973 $126,126 $177,534 $199,924 (1)
    Mount Vernon-Anacortes Hourly $34.39 $47.90 $56.16 $63.57 (1)
Monthly $5,960 $8,301 $9,733 $11,017 (1)
Yearly $71,518 $99,628 $116,811 $132,226 (1)
    Olympia-Tumwater Hourly $51.79 $59.58 $69.47 $76.70 $81.04
Monthly $8,975 $10,325 $12,039 $13,292 $14,044
Yearly $107,714 $123,933 $144,495 $159,540 $168,567
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $44.83 $52.94 $61.23 $70.43 $78.12
Monthly $7,769 $9,175 $10,611 $12,206 $13,538
Yearly $93,242 $110,103 $127,357 $146,495 $162,474
    Spokane-Spokane Valley Hourly $43.78 $49.57 $58.12 $65.53 (1)
Monthly $7,587 $8,590 $10,072 $11,356 (1)
Yearly $91,069 $103,092 $120,898 $136,301 (1)
    Vancouver Hourly $41.02 $47.45 $57.19 $70.31 $79.67
Monthly $7,109 $8,223 $9,911 $12,185 $13,807
Yearly $85,322 $98,698 $118,952 $146,243 $165,722
    Wenatchee Hourly $43.28 $50.67 $60.24 $70.62 $77.24
Monthly $7,500 $8,781 $10,440 $12,238 $13,386
Yearly $90,030 $105,386 $125,293 $146,879 $160,670
    Yakima Hourly $40.72 $43.62 $48.42 $57.01 $71.10
Monthly $7,057 $7,559 $8,391 $9,880 $12,322
Yearly $84,689 $90,719 $100,719 $118,569 $147,881
United States Hourly $33.23 $43.34 $52.22 $61.16 $73.00
Monthly $5,759 $7,511 $9,050 $10,599 $12,651
Yearly $69,120 $90,150 $108,610 $127,220 $151,850

(1) Wage estimate is not available.

Wages vary by specialty, such as surgery, emergency medicine, or family practice. They also vary by practice setting, area of the country, and the PA's experience. PAs in hospitals tend to earn higher wages than those who work in offices or clinics.

Physician assistants who work full time usually earn benefits. Benefits may include health insurance, sick leave, and paid vacation.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook

In Washington, the demand for physician assistants continues to grow, particularly in primary care.

The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Physician Assistants (SOC 29-1071)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 2,513 38.8% 16.1% 353
    Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan Counties 159 30.2% 13.4% 19
    Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman Counties 39 28.2% 8.6% 4
    Benton and Franklin Counties 82 48.8% 15.0% 13
    Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap Counties 88 45.5% 11.9% 14
    Clark, Cowlitz, and Wahkiakum Counties 91 44.0% 15.2% 14
    Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston Counties 128 32.0% 14.1% 16
    Island, San Juan, Skagit, and Whatcom Counties 141 32.6% 14.6% 17
    King County 1,152 41.7% 19.6% 169
    Kittitas, Klickitat, Skamania, and Yakima Counties 107 40.2% 13.8% 15
    Pierce County 199 33.2% 15.2% 26
    Snohomish County 203 30.5% 12.4% 25
    Spokane County 133 38.3% 13.9% 18
United States 118,800 31.1% 5.2% 11,500

National employment

Physician assistants work in all areas of the country. They are especially likely to work in small towns where the community may have a limited number of physicians.

Major employers:

National outlook

Demand for this occupation is very strong. Growth is expected as the aging population gets larger and the need for medical procedures increases. New federal health insurance laws also create more need for health care services. States are giving physician assistants more authority to perform procedures that only physicians used to perform. More physicians are specializing and physician assistants provide more primary care services.

Job prospects are particularly good in rural and other underserved areas. Employment opportunities are best in states that allow PAs a broader range of duties, such as the ability to prescribe medications.

Other resources

American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) (external link)
555 East Wells Street, Suite 1100
Milwaukee, WI 53202
American Academy of Physician Assistants (external link)
2318 Mill Road, Suite 1300
Alexandria, VA 22314
American Medical Association (external link)
Explore Health Careers: Physician Assistant (external link)
National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (external link)
12000 Findley Road, Suite 100
Johns Creek, GA 30097
Physician Assistant Education Association (external link)
655 K Street NW, Suite 700
Washington, DC 20001
Physician Assistant History Center (external link)
12000 Findley Road, Suite 100
Johns Creek, GA 30097-1409
The Student Doctor Network (external link)
Washington Academy of Physician Assistants (external link)
2001 - 6th Avenue, Suite 2700
Seattle, WA 98121
Washington Osteopathic Medical Association (external link)
PO Box 1187
Gig Harbor, WA 98335


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupations

Holland occupational cluster