One of the many benefits of physician assistant school is that, with generalist training, it opens doors to a variety of job and work settings. Physician assistants can join a private practice, become an assistant to a surgeon, offer primary medical care in a nursing home or clinic, or work for the government. Few physician assistants are self-employed.
Even after years of working in one specialty, a physician assistant can translate his or her skills to another specialty without any change in licensure or additional physician assistant school. Physician assistants that specialize in surgery, however, may choose additional education to expand their abilities and responsibilities. Consequently, a physician assistant starting in family practice may develop a growing interest in pediatrics and smoothly make a transition to pediatric practice.
Physician assistant careers are as varied as the medical field itself. Government positions are available in the military and at government sites. Private positions are available in private practice, hospitals, surgical facilities, and urgent care clinics. Physician assistants preferring a corporate culture might work for a company, an HMO, or an assisted-living facility. Those that appreciate the dynamism of a school environment may work for a local school or a college or university. A critical portion of physician assistants go where they are needed most, to the underserved communities of our country whether inner- city clinics, rural areas, or reservations.
The majority of physician assistants accept positions in private practice, followed by work in hospitals and surgical facilities. Around 15% of physician assistants work more than one job. Students at physician assistant schools should carefully consider the setting that best matches their skills and personality. Clinical rotations and in-depth interviews can help determine that best match.
Physician Assistant Private Practice Jobs
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about half of physician assistants work in a physician’s office following physician assistant school. In private practice, a physician assistant, under physician supervision and following established guidelines, is called upon to provide general health care, offer preventive health care, record histories and health care data, and complete medical records. Physician assistants perform physical examinations, order laboratory and radiographic studies, and counsel patients. PAs also perform procedures and treatments, diagnose medical and surgical problems, and prescribe medications. A physician assistant in private practice will be able to perform the majority of the duties the physician would perform, but is always careful to consult and refer as needed.
Physician assistants work an average of 44 hours per week and earn a private-practice salary of $69,545 to $86,551 annually. Private practice, which generally involves primary care medicine, tends to offer some consistency in terms of schedule and expectations. Opportunities for partnership exist, which may add to the appeal of private practice. Partnership gives physician assistants a financial stake in the practice as well as greater input in practice decisions. While every physician assistant will not want that added responsibility, many will appreciate the opportunity for greater income and empowerment.
Physician Assistant Hospital Jobs
Some physician assistant school graduates choose to work in a hospital setting. Hospital-based physician assistants may work with the hospitalist service treating in-patients and earning an annual salary of $71,504 to $89,796. These physician assistants may evaluate incoming patients; treat hospitalized subacute patients, rehabilitation patients, and geriatric patients; and provide end-of-life palliative care. Schedules tend to be more variable and often require evening and weekend work as well as a commitment to rounds. Some physician assistants may be on call.
Many hospital-based physician assistants specialize in emergency medicine, critical care, and surgery. Emergency-department physician assistants obtain histories, perform physical exams, evaluate patients for admission, order and perform tests and treatments, and educate under consultation with their supervising emergency-room physician. Physician assistants that choose emergency work tend to enjoy the unpredictability of the work and are capable of clear, intelligent, and rapid judgments.
Surgical physician assistants offer preoperative patient care including history and exam. They also ready patients for surgery, provide operative assistance to the surgeon, and offer postoperative patient care including discharge planning. Specialized training is valuable for these positions; responsibilities may include First Assist to the surgeon, supervised surgical procedures such as chest-tube placement and removal, suturing, central line insertion and change, and, for cardiovascular surgical physician assistants, harvesting the greater saphenous vein for cardiac bypass.
Physican Assistant Assisted Living Facilities Jobs
Working in an assisted living facility following physician assistant school, a physician assistant might make the salary a corporate practitioner receives, $70, 826 to $87,298 per year. Duties include monitoring residents and following existing health problems as well as diagnosing and treating newly developed problems. Physician assistants may conduct the initial health assessment for arriving residents, taking an extensive history, completing a comprehensive physical exam, and developing a written health care plan for the resident. A physician assistant may be responsible for supervising nurses and aides providing daily care, and maintaining communication with residents’ families as needed and as appropriate. Physician assistants in this environment will often communicate with past residents and current medical-care providers to ensure flow of necessary information and proper treatment.
Assisted living facilities are government-licensed health care facilities. To meet licensing requirements, physician assistants may be asked to participate in policy and staff development, participate in assessment procedures, and ensure that their initial resident assessment meets licensing requirements. This work environment best suits a physician assistant interested in working with a geriatric population. Because of the relatively static clientele, this environment also suits physician assistants who prefer to get to know their clients in an in-depth way and on a personal level.
Physician Assistant Urgent Care Clinics Jobs
Physician assistant school graduates may choose to work in an urgent care clinic. This environment best suits physician assistants who enjoy a variety of situations and a largely unscheduled workday. In this environment, a physician assistant will see patients with no primary care provider and patients who must be seen that day but are not emergencies, such as those with nonacute injuries and illnesses. The stream of urgent cases provides less opportunity for ongoing patient relationships than a more traditional private practice provides. So, the ability to interact positively and consistently with patients is essential, as this environment often means only one chance to make a good impression for yourself and your employer.
In this environment, and under the supervision of a physician, a physician assistant might treat work-related injuries, provide substance-abuse treatment and counseling, and make acute nursing home and hospice care visits. Occupational health clients and fitness-to-work assessments can be a substantial piece of the practice. Urgent care clinics are often equipped with a treatment room and emergency monitoring devices but may range from small clinics to large well-staffed facilities. Depending on the facility, physician assistants may need to coordinate care with another facility. Physician assistants may also be responsible for establishing policies and procedures, communicating with patients’ routine providers, and ensuring follow-up.
Palliative Care Programs
Some physician assistant school graduates choose a career with the chronically ill. Physician assistants in palliative care programs devote themselves to improving the care of and easing the pain for seriously ill patients in hospitals, nursing homes, and hospice care. Significant time is spent educating family members, coordinating care, and lightening the burden of primary physicians. Physician assistants in this role must be organized, good communicators, and, importantly, compassionate toward these patients, who are often near the end of their lives. By this time, the focus of patient care has turned from cure to optimal management. Physician assistants will be responsive to family reports of changes in condition, evaluate patients for evidence of change, and respond, when possible, with treatments that improve the patient’s condition and alleviate pain.
Palliative care is offered in a number of environments. Most palliative care occurs in a long-term care setting whether a hospital, nursing home, or in a family’s home. But physician assistants might also work in the ICU, caring for seriously ill patients in need of constant monitoring. Care for gravely ill children may take place in a hospital’s cancer or pediatric ward or in the child’s home. Because of the nature of the work, physician assistants must be adept at integrating medical care with patients’ psychological and spiritual needs.