Career as a Physician Assistant

Getting a Job as a Physician Assistant

Physician assistants are in high demand as a result of the Affordable Care Act and the sheer number of aging "baby boomers." In fact, 78.1% of recent graduates received multiple job offers upon getting their diplomas; 58.3% had three or more, according to the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants' (NCCPA) 2013 report. One PA transitioning between jobs told us that she received 10 phone calls on the second day of her resume being online.

This level of demand gives PAs leverage to decide where they want to work and, as our "Best Cities for Physician Assistants" study attests, not all places are created equally. The usual suspects at the state level — New York, California, Texas and Florida — employ the most PAs, but which places pay the best? And, geography aside, where exactly are PAs working these days, and what are their specialties? Look into this section as we look into PAs' options.

The Application

No employer or position is the same, but most in this field will want to see the following materials as part of your portfolio.

a resume or curriculum vitae that includes contact information, employment and education history, awards and publications
a copy of a current state license
a copy of current certification from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA)
letters of reference from previous employers and colleagues
documentation of CME records, any additional certificates or clinical training
a copy of any recent hospital privileges
a log documenting procedures performed

Also, speaking Spanish will set you apart, as only 18% of PAs speak the country’s second-most popular language. In fact, 68% of PAs who can communicate with patients in a non-English tongue, do so in Spanish, according to the NCCPA.

The Interview

There are some questions that are off-limits no matter what position you're applying for: your marital status, your national origin, your age and disabilities, according to "PA Career Coach" Jennifer Anne Hohman. What is fair game? The American Academy of PAs provides this list of sample questions. But, thanks to, a crowd-sourcing website that provides data for employees of specific companies, we can get a sense of what has been asked during actual, real-life interviews for physician assistant positions. Here are eight of them:

Do you feel comfortable working without a physician in the office?How many patients can you see at one time?
Why did you choose to become a PA?Can you work weekends?
Give us an example of when you had differences with a colleague.What are your expectations for this position?
What are your salary requirements?Where are EK leads placed?

Job Boards for PAs

Job boards aren't the only source for finding work, of course. Schools send their alumni listings; hospitals and other employers typically have their own careers pages; the AAPA offers a free job-placement service; and good old-fashioned word of mouth always helps, too.

When scanning listings, you will notice that many postings call for a PA or a nurse practitioner. Other careers that could serve as an entry into being a PA: registered nurse, EMT/paramedic, medical assistant, peace corps volunteer, lab assistant/phlebotomist, surgical technician and certified nursing assistant (CNA).

Where to Be a PA

Many physician assistants made a difficult decision even before they entered the profession. They decided, at one point or another, that it was in their best interest to not become a doctor, avoiding the increased time (and money) spent in school but giving up the larger future salary and more impressive job title. PAs must make another decision: Where should I work?

Areas of Practice

With further education, PAs can specialize and practice in one or more of many potential areas: Family medicine, surgery, emergency medicine, internal medicine, urology, radiology, radiation oncology, psychiatry, preventive medicine, physical medicine, pediatrics, pathology, otolaryngology, ophthalmology, occupational medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, neurology, hospital medicine, gynecology, dermatology, critical care medicine, anesthesiology and adolescent medicine.

Best Cities

More literally, where exactly should they work? At ValuePenguin, we classify the best cities for professionals as those that score well in metrics that all PAs care about: number of jobs, median salary, cost of living and location quotient. Of the 286 cities reporting enough data, we ranked the top 100. We also asked a handful of PAs about what it's like to work in their cities.

See Top 100 Cities for PAs

Best States

Look to the the Bureau of Labor Statistics' data for advisement on the state level. For every profession, the BLS breaks down the following.

States with Highest PA Employment


States with Highest per Capita Employment


States with Highest Annual Average Salary


Q&A: Olympian-turned-PA-C Erika Brown

The Olympic curler -- she and Team USA placed 10th in 2014, 26 years after her international debut -- finished up her master's PA degree in 2000 and has worked in the capacity in two countries, shuttling every day between Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., at one point. "Then they started to get physician assistants in Canada shortly thereafter," she said, "so I was one of the early physician assistants and helped the profession evolve here."

  • What is your day-to-day like now?

    Now I work full-time, Monday to Friday, for what’s called a Family Health Team in Hamilton, Ontario. Today, for instance, I saw about 16 patients, anywhere from babies and their well-child visits, to women and well-women exams and Pap smears. I saw an elderly man who just got discharged from the hospital with pneumonia. So it’s a pretty wide variety, which is what I love about family medicine. I kind of see it all, from the acute illnesses to preventative care. And also, we do prescription refills, and manage lab results when they come in. I also spoke with two nurses on the phone today about pain management for a couple of our patients that have a palliative diagnosis. It was a pretty wide variety today actually.

  • Are you finished with work when you leave the office?

    The blessing and the curse of the electronic medical record is, I guess, that you can always do your work at home. You can always do charting and review lab results from home -- it’s easy -- but I don’t have call responsibility. There are many PAs who do take calls as part of their responsibilities.

  • Where are you now in your curling career, and how do you find time for it?

    I’m still competing now and competing competitively on the world curling tour right now... I’ve definitely stockpiled my vacation for the fall and the winter and take my long weekends when I need them for competitions. We play a lot of our competitions here, fairly close to where I live, so it cuts back on travel for me, which is nice. And in terms of practicing during the week, I’m fortunate that one of the curling clubs that I’m a member of is very close to where I work, so I actually will go over there quite often at lunchtime. My teammates all live in the U.S., but I’ll practice on my own probably three days a week at lunch where I work.

Read the full @VP_Careers Q&A here.

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