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Physician and Medical Assistant Careers, Jobs and Employment Information

Physician and Medical Assistant Career Overview

A physician assistant or medical assistant is part of a healthcare team that is directed by a physician. Unlike medical assistants, physician assistants are not responsible for clerical and clinical duties. Instead, they are directed by a physician to give preventative, diagnostic, and therapeutic healthcare services to patients. In most states, physician assistants can write prescriptions for medications. They are also trained to make diagnoses, record medical histories, order and read x-rays and tests, as well as examine and care for patients. Sometimes they are responsible for managing other assistants and technicians and for ordering medical supplies.

In some clinics, physician assistants work without a physician in the office for several days each week. The assistant is then responsible for referring to the physician when help is needed and when the law requires. Each state has different laws establishing the allowed duties of a physician assistant. Physician assistants are often in charge of checking on patients in nursing care facilities, in homes, or in hospitals and giving results to the physician.
Physician assistants often specialize in their area of care. Specialty areas include family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine, geriatrics, pediatrics, orthopedics, general surgery, and thoracic surgery. Specializing in surgery requires the assistant to aid in actual surgeries as well as give pre- and postoperative care to patients.

Physician and Medical Assistant Training and Job Qualifications

As of 2002, 133 physician assistant programs had received accreditation. Most programs require a minimum of two years of college in addition to actual work in a healthcare environment; however, most applicants have a bachelor’s and sometimes a master’s degree. Courses in mathematics, social sciences, biology, psychology, English, and chemistry should be taken before applying to a program. It is not uncommon for nurses, therapists, military medics, paramedics, and technicians to become physician assistants.

Physician assistant programs are typically two year programs. They are located in colleges, allied health schools, medical schools, hospitals, military, and in academic health centers. Programs with accreditation are often associated with medical schools.

Physician assistant programs provide courses in clinical medicine and pharmacology, medical ethics, pathology, home healthcare, physiology, biochemistry, microbiology, disease prevention, human anatomy, and geriatrics. Clinical instruction is provided with supervision in emergency medicine, pediatrics, primary care, surgery, psychiatry, inpatient medicine, obstetrics, gynecology, and surgery. Supervised clinical training can sometimes end in employment.
In order to work as a physician assistant by law, the Physician Assistants National Certifying Examination given by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants must be taken and passed. Graduation from an accredited physician assistant program is also required. After completing the requirements, graduates receive physician assistant certification. To maintain certification, continuing education of at least 100 hours must be completed biannually. An examination or a special program must be completed every six years for recertification.

Supplementary training and residency programs are available after graduation and certification in areas including internal medicine, surgery, emergency medicine, occupational medicine, pediatrics, neonatology, and rural primary care.

To be a physician assistant, it is helpful to possess a desire for life-long learning because the medical field is always changing. Emotional stability, leadership skills, and self-confidence are also helpful.

Physician assistants will always be under supervision of physicians; however, they can advance in their field after gaining more experience and can increase their salary and level of responsibilities.

Physician and Medical Assistant Job and Employment Opportunities

Because more physician assistants are being used to lower costs in growing healthcare industries, job opportunities are expected to increase rapidly through 2012. Physician assistants are being utilized more frequently to assist in surgeries, to provide patient care, and to take over procedures and routines typically completed by physicians because they are capable, cost-effective employees. As technology improves, the use of physician assistants will increase because they can work in locations separate from the physician, but still maintain supervision. Employment is almost always available in inner city and rural areas where physicians do not typically like to work.

Physician assistants often find employment in hospitals, offices, prisons, academic medical facilities, and in public clinics. Physician resident services are being completed by physician assistants in some areas due to a reduction in allowed work hours for physician residents.

Historical Earnings Information

In 2002, physician assistants earned an average annual salary of around $65,000. Salaries ranged from lower than $35,000 to higher than $90,000. Those working in physician offices typically earned less than those working in larger institutions such as hospitals. In 2003, physician assistants working in clinical practices earned an average of around $72,500 annually. Salary is affected by geographical and practice location, experience, and area of specialty.