What Does A Physician Assistant Do? (With Salary and Duties)

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 3 February 2023

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A physician assistant (PA) works under the guidance of a licensed physician and is an integral part of the medical team that offers primary medical services to patients. There is immense career potential and growth in this role. Understanding the job responsibilities, educational qualifications and salary of physician assistants can help you decide whether this career is a suitable career for you. In this article, we discuss what does a physician assistant do, learn about their salary and work environment and find out how to become a physician assistant.

What does a physician assistant do?

To find out "What does a physician assistant do?" and why they are crucial to any medical institution, looking at their roles and responsibilities is important. A physician assistant helps physicians in taking care of patients. These professionals may work in areas such as cardiology and cardiac surgery, general medicine and surgery, orthopaedics, oncology, trauma care, obstetrics and gynaecology and emergency medicine. In surgery, physician assistants perform the role of first and second assistant, and in intensive care units, they work with intensivists. They usually work at hospitals, care homes, private clinics and specialised medical institutions.

Physician assistants perform various medical duties under the supervision of licensed physicians. They can have a range of roles and duties including:

  • getting a patient's medical history

  • ordering various diagnostic tests, scans and X-rays and interpreting the results

  • supporting surgical staff during surgeries and procedures

  • counselling a patient or their attendants on managing a medical condition

  • providing moral support to patients and their families

  • supervising continuity of care for hospitalised patients

  • assessing a patient's clinical condition

  • offering health education

  • preparing case histories

  • preparing discharge summaries

  • setting fractures and stitching wounds

  • preparing death summaries

Apart from working in both in-patient and out-patient departments, physician assistants can find jobs in non-clinical roles as well. They may work in non-clinical settings like hospital administration, hospital information systems and clinical research. In these administrative and non-clinical roles, their responsibilities may include:

  • gathering personal information from a patient

  • greeting visitors and taking appointments.

  • interviewing patients

  • maintaining the patient database and medical records efficiently

  • handling billing and registration

  • scheduling surgeries and appointments

  • helping with desk responsibilities

Average salary of physician assistants

The average salary of a physician assistant is ₹19,304 per month. The remuneration for a physician assistant increases with the level of experience and number of years in the profession. Similarly, the area of specialisation may also influence the salary of a physician assistant. Assistants working in niche industries like orthopaedics or nutrition may earn a higher salary.

Related: Average Doctor Salaries: A Complete Guide By Specialty

Education qualification of physician assistants

To become a physician assistant, you can pursue a Bachelor of Science in physician assistant programme from any recognised university. To qualify for this course, candidates generally have to study physics, chemistry and biology in their senior secondary (10+2) examination. Furthermore, you can also consider pursuing a post-graduate course, like a Master of Science in physician assistant degree programme, or a diploma course after completing your bachelor's degree.

In these courses, students receive general and specialised medical training. A bachelor's degree in physician assistant generally includes the following subjects:

  • First year: biochemistry, physiology, anatomy, dietetics and nutrition, psychology and microbiology

  • Second year: pharmacology, obstetrics and gynaecology, molecular genetics, molecular biology, cell paediatrics and community and public health

  • F**inal year:** Introduction to surgery, cardiology, cardiac surgery, neurology, gastroenterology, pathophysiology and clinical decision-making

Practical courses for students may include training for assessing laboratory X-rays, examining ultrasounds and performing diagnostic procedures like the collection of blood samples.

Skills of physician assistants

The following vital skills are generally required to excel as a physician assistant:

  • Communication skills: Verbal and written communication skills are important for a physician assistant to communicate essential information to patients and do so with clarity and compassion. Strong communication skills are also integral while communicating and coordinating with the team.

  • Teamwork: A physician assistant works usually closely with a physician and other medical professionals as a part of a large team. Hence, having strong collaboration, teamwork, cooperation and support is essential to delivering quality care to patients.

  • Strategic thinking and problem solving: In a dynamic hospital environment, there may be times when a physician assistant has to think and act quickly to support patients with critical care requirements. When many patients simultaneously require attention, it is important to prioritise, strategise and solve challenges.

  • Emotional intelligence and empathy: A physician assistant may encounter situations where they give distressing news to patients and their families. In these situations, being empathetic and sensitive becomes an important part of the job.

  • Attention to detail: Since a physician assistant can prescribe medication, take patient medical histories and make physical examinations, attention to detail is critical. The ability to observe keenly and ensure that medication quantities are accurate are also the duties of a physician assistant.

  • Active listening skills: A physician assistant often listens to patients and their problems. Thus, the ability to understand what the patient is saying and respond appropriately is essential to this profession.

  • Sensitivity and confidentiality: Sensitivity is also an essential quality that a physician assistant may have to possess. Since physician assistants deal with patients over personal and sensitive medical issues, maintaining confidentiality and sensitivity is vital.

Related: How To Become A Hospital Administrator: A Complete Guide

Physician assistant work environment

Physician assistants usually work in private hospitals, diagnostic centres, healthcare centres, emergency care units, medical institutes and nursing homes. They usually work in a high-pressure environment and have to remain focused, vigilant and cautious at all times. Like most medical professionals, physician assistants work in fixed shifts, but the timing of these shifts may vary periodically and they may also have to work at odd hours. Furthermore, the job of a physician assistant can also be very demanding physically and emotionally.

They usually go through the hospital or institute at fixed timings, which is typically called taking a 'round', to assess the condition of admitted patients, interact with attendants and family members and discuss the future course of action with doctors. Assistants working at private clinics and general medicine institutes may not have to work in high-pressure situations like surgeries or critical care support. Similarly, physician assistants in non-clinical roles may also have limited exposure to such tasks and situations.

Related: What Is A Medical Assistant? Definition And Career Advice

How to become a physician assistant

Here are the steps that you can follow to pursue a career as a physician assistant:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

To become a physician assistant, the first step is to get a bachelor's degree. A BSc in a physician assistant degree programme can help one gain entry in this field. For admissions, many premier universities conduct entrance exams for the course. Exams like Central Universities Common Entrance Test (CUCET), Combined Paramedical, Pharmacy, and Nursing Entrance Test (CPNET) and Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) are some common entrance examinations conducted by universities for the same.

2. Develop the necessary technical and soft skills

There are several important technical and soft skills that to develop while pursuing your educational degree. Soft skills like listening skills, communication skills, teamwork, emotional intelligence and attention to detail can develop with practice and discipline. Similarly, regular training in these practical skills and the application of theoretical concepts can help enhance technical skills.

3. Create a resume

Once you have the necessary educational qualifications and skills, it is time to create an impressive resume. Highlighting your key strengths and skills may improve the chances of success. Go through various job descriptions for physician assistants to identify key skills that employers are looking for as mentioning in-demand skills on your resume may help you receive calls for interviews.

Related: How To Make A Resume (With Examples)

4. Get relevant experience

Freshers can obtain the right experience by completing internships at hospitals and medical institutes. Try to find internships relevant to your area of specialisation, as your performance during the internship may also result in you getting a full-time job. Internships are also important to expand your professional network and seek the mentorship of experts.

5. Apply for open positions

With some experience, strong skills and an impressive resume, you can begin applying to relevant job opportunities for physician assistants. You can also ask your college seniors and professors to refer you for relevant positions. Make sure to customise your job application to suit the eligibility requirements and role before applying.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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