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The short answer is: it depends!
Physician assistants, also known as PAs, are medical professionals who practice under the supervision of a physician. The American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) describes physician assistants as “medical professionals who diagnose illnesses, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications, and serve as principal healthcare providers for patients” (AAPA 2019).
Classified as medical support professionals, physician assistants typically work collaboratively under physicians or surgeons in clinical environments. While the two professions have similar clinical duties, physician assistants earn half the average annual salary of physicians, which, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS 2019), is $208,000. The earning potential of a physician assistant depends on numerous factors, including previous work experience in healthcare, the cost of living in a state or metropolitan area, one’s place of employment, and clinical specializations.
In general, here is a breakdown of the 114,710 physician assistants’ salaries in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019):
- Average annual salary: $108,430
- 10th percentile: $69,120
- 25th percentile: $90,150
- 50th percentile (median): $108,610
- 75th percentile: $127,220
- 90th percentile: $151,850
Aspiring physician assistants may be glad to know that the reported level of job satisfaction is high for this profession. A survey conducted by the AAPA in 2018 shows that 88.5 percent of physician assistants are highly satisfied with their jobs. When asked if they could go back and choose a different career, the majority of survey respondents said that they would choose to become a physician assistant again (AAPA 2018).
Self-reported data from PayScale.com also shows physician assistants to be highly satisfied with their jobs with a score of 4.1 out of 5 based on 1,304 individual ratings (PayScale.com Jan. 2020).
Physician assistants aren’t the only ones who rate their careers highly. The U.S. News & World Report (2019) ranks physician assistants as the number one best healthcare job and third on the list of the best 100 jobs and best STEM jobs. With a master’s degree and no previous professional experience required for entry-level positions, becoming a physician assistant is a faster clinical career pathway compared to that of a physician, which requires roughly double the number of years of postsecondary education and training.
Employability is another major benefit for those seeking careers as physician assistants. Being one of the fastest-growing occupations in the United States, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019) shows that the need for physician assistants is growing at a rate of 31 percent (2018-2028), which is more than six times faster than the national average for all occupations. An estimated 37,000 new physician assistant positions are expected to be needed by the year 2028 (BLS 2019).
So why is the demand for physician assistants so high? Two reasons: increased access to medical care and an aging population. The implementation of the Affordable Healthcare Act and a large aging population means that more people are seeking medical services than ever before.
Aspiring medical professionals who want to serve in clinical roles can become a physician assistant with just six years of postsecondary education and training compared to the average of 12 or more years of education and residency requirements it takes to become a physician. An increase in the number of patients means more medical staff are needed to serve the clinical needs of these patients. Since physician assistants can provide many of the same medical services as physicians with half the amount of education and training, this career is predicted to be in high demand to meet the rapidly increasing need for patient care.
It’s easy to see why physician assistants are so in demand in the United States: with an investment in a two-year master’s degree program, entry-level physician assistants can practice medicine in a highly satisfying patient-centered career. With average annual salaries ranging from $87,887 (PayScale.com Jan. 2020) to $108,610 (BLS 2019), physician assistants can practice medicine in a clinical environment and choose a specialization that meets their career and salary goals.
Read on to learn how much physician assistants make, where they are employed, and the top-paying clinical specializations.
Top-Paying Cities for Physician Assistants
Below is a list of the top-paying cities and their corresponding metropolitan areas with the highest salaries for physician assistants. Also shown are the estimated number of employed PAs (not including self-employed workers), and the annual mean wage as reported from the BLS.
The cities and metropolitan areas listed here pay physician assistants average annual salaries between $104,620 to $119,400 (BLS 2018).
|City/Metropolitan area||Employment||Annual mean wage|
|New York-Newark-Jersey City||10,870||$119,400|
|Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim||3,090||$113,430|
|Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land||1,980||$124,950|
|Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach||1,930||$106,460|
Top-Paying States for Physician Assistants
Below is a list of the states with the highest salaries for physician assistants, an estimated number of employed PAs (not including self-employed workers), and the annual mean wage as reported from the BLS. States listed here pay physicians assistants average annual salaries between $111,080 to $125,610 (BLS 2018).
|State||Employment||Annual mean wage|
Most Popular Work Environments for Physician Assistants
Occupational data from the BLS reports that physician assistants accounted for 118,800 jobs in 2018 (BLS 2019).
Here is a list of the top five sectors and their percentages of employed physician assistants (PA) with data sourced from the BLS.
|Work environment||Percentage of employed PAs|
|Offices of physicians||55 percent|
|Hospitals – state, local, and private||26 percent|
|Outpatient care centers||8 percent|
|Educational services – state, local, and private||3 percent|
|Employment services||2 percent|
Top-Paying Clinical Specializations for Physician Assistants
Physician assistants can choose to specialize in an area of clinical medicine in pursuit of career fulfillment and higher salaries. Here is a list of five physician assistant specializations and their correlating salaries based on self-reported data from PayScale.com (Jan. 2020):
Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @oregon_yogini).