California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Physician Assistants in San Diego County

May also be called: Physician's Assistants; Physician Assistant Certified Assistants

Specialties within this occupation include: Family Practice Physician Assistants; Orthopedic Physician Assistants; Pediatric Physician Assistants; Surgical Physician Assistants

What Would I Do?

Physician Assistants (PAs) practice medicine under the supervision of physicians. They are formally trained to provide diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive health care services. Specific duties of Physician Assistants are determined by their supervising physicians and by State law. Working as members of a health care team, they take medical histories, examine and treat patients, order and interpret laboratory tests and X rays, and make diagnoses. They also treat minor injuries by suturing, splinting, and casting. The PAs record patients' progress, instruct and counsel patients, and order or carry out therapy. They may administer immunizations and injections, perform minor surgery, and assist in surgery. If they meet the legal requirements, Physician Assistants may prescribe some medications.

In some establishments, a PA has managerial duties, such as ordering medical supplies or equipment and supervising technicians and assistants. Physician Assistants may be the principal care providers in rural or inner city clinics where a physician is present for only one or two days each week. In such cases, the PA confers with the supervising physician and other medical professionals as needed and as required by law.

Many PAs work in primary care specialties, such as general internal medicine, pediatrics, and family medicine. Other specialty areas include general and thoracic surgery, emergency medicine, orthopedics, and geriatrics. The PAs specializing in surgery provide preoperative and postoperative care and may work as first or second assistants during major surgery.

Physician Assistants use medical devices such as microscopes, catheters, glucose monitors, hypodermic needles, lancets, and tourniquets. They also operate software such as medical, storage media loading, spreadsheet, word processing, and Web browser.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Visit and observe patients on hospital rounds or house calls, updating charts, ordering therapy, and reporting back to physician.Customer and Personal Service
Examine patients to obtain information about their physical condition.Critical Thinking
Provide physicians with assistance during surgery or complicated medical procedures.Active Listening
Interpret diagnostic test results for deviations from normal.Problem Sensitivity
Obtain, compile and record patient medical data, including health history, progress notes and results of physical examination.Inductive Reasoning
Administer or order diagnostic tests, such as x-ray, electrocardiogram, and laboratory tests.Medicine and Dentistry
Perform therapeutic procedures, such as injections, immunizations, suturing and wound care, and infection management.Biology
Make tentative diagnoses and decisions about management and treatment of patients.Judgment and Decision Making
Prescribe therapy or medication with physician approval.Reading Comprehension
Instruct and counsel patients about prescribed therapeutic regimens, normal growth and development, family planning, emotional problems of daily living, and health maintenance.Therapy and Counseling
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Usually PAs work in comfortable, well-lit healthcare facilities. At times the job requires a considerable amount of walking. On the other hand, those in surgery often stand for long periods. The PAs may travel to patients' homes or visit them in hospitals and nursing care facilities, then report back to the physician.

Schedules vary depending on where the PA works and the hours of the supervising physician. The workweek of hospital-based PAs may include 12-hour shifts, weekends, nights, or early morning hospital rounds to visit patients. These workers may also be on call. However, PAs in clinics usually work a traditional workweek. Some PAs may hold two or more jobs.

Physician Assistants may become members of a labor union, such as the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals or American Academy of Physician Assistants.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Physician Assistant may appeal to those who enjoy activities that involve working with ideas that require an extensive amount of thinking, searching for facts, and figuring out problems. Results-oriented individuals who are independent workers and like to make their own decisions should enjoy this type of job.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Income varies by specialty, practice setting, geographical location, and years of experience.


The median wage in 2016 for Physician Assistants in California is $110,955 annually, or $53.34 hourly. The median wage for Physician Assistants in San Diego County is $106,136 annually, or $51.03 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2016Low
(25th percentile)
(50th percentile)
(75th percentile)
San Diego County$81,454$106,136$130,707
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2016 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas


Benefits generally include medical, dental, life, and vision insurance as well as vacation, sick leave, and retirement plans. Some employers pay for their employees’ liability insurance, Drug Enforcement Administration's registration fees, State licensing fees, credentialing fees, and continuing education expenses.

What is the Job Outlook?

Physicians and institutions are expected to employ more PAs to provide primary care and to assist with medical and surgical procedures because PAs are cost-effective and productive members of the health care team. Physician Assistants relieve physicians of routine duties and procedures. The use of technology, such as the telephone or Internet, to facilitate interactive consultations between physicians and Physician Assistants will also expand the use of Physician Assistants.

Besides working in traditional office-based settings, PAs should find a growing number of jobs in institutional settings such as hospitals, academic medical centers, public clinics, and prisons. Physician Assistants also may be needed to augment medical staffing in teaching hospitals where the number of hours physician residents are permitted to work is reduced, encouraging hospitals to use PAs to supply some physician resident services.

Job opportunities for PAs should be good, particularly in certain rural and inner-city clinics because these settings have difficulty attracting physicians.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Physician Assistants is expected to grow much faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Physician Assistants are expected to increase by 34.3 percent, or 3,400 jobs between 2014 and 2024.

In San Diego County, the number of Physician Assistants is expected to grow much faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Physician Assistants are expected to increase by 34.7 percent, or 250 jobs between 2012 and 2022.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Physician Assistants
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Additional Openings
Due to Net
San Diego County
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 340 new job openings per year is expected for Physician Assistants, plus an additional 220 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 560 job openings.

In San Diego County, an average of 26 new job openings per year is expected for Physician Assistants, plus an additional 13 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 39 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Physician Assistants
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
San Diego County
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

California requires completion of an American Academy of Physician Assistants' accredited, formal education program and passing of a national exam to obtain a license. Physician assistant education programs last at least two years and are full time. Most programs are in schools of allied health, academic health centers, medical schools, and four-year colleges. Other programs are offered in community colleges, the military, and hospitals. The accredited programs have clinical teaching affiliations with medical schools. Several of these programs offer the option of a master’s degree. The rest offer either a bachelor’s degree or an associate degree.

Admission requirements vary, but many programs require two years of college and some work experience in the health care field. Many PAs have prior experience as registered nurses, while others come from varied backgrounds. These include military corpsman or medics and allied health occupations, such as respiratory therapists, physical therapists, emergency medical technicians, and paramedics. Many applicants to PA educational programs already have an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Physician Assistants must have a desire to serve patients and be self-motivated. They also must have a good bedside manner, emotional stability, and the ability to make decisions in emergencies.


Before working as a PA, students must complete supervised clinical training in several areas including family medicine, internal medicine, surgery, prenatal care, gynecology, geriatrics, emergency medicine, psychiatry, and pediatrics.

Early Career Planning

Students interested in becoming a Physician Assistant should take courses in biology, English, chemistry, mathematics, psychology, health, and the social sciences.

Work Study Programs

Some Regional Occupational Programs (ROP) offer introductory courses in the health care field, such as Medical Terminology that could be helpful to explore and prepare for medical careers.  To find an ROP program near you, go to the California Association of Regional Occupational Centers and Programs Web site.

Continuing Education

Physician Assistants must be willing to study throughout their career to keep up with medical advances. They are also responsible for keeping current with the regulations and laws pertaining to their career. To remain certified by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA), PAs must complete 100 hours of continuing medical education every 2 years.

Licensing and Certification

In order for Physician Assistants to practice in California, they must obtain a license from the Physician Assistant Committee of the Medical Board of California. Applicants must have graduated from a training program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, pass the NCCPA exam, pay appropriate fees, and obtain a Live Scan fingerprinting and background clearance. The license is renewable every two years.

The PAs who are authorized by their supervising physician to dispense drug orders for controlled substances must register with the DEA to obtain a federal DEA number. Contact the agency that issues the license for additional information. Click on the license title below for details.

The NCCPA offers certification to graduates of accredited physician assistant education programs. Only those successfully completing the examination may use the credential “Physician Assistant-Certified.” To maintain certification, holders must meet continuing medical education requirements and pass a recertification exam every six years or complete an alternative program combining learning experiences and a take-home examination. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Physician Assistants are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Offices of Physicians 52.4%
Employment Services 16.4%
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals 10.3%
Outpatient Care Centers 10.2%
Offices of Other Health Practitioners 1.4%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. Applicants can also find employment opportunities through placement offices at colleges and universities. Supervising physicians sometimes hire PAs who worked for them during their clinical training. Professional associations may list job openings on their Web sites. Newspaper classified ads and the Internet provide additional sources for job listings. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at and CalJOBSSM at

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Physician Assistants.

  • Clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Medical
  • Outpatient Care
  • Physicians

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Some PAs pursue additional education in a specialty such as surgery, neonatology, or emergency medicine. Postgraduate educational programs are available in areas such as internal medicine, rural primary care, emergency medicine, surgery, pediatrics, neonatology, and occupational medicine.

As Physician Assistants attain greater clinical knowledge and experience, they can assume added responsibilities and higher earnings. However, by the very nature of the profession, clinically practicing PAs are always supervised by physicians. With additional education, PAs can advance to become medical doctors.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Physician Assistants with links to more information.

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Respiratory TherapistsGuide

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SOC - Standard Occupational Classification29-1071
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Physician Assistants29-1071.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)ISR
   Anesthesiologist Assistants29-1071.01
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)RSI
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Physician Assistant 510912
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Physicians Assistant120600