Detailed Guide forPhysician Assistants in California
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|
|Task||Skill 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|
Below is a definition for each skill.
|View the tasks to skills list|
|Customer and Personal Service||Knowledge of principles and processes for providing customer and personal services. This includes customer needs assessment, meeting quality standards for services, and evaluation of customer satisfaction.|
|Critical Thinking||Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.|
|Active Listening||Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.|
|Problem Sensitivity||The ability to tell when something is wrong or is likely to go wrong. It does not involve solving the problem, only recognizing there is a problem.|
|Inductive Reasoning||The ability to combine pieces of information to form general rules or conclusions (includes finding a relationship among seemingly unrelated events).|
|Medicine and Dentistry||Knowledge of the information and techniques needed to diagnose and treat human injuries, diseases, and deformities. This includes symptoms, treatment alternatives, drug properties and interactions, and preventive health-care measures.|
|Biology||Knowledge of plant and animal organisms, their tissues, cells, functions, interdependencies, and interactions with each other and the environment.|
|Judgment and Decision Making||Considering the relative costs and benefits of potential actions to choose the most appropriate one.|
|Reading Comprehension||Understanding written sentences and paragraphs in work related documents.|
|Therapy and Counseling||Knowledge of principles, methods, and procedures for diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of physical and mental dysfunctions, and for career counseling and guidance.|
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 2015 for Physician Assistants in California was $106,416 annually, or $51.16 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.
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 33.7 percent, or 2,800 jobs between 2012 and 2022.
|Estimated Employment and Projected Growth|
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Due to Net
|View Projected Growth for All Areas|
Annual Job Openings
In California, an average of 280 new job openings per year is expected for Physician Assistants, plus an additional 150 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 430 job openings.
|Estimated Average Annual Job Openings|
|Jobs From Growth||Jobs Due to|
|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.
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 Title||Percent of Total Employment for Occupation in California|
|Offices of Physicians ||51.7%|
|Employment Services ||13.0%|
|Outpatient Care Centers ||11.1%|
|General Medical and Surgical Hospitals ||10.8%|
|Federal Government ||1.5%|
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 www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.
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.
- Outpatient Care
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.
Below is a list of occupations related to Physician Assistants with links to more information.
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For the Career Professional
The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.