Physician Assistant Salary

Physician assistants are consistently named one of the best professions in the country by publications such as Forbes and US News and World Report. Based on annual salary data and employment projections, it's not hard to see why.

Physician assistants are medical professionals who practice medicine with a team of physicians and other medical providers. They are both state-licensed and nationally certified, able to treat patients, diagnose illnesses and diseases, conduct physical exams, prescribe medications, assist physicians with surgeries, order medical tests and more.

Physician assistants can be found in nearly every health care setting, from skilled nursing facilities to physician offices, retail clinics to schools, community health centers to correctional facilities. In order to practice, physician assistants must complete an accredited training program, which typically takes between three and four years of full-time study to complete and culminate with a master's degree. Additionally, those who wish to become physician assistants must also complete approximately 2,000 clinical hours, rotating through a series of practice areas, such as the following:

  • Emergency medicine
  • Pediatrics
  • Internal medicine
  • Obstetrics
  • Psychiatry

Upon graduation, students must successful pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) that is sponsored by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants.

Physician assistant salaries

Earning a bachelor's degree, finishing a physician assistant master's degree program, completing clinical rotation and passing the PANCE exam not only takes years of investment but financial resources as well. However, physician assistant salaries may make the overall investment well worth the sacrifices.

Data from the annual National Salary Survey of Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants conducted by ADVANCE reveals annual earnings for physician assistants has skyrocketed during the past decade. In fact, between 2003 and 2013, the annual average salary of full-time physician assistants increased from $76,039 in 2003 to $107,268 in 2013 -- an increase of 41 percent.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov) largely mirrors the ADVANCE yearly report. According to 2013 salary data from the BLS, physician assistants earned a national median annual wage of $92,970. Below is a breakdown of earnings by national quartiles:

  • Bottom 10%: $62,030
  • 25%: $79,280
  • Median: $92,970
  • 75%: $111,430
  • 90%: $130,620

Top paying states for physician assistants

Earnings for physicians assistants vary greatly by experience, industry, and, perhaps most importantly, location.

In 2013, physician assistants earned more than $100,000 in average salary across twelve states, according to data from the BLS. The top five paying states include: Rhode Island ($110,600), Nevada ($106,470), New Hampshire ($106,350), New Jersey ($106,330) and Washington ($106,190).

Yet, excluding those 12 states, PAs earned at least $90,000 in 23 states, including Minnesota ($99,960), Kentucky ($94,160), New Mexico ($92,810), Tennessee ($90,900) and Iowa ($90,090). The lowest paying states included the following:

  • Illinois: $81,050
  • South Carolina: $80,490
  • Arkansas: $79,350
  • Louisiana: $78,420
  • Mississippi: $49,930

Best paying physician assistant industries and specializations

As discussed above, national average annual earnings are also influenced by industry and specialization. In 2013, the top paying industries for PAs included (BLS):

  • Employment services: $103,710
  • Home health care agencies and services: $102,640
  • Office administrative services: $101,530
  • Outpatient care centers: $98,280

Specialization also impacts earnings. Salary data from the 2013 AAPA Salary Report revealed surgery was the top paying specialty ($95,000) in 2013. Below is how other specialties ranked for average annual salaries, according to the AAPA report:

  • Other specialties: $92,000
  • Pediatrics: $90,365
  • Internal medicine: $90,000
  • Primary care: $85,000

It's also important to note that many PAs are eligible for bonus structures. In fact, approximately half of all PAs surveyed in the AAPA salary report noted they received a bonus in 2013. When bonuses were added, the annual salary for PAs practicing in surgery saw their salaries move from $95,000 to $105,000 average in 2013.

Employment outlook for physician assistants

The field of physician assisting is a growing occupational area, projected to increase by 38 percent nationally between 2012 and 2022, according to data from the BLS. At the state level, Georgia is expected to be the state experiencing the most new employment growth -- 67.9 percent between 2012 and 2022.

The ten states projected to see the largest career openings for physician assistants between 2012 and 2022 include (with growth rate from Projections Central):

  1. Georgia: 67.9%
  2. Arizona: 51.3%
  3. Utah: 50.4%
  4. Virginia: 48.2%
  5. Kentucky: 45.3%
  6. Tennessee: 44.6%
  7. Texas: 44.2%
  8. North Carolina: 42.8%
  9. Colorado: 40.4%
  10. South Carolina: 38.8%

With exploding employment growth and significant earning power, it makes sense that physician assisting is one of the most in-demand careers in the country.

Sources

Advance Healthcare Network, NPACE Salary Report, http://nurse-practitioners-and-physician-assistants.advanceweb.com/Features/Articles/2013-National-Salary-Survey-Results.aspx

American Academy of Physician Assistants, 2013 Salary Report, http://www.slideshare.net/dfwagener/salary-deck-vfinalmon

American Academy of Physician Assistants, What is a PA, http://www.aapa.org/landingquestion.aspx?id=290

Bureau of Labor Statistics, OES, Physician Assistants, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291071.htm

Bureau of Labor Statistics, OOH, Physician Assistants, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physician-assistants.htm

Projections Central, Physician Assistant Report, projectionscentral.com

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