What are the Different Physician Assistant Careers?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 January 2019
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There are many different physician assistant careers, since there are huge numbers of career choices for doctors. In an assistant capacity, a physician assistant (PA) could work for doctors (or sometimes independently) in numerous capacities. This means virtually any specialty might be open to a PA. Places where physician assistant careers may be located is variable too.

About half of all physician assistant careers are located in four areas of medicine: general practice, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, and internal medicine. In these settings, assistants typically work in offices where they see patients. They might perform exams, order tests, diagnose illness and prescribe treatment for diseases or conditions. In obstetrics and gynecology, a PA could assist during surgeries or childbirth, in addition to working in an office.

Though physician assistant careers don’t always involve PAs being the primary caretaker, in some circumstances, especially in limited geographic areas, the PA does most or all of the care without supervision. These scenarios may only arise when a doctor is unavailable to offer such care, and if it is legal for a PA to practice without being under direct supervision of a doctor. Some PAs, for instance staff rural clinics or might work as field medical workers for armed and/or rescue services.


More commonly, physician assistant careers are under the supervision of a doctor, but this doesn’t mean the person can’t make diagnoses or prescribe medications. However, with a doctor present, the PA has easy access to greater medical experience as needed. Some physician assistants rarely need to call on a doctor for aid, since they have significant specialty training. A PA might choose a number of specialties in which to practice, and people could find assistants practicing in pediatric specialties or adult specialties like cardiology, dermatology, neurology and others.

While some physician assistant careers take place in doctor’s offices, others involve employment at hospitals. A number of specialty practices are located at larger hospitals and it’s quite possible to find work in a variety of hospital settings. PAs could oversee patients on a particular hospital service, might perform some basic procedures, or could be part of the medical team that works with patients in advance of surgery to obtain informed consent. After surgeries, PAs could monitor patients more closely and alert doctors to any problems that might need to be addressed.

The degree to which physician assistant careers will vary may depend on the level of PA experience and education. Many PAs who work in specialty practices (inside or outside of hospitals) have spent more time studying in these areas. A person, who doesn’t take on specialty study, either during school or under supervision with a specialist after school, will likely remain in the general practice field.



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