This article reviews the duties, education, necessary skills, working hours, and job outlook for physician assistants. These professionals function in much the same way as physicians. As the physician assistant job description outlines, these professionals are able to lead medical teams, to prescribe medications, treat patients, and diagnose conditions.

Physician assistants are different than physicians in that they cannot have their own practice. These professionals must be under the supervision of a practicing physician. However, they still complete rigorous education and are qualified to practice medicine.

Nurse explaining medication regime to elderly patient.

What Does a Physician Assistant Do?

A physician assistant is an integral part of the heal care team. They will regularly care for patients, prescribe medication, diagnose conditions, and work in general medicine. Physician assistants typically work in physician offices. Their hours vary depending on the work environment.

Physician assistants who work in hospitals or clinics may have to work overnight and be on-call. These professionals receive their master’s degree and pass an intense examination before practicing medicine. The median salary for a physician assistant is $98,180 dollars. They are highly qualified, in-demand health care workers.

Physician Assistant Job Description for Resume – Responsibilities

The tasks of a physician assistant are highlighted in the bulleted list below. Consider these to be the skills that might be found on a resume for a physician assistant job.

  • Conduct medical examinations for a variety of issues and conditions.
  • Take a patient’s medical history into consideration for current issues and conditions.
  • Identify the common medical screenings needed at different stages of life.
  • Order tests to try and solve medical problems such as lab work or imaging.
  • Communicate and work as a team with the supervising physician, nurses, and medical assistants.
  • Maintain current knowledge in the field through continuing professional development.
  • Specialize in fields such as pediatrics or surgery to provide focused and personalized care to patients.

Physician Assistant Essential Skills

Detail Oriented. Physician assistants need to be able to record important details while maintaining a relationship with patients. They will need to record vital information, digest what the patient is telling them, and prescribe the right treatment. Paying attention to the situation can prevent medical orders and make the patient feel important.

Teamwork Skills. Physician assistants are responsible for some piece of the patient’s medical care. For example, they may prescribe medicine for a sinus infection independently. However, it is vital for these professionals to be able to communicate and work with their attending physician and other members of the health care team. A strong team serves to benefit the patient.

Empathetic Skills. Physician assistants need to walk a fine line between being emotionally invested and empathetic. They need to be able to imagine how the patient is feeling and how they would react to a medical diagnosis. At the same time, they need to be able to distance themselves from the situation and act without letting their emotions negatively impact the care provided to patients.

Problem-Solving Skills. A day in the life of a physician assistant will never be the same. People have unique medical concerns and these professionals need to be prepared to make judgment calls based on their education in the context of the current situation. Being patient and understanding that medicine does not work in a vacuum are essential skills to have.

How to Become a Physician Assistant

Physician assistants have earned their master’s degree, typically have additional health care experience, and pass difficult licensing tests. These professionals are expected to engage in lifelong learning for renewal of their license. Physician assistants can choose to specialize in a field through brief residencies, but this is not a requirement of the position.

Education & Training Requirements

Physician assistants must have their bachelor’s degree to pursue admittance into a master’s program. The master’s programs prefer to see a background in science courses and existing experience in the health care field such as being a nurse, medical assistant, or paramedic. There are over 200 accredited programs that offer a master’s degree needed to be a physician assistant. Just like physicians, physician assistants need to rotate through clinical experience and take medical based courses.

Once a physician assistant has completed their master’s degree they need to be licensed to be permitted to practice medicine. The licensing test is called the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE). Passing this test permits these professional to practice medicine. Some physician assistants may choose to pursue advanced specialization through residency.

Physician assistants are required to complete professional development in order to keep their license active. One hundred hours of continuing education are required every two years. They must take a license renewal test every 10 years.

Work Experience

It is not common for physician assistants to get admitted to PA school without experience. In addition to a bachelor’s degree, the PA school expects that these professionals will have many paid hours as a health care professional. The hours required vary greatly depending on the school. Some schools, like Duquesne University do not mandate any hours of experience, while others like Emory University require 2,000 hours.

It is not hard to get a position as a physician assistant without specific experience as a physician assistant. However, it is hard to start the trajectory towards becoming a physician assistant without experience. The experience could occur during the course of university study. However, it will have to be completed based on the effort of the individual as it is not automatically included as part of graduation.

Work Schedules

Physician assistants work in a variety of medical facilities. They most commonly work in physician offices (57%) but also work in hospitals, urgent care centers, and for educational services. Full-time work is expected, but it is possible to work part-time.

Physician assistants in hospitals will have to work nights and be on-call. When they work in environments with set hours, their schedules are dictated by those hours. Extra hours are not uncommon but this depends on the work environment and other employees. Physician assistants can fill in when the attending physician is not available. For this reason, they can experience an increased workload.

Career Prospects

Being a physician assistant is often the best of two worlds. They are allowed to practice medicine and act as a physician in many ways, but also have an excellent work/life balance. They can do what they are often passionate about, treating patients, without worrying about extra things that concern physicians.

It is a very smart choice to get involved in this industry as the education required is short compared to the basic salary. Their job outlook is expected to grow 30% by 2024. The median salary was $98,180 in 2015. You can see here more well-paid medical jobs. In addition, practicing physician assistants report a high level of job satisfaction. If you think you would enjoy working in a health care field and having the autonomy to practice medicine without the extensive schooling required for a physician then becoming a physician assistant is a very appealing career choice.


In summary, this physician assistant job description shows that being a physician assistant can be a stressful job filled with unpredictable days and complex problems to solve. However, it is an extremely rewarding profession that pays well, does not require a lot of schooling, and has an excellent job outlook.