About the Profession

PAs are comprehensively trained medical providers.

In the U.S., PAs are nationally certified and state-licensed to practice medicine and prescribe medications in every setting and every medical and surgical specialty. PA practice includes comprehensive patient care incorporating patient interviewing and history-taking, examination and evaluation, diagnosis, treatment plan development and implementation, patient follow-up, and patient education and counseling. PAs have been improving access for patients to high-quality primary and specialty medical care across the U.S. and throughout the world since the 1960s.

Watch the AAPA’s Video, “What is a PA?”

The PA profession is continually being recognized as one of the best professions to pursue.

In fact, just recently, the PA profession was again ranked by U.S. News & World Report as both one of the best overall jobs and one of the best health care jobs to pursue.

Here are a few more examples:

  • Forbes, Best Master’s Degrees for Jobs: Physician Assistant Studies rated within the top 10 for best master’s degree based on mid-career median pay, projected employment increase, and job growth.
  • Glassdoor  25 Highest Paying Jobs in America: Physician Assistant ranked in the top 10 highest paying jobs in the nation (and, with more position openings than any other professions on the list)
  • Linked-In (2017), 20 Most Promising Jobs: Physician Assistant ranked as 13th most promising job of 2017.
  • U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics: “Employment of physician assistants is projected to grow 28 percent from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations. As the demand for healthcare services grows, physician assistants will be needed to provide care to patients.”
  • USA Today, Where the Jobs Are: Physician Assistant positions are rated among the best jobs with the highest growth and wage prospects. The demand for PAs is so high that three quarters of PAs receive multiple job offers upon graduation.

What types of duties do PAs perform?

  • Contrary to the name, PAs are not assistants to physicians but work as collaborative partners in caring for patients. PAs commonly perform the following roles:
    • Interview patients & document medical histories
    • Conduct complete, focused, & specialty physical examinations
    • Order & interpret laboratory, imaging, & procedural tests
    • Diagnose conditions & illnesses
    • Develop, implement, & assess treatment plans, including writing prescriptions
    • Counsel & educate patients
    • Perform office-based procedures
    • Assist in surgeries

What type of patients do PAs treat?

  • PAs work in every primary care and specialty setting
  • The patients they evaluate & treat differ from one setting to another
  • PAs are trained, certified, and licensed to treat patients of all ages and in all settings
  • In many outpatient settings, PA’s ‘follow’ & treat their own panel of patients

Where do PAs practice medicine?

PAs practice every specialty and in every setting where medical practitioners are needed, including, but not limited to: office based private practice; hospital based practice; federal facilities; community health centers; occupational health practices; student health centers; extended care facilities; ambulatory surgical centers; behavioral health facilities; free clinics; rehabilitation facilities; home health care and hospice care. PAs practice in every state in the Nation and also practice throughout the world. The 2014 Statistical Profile of Certified Physician Assistants provided the following breakdown of PA practice areas:

  • Primary Care Family Medicine: 19.7%
  • Surgical Specialties: 19.5%
  • Emergency Medicine: 13.8%
  • Primary Care Internal Medicine & Internal Medicine Specialties: 12.1%
  • Dermatology: 4.4%
  • Hospital Medicine: 3.1%
  • General Surgery: 2.1%
  • Pediatrics: 1.8%
  • Women’s Health (OBGYN): 1.4%
  • Urology: 1.4%

State Practice Profiles for PAs


For More Information About the PA Profession

For more information about PAs and the PA profession, please see the following resources:

Competencies for the PA Profession

The Competencies serve as a map for the individual PA, the physician-PA team, and organizations committed to promoting the development and maintenance of professional competencies among physician assistants…. [As an overriding theme, the competencies] include an unwavering commitment to patient safety, cultural competence, quality health care, lifelong learning, and professional growth.

In 2003 and 2004, the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA), the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA), the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), and the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) collaborated to define our professional competencies, some of which occur via PA education and others mastered during one’s career. The effort resulted in the Competencies for the Physician Assistant Profession. The document was updated in 2012 and formally adopted by all four organizations by 2013. Our own Program Learning Outcomes are based, in-part, on these nationally recognized competencies.

Read the Competencies for the Physician Assistant Profession