Physician Assistant Job Description: Top Duties and Qualifications

Last updated: June 22, 2022

A Physician Assistant, or PA, is a medical professional in charge of examining, diagnosing and treating patients with the guidance of a Medical Doctor. Their duties include prescribing medications to cure illness, recording patient vital signs and running diagnostic tests to determine the source of the patient’s symptoms.

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Physician Assistant duties and responsibilities

Physician Assistants perform a variety of duties that require close interaction with patients and their families. Here are some common duties and responsibilities:

  • Greet patients and gather medical information
  • Give physical exams to make correct diagnoses
  • Work with Physicians and Nurses to prescribe and administer treatments
  • Monitor patient progress and make adjustments to treatment
  • Instruct patients and their families about best practices at home
  • Document and update patient records
  • Refer patients to specialists as needed
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Physician Assistant Job Description Examples

What does a Physician Assistant do? 

Physician Assistants can work in any medical specialty to provide basic care to patients. Their duties vary depending on what kind of Physician they report to. Many Physician Assistants work under Primary Care Practitioners to provide basic medical care, handling common issues on their own and seeking guidance from the Physician on complex problems. They meet with patients, perform physicals, discuss symptoms and educate them on their condition. Physician Assistants can also work with specialists and perform duties within their scope of care, for example providing support to Surgeons during surgical procedures and performing skin biopsies when working with Dermatologists.

Physician Assistant skills and qualifications

Physician Assistants need a variety of skills, including:

  • Strong verbal and written communication
  • Excellent attention to detail
  • Knowledge of diagnostic equipment and procedures
  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Critical-thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Ability to move and manipulate patients
  • PA state license
  • Ability to multitask in a fast-paced environment
  • Computer literacy

Physician Assistant salary expectations

 A Physician Assistant makes an average of $106,497 per year. Salary may depend on level of experience, education and the geographical location.

Physician Assistant education and training requirements

Physician Assistants need to have a master’s degree in Physician Assistant studies. Programs usually last two years, and students need a bachelor’s degree to enter the program. During the program, students receive a mix of classroom instruction and clinical experience. Upon graduating, they need to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination to earn a state license to practice. PAs need to complete continuing education in order to maintain licensure. When a Physician Assistant wants to specialize, they usually need to complete a residency and get a certification. 

Physician Assistant experience requirements

Entry-level PAs need no work experience since they get clinical training in school. Physician Assistants who pursue a specialty typically need to undergo a residency program lasting between one and two years. Those who manage or lead other PAs should have at least five years of experience. Employers who need Physician Assistants to complete a wide range of highly complicated duties could also require at least five years of experience. 

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Frequently asked questions about Physician Assistants


What is the difference between a Physician Assistant and a Nurse Practitioner?

Physican Assistants and Nurse Practitioners have many similar duties, but they require different qualifications and implement different methods to address a patient’s health. Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners both have the ability to work independently but often operate alongside a Doctor. 

Nurse Practitioners usually work in nursing specialties like primary care, emergency care and geriatric care. They emphasize the nursing model in their work, which involves maintaining the holistic health and lifestyle of a patient to improve their wellness. Physician Assistants work from the medical model, which focuses on treating problems as they arise, curing symptoms and eliminating disease with medication and medical procedures.


What are the daily duties of a Physician Assistant?

Physician Assistants can complete a range of tasks during a typical day in a clinical setting. The exact scope of their work depends on the agreement they make with their attending Physician, who decides what types of treatments and procedures the Physician Assistant is authorized to complete. Some of the procedures they perform include suturing cuts, giving injections, setting broken bones and stabilizing fractures. They talk to patients about their symptoms, take their vital signs, order x-rays and blood tests, interpret lab results and determine the appropriate course of treatment. 

Physician Assistants update patient records and handle some administrative tasks in the medical office. They communicate with their supervising Physician about their patient outcomes and request consultations on cases they need assistance with.


What are the characteristics of a good Physician Assistant?

Good Physician Assistants have the essential qualities to provide excellent medical care to their patients, including patience, compassion, attention to detail and problem-solving skills. They are professional and considerate when talking to patients about their medical issues, communicating clearly about complex medical concepts. Excellent Physician Assistants are independent and take initiative with patients while still implementing guidance from their attending Physician.


Who does a Physician Assistant report to?

In most states, Physician Assistants must report directly to a Physician about their patient’s care. Physician Assistants who operate independently still have a supervising Physician that they can reach out to about getting authority for certain prescriptions or procedures. 

Each state has their own laws about the level of supervision the Physician Assistant needs in order to practice and what kinds of medication they can provide to their patients. Some states have the Physicians themselves set these standards, while others delegate the responsibility to the state medical board. Depending on these standards, Physician Assistants may check in regularly with their supervisor or only meet with them on complex cases.

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