A Physician Assistant salary is among some of the highest out of any profession in the medical industry, and they can even rival a doctor’s salary in some cases. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average PA salary for 2018 was $108,610 per year, or $55.22 per hour. Additionally, the outlook for this job is very bright, and it is expected to grow by as much as 31% from 2018 to 2028. 

What a PA Does

A Physician Assistant is a member of the medical community that provides primary medical services to a broad range of patients from babies to seniors. They perform exams, diagnose injuries, order tests, administer treatments, monitor patient progress, and prescribe medications. A PA is also responsible for documenting and communicating relevant information into the patient’s charts. 

PA practice and education puts a special emphasis on preventative care, education, and chronic illness management. Since you get generalist medical training, you’ll be able to provide care for the whole patient. For example, say a patient comes to you for an appointment in cardiology. However, you notice a skin condition during the appointment. You can then treat both the heart issues and the skin condition, or you can refer the patient to a dermatologist for further treatment. 

Education Requirements for a Physician Assistant

If you want to become a PA, you’ll have to have a Master’s degree from a registered PA training program. This program has to have an accreditation from the ARC-PA (Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant). This course typically takes two years from start to finish. 

Depending on your program, the entrance requirements will vary. However, most that gain admission usually have a four-year degree in science. Additionally, they have experience in working in a health-related field. You’ll take coursework in diagnosis, anatomy, pathology, and medical ethics. You’ll go through supervised clinical training in an area or two of medicine as well. 

The District of Columbia and all 50 states require you to have a professional license to practice as a PA. You’ll have to take and pass the PANCE (Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination. The NCCPA (National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants administers the PANCE. 

Once you gain your certification, you have to renew it once every decade. However, you have to take 100 hours of continuing education every two years in order to qualify for the recertification process. The NCCPA has a licensing board list for every state, and they can help you find the one nearest to you.

Since you’ll put in a lot of work to get and maintain your PA license, you want to know what can impact your salary. Knowing these factors come into play will help you make smart moves throughout your career. 

The Six Biggest Factors That Impact a Physician Assistant Salary

So, how much do physician assistants make? Now that we’ve given you a good estimate range, we’ll go in-depth to help you understand the biggest factors that can influence the salary amount. Knowing these factors will help you understand why there is such a large fluctuation from area to area.

1. Specialty

When you’re a physician assistant, one of the most significant benefits you have is that it is relatively easy to switch from specialty to specialty without getting any new certifications. It’s not uncommon for PAs to change their specialty area at least once during their career, if not more. 

The salary fluctuation between specialties is one big reason many Physician Assistants choose to switch their specialties, and some switch because they want to explore different areas. For example, a PA may start out at a lower-paying specialty to gain experience, and they switch to a new area after a few years as their confidence levels grow. 

Generally speaking, family medicine and general practice are some of the most popular specialties, and they’re the area where many new PAs enter their field. According to NCCPA, the top specialties for PAs are as follows: 

  • Family Medicine or General Practice –19.2%
  • Surgical Subspecialities –18.5% (Orthopedics – 10.8%, Cardiothoracic Vascular Surgery – 3.4%, and Neurosurgery – 2.2%) 
  • Emergency Medicine –13.0%
  • Internal Medicine Subspecialties –9.4% (Cardiology – 2.9%, Gastroenterology – 1.7%, and Oncology – 1.4%)
  • Internal Medicine – General Practice –4.7%
  • Dermatology –4.0%
  • Hospital Medicine –3.5%
  • General Surgery –2.9%
  • Pediatrics –1.9%
  • Critical Care Medicine –1.5%

Family Medicine or General Practice

Family medicine or general practice are speciality areas that give healthcare for families and individuals. This practice area works with people of all ages from babies to geriatrics. The work with both sexes on issues related to disease entities and organ systems. The average salary for a PA in this speciality is $92,705

Surgical Subspecialties

The second most popular category for PA specialties is surgical subspecialties. PAs in this sector work under surgeons and participate in the post and preoperative care, surgical procedures, and diagnostic testing. Cardiology, orthopedics, and neurosurgery are the three most popular categories, and the average salary for this speciality is $115,628.

Emergency Medicine

The third most popular specialty for PAs is emergency medicine, and it’s one of the highest-paying sectors. PAs in this specialty class get the chance to work with a very high autonomy level, and they can work with patients with life-threatening conditions. This gives them more experience they can apply elsewhere, and the average salary is between $72,000 to $135,000.

2. Location

We touched on the location aspect of a PA salary and how certain areas of the country pay more than others. We’re going to outline the top states for pay below, but there are other factors you want to take into consideration. For example, think of the cost of living. You have to balance the cost of living against the salary to see how much you come out ahead. Some regions pay lower, but the cost of living in these areas is so low that you’ll make your money stretch further. 

Let’s look at a PA in California, for example. In 2018, PAs reported that they earned roughly $118,743 per year. While this seems like a lot, and it’s one of the higher amounts in the United States, the cost of living is roughly $98,000. You’ll have some money left over, but not a lot. 

On the other hand, let’s compare this to one of the lowest pay rates in the nation and see how it stacks up. Mississippi’s annual salary for a Physician Assistant starts at $85,000. Even though this is over $32,000 less than California, the cost of living here is one of the lowest in the nation. This factor means you’ll have more money left over. 

If you’re curious as to what a PA salary range is in your state, this state mapby the Department of Labor will give you a helpful range. According to the map, the range starts at $30,200 and goes up to $125,610 per year. Additionally, the top five states that offer the highest Physician Assistant salary include: 

StateHourly WageAnnual Wage
Connecticut$60.39$125,610
Washington$59.61$123,980
Alaska$58.78$122,260
Hawaii$58.23$121,120
California$56.36$117,230

3. Experience

Physician Assistants have a unique factor when it comes to earning potential and their experience. For the first decade, you tend to have the biggest pay boosts. Once you pass the decade mark, most medical facilities don’t put a huge emphasis on experience levels. The salaries tend to plateau around this point. While this isn’t fantastic news for more experienced PAs, it’s great for newer PAs because they start earning a decent amount of money and getting raises relatively quickly. The average salary for PAs by experience level are: 

  • Less Than a Year –$88,000
  • 1 to 4 Years –$92,000
  • 5 to 9 Years –$100,000
  • 10 to 19 Years –$106,000
  • 20+ Years –$107,000

These average salary estimate includes any overtime or bonuses, and they’ll fluctuate depending where in the country you are. Some will be higher to be competitive for the cost of income, and some will be lower. 

4. Setting

When you get your job as a PA, where do you plan to work? Do you want to work in a smaller or more rural setting in a clinic? Maybe you plan to go to a big regional hospital in a city. Your setting will factor into your salary. For example, PAs who work in ambulatory health care services will earn substantially less than PAs who work in outpatient care centers or general medicine and surgical hospitals. 

We’re going to show you how where you work impacts your salary. At the very least, this can help you make your decision on where you’ll start or continue your career. The different settingswith their average salary include: 

  • Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools – $102,370
  • Employment Services – $108,420
  • General Medicine or Surgical Hospitals – $109,140
  • Individual and Family Services – $109,940
  • Offices of Physicians – $108,180 
  • Other Ambulatory Health Care Services – $97,540
  • Outpatient Care Centers – $116,780
  • Residential Developmental Disability, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse Facilities – $108,120
  • Scientific Research and Development Facilities – $109,340 

Again, it’s not unusual for PAs to move around during their careers, and this means you can move to different settings. However, this is the national average for salaries in this field as of 2019. 

5. Employer Type

Your employer type will affect your salary, and some employers pay more than others. Whether or not your employer is an independent organization or part of a larger medical system will dictate how much they pay as well. Independent organizations have slightly more freedom to set their rates, but they may not have the funding that larger, connected hospitals do. The average PA salary depending on employer typeinclude: 

  • Contractor or Self Employed:$130,000
  • HMO:$123,000
  • Non-Healthcare Related Entity:$116,000
  • Medical Staffing Agency:$114,400
  • Convenient Care:$108,000
  • Government:$107,500
  • Hospital:$107,000
  • Multi-Speciality Physician Practice:$105,000
  • Community Health Clinic:$105,000
  • Certified Rural Health Clinic:$102,000
  • College or University:$100,650
  • Single Speciality Physician Practice:$100,000
  • Solo Physician Practice:$100,000
  • Federally Qualified Health Center:$100,000

6. Locum Tenens

Locum Tenens is Latin, and it literally translates into “to hold the place of, to substitute for.” To make it simple, this is a temporary PA position that usually involves travel to and from different facilities. Since PAs usually don’t clock a full 40-hour work week like doctors do, it’s a way to fill in your hours and earn more. However, some employment contracts don’t allow this, so make sure you look it over carefully. 

Another option is to take working vacations. If you do this, you accept very short-term employment while you’re officially on vacation from your normal job. This type of job usually covers your travel and lodging expenses, and it can cover expenses for your family as well, like lodging and renting a car. If you choose to work on a Locum Tenens spot on a full-time basis, you’ll get the same benefits as you’d get as a traditional PA. The pay is usually higher, and they pay for travel costs. The national average for this position is $213,595 per year


Is This Career Path Correct for You?

How much do Physician Assistants make? Now you know a national average, what six factors influence your salary, and how you can become a PA. But is this the correct career path for you? We believe it’s time to explore your options and enjoy a fulfilling career. To start, consider completing a Pre-PA Internship. It’ll immerse you into the medical field, and it’ll help you gain a deeper understanding of this career. Use it to make an informed decision about your future.