A physician assistant is someone who works very closely with a doctor. The two share many duties and responsibilities. Both the PA and the doctor attend school for several years and they both deal with patients directly. The doctor and PA both treat diseases and write prescriptions. The role of a PA and a doctor are, however, not identical and their salaries also differ. This article reviews the differences between a PA and a doctor, especially their salary difference. 

When thinking about a career in the medical sector, it is important to understand the two careers clearly. Each of the two careers is unique and fun to venture in. In this article, we are going to discuss PA salary, benefits and remuneration.

Educational Requirements

Even before they begin practicing, a PA and doctor both start their journey way back. Students who wish to become doctors must complete at least nine years in school and attend medical training. One is expected to have a GPA of at least 3.64 to join medical school. You also need a minimum of 508 MCAT score or higher.  

For a doctor, there is more coursework and it is also more complex. The requirements to become a doctor are also stricter. Doctors are required to have 3 – 7 years of residency training and must also get and sustain board certification on state and national levels. 

On the other hand, becoming a PA is comparatively easier and less intense. It should, however, not be taken as a simple process. A PA attends school for six years and the prerequisites differ between states and particular schools. A PA needs to have hands on medical experience for one year before starting to work as a professional. This can be equated to the residency experience that a doctor must have. A physician assistant must also complete education requirements so as to attain professional credentials. For many who wish to join the medical field, becoming a physician assistant is a preferred option since one spends fewer years in school. 

Job Functions

The job functions of a physician assistant and a doctor are very similar. Both professionals take care of patients directly in terms of diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Both the PA and doctor review the health history of patients, suggest the required treatment and give medication prescriptions. They both also offer counseling and treatment plans for patients. 

The main difference in the work functions of a doctor and PA is that the doctor can work freely and independently. On the other hand, a PA can only work under the supervision of a doctor. For surgeries, doctors work with PAs in performing surgery but a PA cannot perform surgery alone. Additionally, to become a PA does not require more certification like becoming a doctor. A PA also does not need intensive training when changing specialties. Consequently, to many students, this is a motivating factor when choosing between the two careers. 

Cost of Education

It is more expensive to become a doctor than to become a physician assistant. This is mainly because doctors spend more years in school. The cost of median education in America is approximately $207,000 in public institutions and approximately $278,000 in private medical learning institutions. 

To become a PA is also quite costly, although still cheaper than becoming a doctor. It costs approximately $71,000 to become a physician assistant as a resident student and approximately $90,000 when you study as a non-resident. This is the average cost of a 27-months long PA program in America. 

Salary Comparison

The average salary of a doctor ranges from $200,000 to $300,000 annually. This is an amount that easily pays for the cost of education for a doctor. A doctor’s salary differs based on the specialty, bonuses, area of practice of the doctor and profit sharing. Doctors that are specialists basically earn higher in the earnings ranking as PCPs, earn less than specialists. 

A physician assistant earns less than a doctor but the salary is still good and worth the years of practice and training. On average, a PA earns approximately $92,000 on the lower end and this amount can be more. Upon becoming a doctor or physician assistant, the two professionals gain great job growth within ten years and their salaries continue to grow. 

In choosing between the two careers, it is very advisable to think of the entire idea. Think of the requirements and education process for both careers. Also, think of the professional work, salary, sacrifices and all that it entails. Having a clear picture helps you to understand what awaits you ahead and be ready for it as you choose your medical career. Being a doctor or physician assistant is not only about the job functions since there is a period of preparation to consider before being allowed to practice. Let these factors guide you into the right career. 

Upon completion of your education, think of a good internship where you get to professionally practice before you can get certification. There are various medical internships available in different medical institutions at different times of the year. Internships are a good way to learn and get hands on experience in your career. 

Physician Assistant (PA) Salaries 

A certified PA earned approximately $113,186 in the year 2020 while the median salary stands at $105,000. This is information according to the NCCPA’s recent report. The highest earning physician assistants according to the data are the ones working in dermatology, earning approximately $129,246 per year. PAs working in critical care medicine also earn quite well, approximately $125, 522 per year.

From the data, it is evident that in the last six years, the average salary of a physician assistant has increased by 15.0%. PAs working in the family medicine docket earn approximately $105,286 per year. Those in emergency medicine earn approximately $125,110 while PAs in orthopedic surgery make $122,477. This data is according to a 2020 survey. 

According to a report by BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics), a PA’s median salary is around $112,260 with the 90% leading making a $157,120 PA salary. This is a rise of nearly 4% in 2020 as compared to 2019. In 2019, the median salary was approximately $108,610 PA salary. 

Another salaries report by AAPA (American Academy of PAs) also showed a rise in median annual salary for PAs, to $107,500. The increase was from the previous $105,000 recorded in the 2019 report. 

By July 2020, a PA in America was averagely earning $107,038 annually. This is according to Zip Recruiter data and report. Zip Recruiter views annual salaries as $50,000 on the lower side and $155,000 on the high end. PAs in the United States earn approximately $92,500 to $117,000 per year according to Zip Recruiter. 

According to the 2020 salary report by Melnic, the average salary of a physician assistant in America is $115,799. A PA working as first assist earned $130,000 average salary. For PAs working in outpatient care centers, they had a mean salary of $121,320 and this is the highest pay among physician assistants. In America, New York had employed the largest number of PAs in 2020; 13,270 of them. Each PA earned a mean salary of $123,080 in that year. PAs in Connecticut were the highest paid in the United States in 2020 with a salary of $137,060. Those in the Salinas metropolitan area in California were also top in salary, receiving an annual pay of $161,370. 

Newly graduated, recently certified, male and female physician assistants in America have a median salary of $95,000 every year. PAs that are paid hourly and not yearly get approximately $60.00 hourly. However, more than 79% of PAs receive annual pay as compared to about 20% who are paid hourly. There are also few PAs who are independent contractors and they are mostly paid hourly. 

Additional Benefits PAs Receive

Other than the basic salary, physician assistants also receive other benefits:

  • 50% of PAs who are clinically practicing on full time get a bonus of $6,000 and more. They receive an average bonus of $6,118. However, female PAs receive fewer bonuses than male PAs by $3,000.
  • Nearly 90% of all PAs get professional development returns. This is paid by the primary employer and includes covering for CME expense, reimbursement of state license fees, reimbursement of DEA license and more.
  • Majority of PAs who work on a full-time basis receive health, liability and dental insurance in a covered benefit.
  • Most of PA employers pay 3 to 7 % of salary deductions for 401K contributions. 

The salaries paid to PAs versus their buying power differs a lot depending on a region. In an example, PAs in Iowa, Mississippi and Kentucky have cost-adjusted median wages that are among the highest in America. On the other hand, PAs in California have an average salary of $118,000, which is among the highest salaries in the country. 

The Best PA Salary Report

Reports concerning the salaries of physician assistants are quite a number. Every report on this issue, however, varies and the representation of the data also differs. Methods of gathering data vary and the data included in the various reports is also different. 

Looking at the salary report by the AAPA and the statistical report by the NCCPA, they bring together a good sample size. The statistical report by NCCPA can be rated better since it includes 117,280 of 131,152 of the certified PAs. The AAPA has comprehensive data including regional salaries, PAs specialties, their benefits and more. These two reports are among the most reliable. 

There are various reports released focusing on the median salary of PAs in the United States. Five top reliable reports of the year 2020 are as follows:

  • AAPA Salary Report – ($107,500)/2018 ($105,000)
  • NCCPA Statistical Report – ($113,186)
  • Melnic PA Salary Report – ($104,000)/10 years of experience ($115,799)
  • ZipRecruiter PA Salary Report – ($107,038)
  • The Bureau of Labor and Statistics Occupational Outlook – ($112,260)

Another good factor that is worth noticing is that the older a physician assistant gets, the better the salary he or she receives. The years of experience that a PA has also plays a major role in determining their salary. Most PAs start to enjoy attractive pay with 15 years of experience. PAs with 15 to 19 years of experience can earn as much as $30,000 more every year as compared to their counterparts who are new graduates. 

As per the NCCPA statistical report, around 68% of newly graduated PAs expect to start earning salaries ranging from $80,000 to $100,000. 22% of PAs who have just received certification and are yet to accept any position, say that the first salary they can accept is above $100,000. 35% of PAs that are recently certified and have accepted a position earn more than $100,000.

Over the last six years, the average PA salaries have increased by 15.7%. This is approximately 2.61% increase every year and even with the US economy inflation, PA salaries have managed to rise. 

Salary and Compensation Report by AAPA

  • This report is based on data collected from 13,099 of 131,152 PA respondents
  • The report is free to AAPA fellow, student and retirees. It costs non-members $200
  • The AAPA report includes the following:
  • Insurance Benefits that are catered for by Primary Employer
  • Median Base Salary From Primary Employer based on main area of specialty
  • Retirement Benefits offered by Primary Employer
  • Median PA Base Salary and Bonus received from Primary Employer. This is based on years of experience and Work Setting 
  • Proportion of all Professional Expenses catered for such as CME expenses, NCCPA fees, AAPA membership and DEA
  • Paid off days
  • Call Status of the PA 
  • Hours that PAs took calls each month 
  • Median Base Salary From Primary Employer based on the type of employer
  • Other types of compensation
  • PA Compensation by type of salary (hourly, annual, and productivity pay)
  • Median PA Salary based on Region 
  • Participation of PA in Profit-Sharing Plans
  • How profit is shared
  • Median Base Salary From Primary Employer based on Primary Work Setting
  • PA’s changes in careers

The AAPA report on PAs salaries also includes the state cost adjusted median PA salary. It is possible to determine your adjusted cost-of-living salary using cost-of-living data. You can also use the data to know the amount of salary you would require to manage the set living standard in any location. 

As a physician assistant, you would probably want to move to the state and city that pays the highest median PA salary in the United States. Recent data released by the Bureau of labor statistics indicates that the median annual PA wage is currently $104,860 each year. This is equivalent to $50.41 per hour. The lowest earning PAs according to the report were 25% of the PAs and they earned less than $78,220. On the other hand, the 25% highest earning PAs got more than $131,066. 

On the other hand, data from 2018 AAPA Census showed that the median PA salary was $106,000 each year. This is equal to $60.00 hourly. In California, PAs earn a high of $118,000 while their counterparts in Iowa, Kentucky and Mississippi earn among the highest median wages that have been cost-adjusted in the US. 2020 was a tough year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The effects of the pandemic have been adverse and the medical sector has been largely affecting. By reviewing the median PA salaries over the years, it is evident that there is continuous increase. 

As per the 2018 AAPA report on salary and compensation, the median annual salaries of a PA in the leading industries are as follows:

  • Certified Rural Health Clinic: $97,500
  • Non-teaching hospitals: $110,000
  • University Hospital: $103,000
  • Physician practice: Single specialty group $100,000
  • Federally Qualified Health Center: $100,000
  • Outpatient care centers: $102,000
  • Offices of health practitioners: (solo practice) $98,900
  • Government: $103,000
  • Community health clinic: $95,500
  • Physician Solo practice: $93,000
  • Physician practice: Multispecialty group $101,750

The place that can be considered as least profitable for a PA is at a physician solo practice, a certified rural health center and a community health clinic. These places pay less compared to other medical centers. The PAs who get the highest pay work in non-healthcare related corporations and as independent contractors.  

The least profitable place for a PA to work is for a physician solo practice, community health clinic or certified rural health center. Those receiving the highest salary work as independent contractors or work for non-healthcare related corporations.

Comparison of PAs salaries is done by different entities based on location and other factors. It has been said that the median wage is that which 50% of the workers who are working made more than the said amount and half earned less. Various methods are used to gather data and to do a good comparison.

If you are a physician assistant and you are in search of relevant data that you can review to understand the market, the better. You can use the salary data to negotiate your salary in a new position or opportunity. This can be compared to carrying out market review before venturing into it fully. You will also learn what is expected of you to rise to the top earnings. You can carry out investigation to check your future earnings as a PA. 

When you decide to push through with the PA career, you slowly learn how things work and aspire to be bigger and better. It is also important to remember that you need good experience to start earning better. There are very many factors that determine the base salary of a PA and any other worker. These factors should be taken into consideration when you are discussing and negotiating with you employer about salary or pay rise. 

Base salary can be determined based on your place of work. If you are working in a remote and little desirable location, the salary is different from that of a person working and living in a fancy mansion in the look. Another determining factor is salary data adjusted for the standard cost of living. Which cost of living category do you belong to and how do you spend on your living? The other factor is when you have to take call or work over the weekend. This means better pay in most cases. When you have a lot of support in your work place also, your base salary differs from that of a PA who is doing it all alone.

You may be a PA who is not getting paid a huge amount of base salary. However, if your added benefits are worth the time and effort, you can consider. Benefits include a great healthcare cover and a retirement package. There is also the aspect of being passionate about your career. The more you get into your profession, you feel okay regardless of the salary. Loving your job could be one of the reasons of sticking around. 

When negotiating and making your choice, it is important to be careful. You may think that when the employer pays a high wage and gives minimal benefits, it is really fine. This is, however, not advisable since benefits take care of you in ways that salary will not. Especially when your position is long-term, good benefits count more than a high salary. You need that healthcare cover, the retirement plan etc. 

Even with the coronavirus pandemic that has crippled the economy and other sectors, there is positive hope that median pay will keep increasing. The scale is positive so far for the past years. Even when the country was experiencing economic inflation, the median pay for PAs was not largely affected. There is hope that the rise will continue, especially for specialty practice. 

In a career that is very enticing, the topic on salaries cannot be avoided. It should be clear to you what you are getting into before you decide to venture into being a PA. Salary is a great work motivation and we need good motivation to work and the discussion about it cannot be avoided. PAs are among our frontline workers in this pandemic and their work is commendable. Review the availability of jobs in your specialty and be ready for salary discussions with your employers or interviewers.