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Physician AssistantCareer


What is a Physician Assistant?


A physician assistant is a licensed medical professional who holds an advanced degree and provides direct patient care. They work with patients of all ages in all specialties and primary care areas. If you’ve ever had a surgical procedure, it’s likely that most of your pre-op and post-op visits were spent receiving guidance and care from the surgeon’s PA. They also play a vital role in diagnosing injuries and illnesses, working with minor procedures, and administering treatment plans.


What Does a Physician Assistant Do?

Physician assistants play an integral role on healthcare teams with physicians, surgeons, and other medical workers. Some of their most important duties include:

  • Making rounds and performing patient exams
  • Diagnosing illnesses
  • Assisting in surgery
  • Ordering and interpreting laboratory tests and X-rays
  • Prescribing medications
  • Administering emergency medicine
  • Developing and managing treatment plans
  • Advising patients on preventative care and optimal health practices

These duties are consistent across all physician assistant careers, but daily responsibilities will vary depending on specialization. Physician assistants can specialize in numerous areas of medicine, such as psychiatry, pediatrics, dermatology, or surgery.


How Do I Become a Physician Assistant?

Physician assistants need comprehensive schooling. Fortunately, if you’re interested in starting a career in the medical field but don’t want to make the time and financial investments to earn a Ph.D. or M.D., then the PA track might be the route for you. Keep reading for the step-by-step education requirements of PAs.

  • A physician assistant education begins with a bachelor’s degree in healthcare, such as a bachelor of science in nursing . 
  • After completing a relevant bachelor’s program, you must pursue a master’s or doctorate level PA program that is deemed legitimate by the Accreditation Review Commission. This will include more than 3,000 hours of direct patient contact experience and 2,000 hours of clinical rotation over three years. 
  • Upon completion of your physician assistant program and other prerequisites, your next step is to pursue your licensure requirement by passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). 

The NCCPA reports a pass rate for the PANCE exam above 90% for both first-time test-takers and all test-takers. While completing the steps to becoming a PA is challenging and time-consuming, the pass rate for licensure is very encouraging for those considering this career path.

Best Degrees for a Physician Assistant

Health & Nursing

Nursing (Prelicensure) – B.S.

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN and a...

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN and a baccalaureate-prepared nurse:

  • Locations: Due to in-person clinical requirements, students must be full time residents of Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, or Wisconsin to enroll in this program. The coursework in this program is offered online, but there are in-person requirements.
  • Tuition: $8,755 per 6-month term for the first 4 terms of pre-nursing coursework and $8,755 per 6-month term for the remaining 4 terms of clinical nursing coursework.
  • Time: This program has a set pace and an expected completion time of 4 years. Certain coursework may be accelerated to finish faster.
  • WGU offers the prelicensure program in areas where we have partnerships with healthcare employers to provide practice sites and clinical coaches to help teach you and inspire you on your path to becoming a nurse.
  • If you don't live in one of our prelicensure states or don't qualify to apply, consider getting our Bachelor's in Health and Human Services instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry, while also working directly with patients who need help.

Skills for your résumé that you will learn in this program:

  • Community Health
  • Women's and Children's Nursing
  • Pathology
  • Physiology
  • Research
Health & Nursing

Nursing (RN-to-BSN Online) – B.S.

An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking the added...

An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking the added theoretical depth, employability, and respect that a bachelor's degree brings:

  • Time: 61% of graduates finish within 20 months.
  • Tuition: $4,685 per 6-month term.
  • Courses: 23 total courses in this program.
  • Transfers: Students can transfer up to 90 credits.

Skills for your résumé that you will learn in this program:

  • Healthcare Policy and Economics
  • Information Technology in Nursing Practice
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Applied Healthcare Statistics

If you don't currently have an RN and don't qualify for your nursing prelicensure program, consider getting our Bachelor's in Health and Human Services instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry in a unique way.

How Much Does a Physician Assistant Make?


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, physician assistants earned a median annual salary of $126,010 in 2022. Comparatively, nurse practitioners earned an average of $125,900 per year. 

What Is the Projected Job Growth?


The job outlook for PAs is indisputably positive. Employment of physician assistants is projected to grow by 31% from 2022 to 2032, significantly higher than the average for all occupations. About 12,200 openings for physician assistants are projected each year, on average, over the decade. 


What Skills Does a Physician Assistant Need?

In addition to a master’s degree, desirable PAs possess several essential skills. Hospitals, clinics, and other medical care facilities specifically search for these skills when hiring:

  • Strong communication skills: PAs often act as a bridge for information exchange between patients, patients’ family, physicians, and other healthcare professionals, so it’s important that they have excellent communication skills to accurately interpret and deliver the proper messages between parties.
  • Compassion and empathy: A gentle, understanding temperament helps to breed patient trust. It also empowers the PA to help keep patients calm in stressful situations.
  • Focus on patient care: First and foremost, it is the PA’s job to deliver the best possible care to their patients, which should be central to every decision a physician assistant makes.
  • Ability to solve problems: Physician assistants are constantly problem- solving, especially when it comes to treatment. Every patient is different, so it’s up to the PA and other team members to build a unique plan that suits each patient’s specific needs.
  • Work well under pressure: Every healthcare worker encounters stressful, high-pressure situations, and PAs are not exempt. For example, the operating room is a high-stakes environment, so physician assistants need to be experts at keeping a level head to remain effective while performing their job duties. 

Our Online University Degree Programs Start on the First of Every Month, All Year Long

No need to wait for spring or fall semester. It's back-to-school time at WGU year-round. Get started by talking to an Enrollment Counselor today, and you'll be on your way to realizing your dream of a bachelor's or master's degree—sooner than you might think!

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Interested in Becoming a Physician Assistant?

Learn more about degree programs that can prepare you for this meaningful career.