Physician Assistant Specialties - Explore Career Options for PAs
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Physician Assistant Specialties 
Explore Career Options for Physician Assistants

October 19, 2023

Physician assistants work in a variety of settings and deliver a broad range of medical and surgical services. With more than 60 specialties to choose from, physician assistants (PAs) have many options for choosing a specialty that aligns with their interests and skills.

A physician assistant takes a patient's blood pressure in an examination room.
PAs can choose from a variety of specialties, each with unique patient care roles.

Rebekah Thomas, PharmD, PA-C, BCPS, BC-ADM, is the chair and program director of the Physician Assistant Studies program at PCOM. According to Dr. Thomas, there are several factors PAs should consider when choosing a specialty.

"They should consider whether they enjoy the inpatient or outpatient setting. They should also consider if they enjoy the OR or a setting that allows for hands-on procedures," she said.

Work schedule is another important consideration, Thomas advised. Some specialties require shift work while others do not.

"Additionally, I would consider the areas that they believe they have the ability to make the most impact and provide the greatest service to patients in need of healthcare," she said.

Most importantly though, Thomas said, is personal satisfaction and fulfillment.

"PAs should choose a specialty that brings them the greatest feeling of satisfaction and allows them to most positively impact others."

Physician Assistant Specialties

Here are a few of the specialties physician assistants may pursue:

  1. Family Medicine: Working alongside primary care physicians, PAs in this specialty provide healthcare services to patients of all ages. With an emphasis on preventative care, family medicine PAs diagnose and treat common medical conditions.
  2. Emergency Medicine: PAs in this specialty work in fast-paced, high-pressure environments treating patients of varying levels of acuity in the emergency room. They conduct physical exams, order tests, perform procedures and complete other urgent tasks.
  3. Surgery: A surgical PA assists surgeons in the operating room. They may specialize in a particular type of surgery and are involved in pre-operative, intra-operative, and post-operative patient care.
  4. Dermatology: PAs working in dermatology examine patients and can perform biopsies and minor surgical procedures. They specialize in diagnosing and treating skin conditions and may also assist with or perform certain cosmetic procedures.
  5. Psychiatry: A psychiatric physician assistant works with psychiatrists to evaluate patients, diagnose conditions and treat mental health disorders. Their role may include patient assessment, ordering lab tests, generating referrals and ensuring patients receive adequate care and support while undergoing psychiatric treatment.
  6. Orthopedics: Orthopedic PAs assist with surgeries, perform examinations, implement interventions and otherwise assist orthopedic surgeons with the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal conditions.
  7. Cardiology: PAs specializing in cardiology assist cardiologists in various aspects of cardiac care including performing stress tests, interpreting cardiac imaging and helping to manage chronic heart disease in patients.
  8. Gastroenterology: In this specialty, PAs may assist with endoscopic procedures, help treat patients with gastrointestinal disorders and educate patients regarding diet and lifestyle changes to improve their digestive health.
  9. Neurology: Neurology PAs may help diagnose conditions such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson's disease. They work with neurologists to evaluate and manage patients dealing with neurological disorders.
  10. Otolaryngology (ENT): Ear, nose and throat PAs assist ENT specialists in diagnosing and treating conditions including sinus problems, hearing issues and throat disorders.

How to Choose a Physician Assistant Specialty

With so many specialties to choose from, how can a PA determine which specialty might be a good fit?

Step 1: Complete a Self-Assessment

It is important to consider your personal interests, values and skills when choosing a specialty. By identifying areas of medicine that are of special interest to you and determining if there are specific populations you’d like to work with, you can narrow down your options.

Step 2: Complete Your Clinical Rotations

During your PA program, you’ll complete clinical training in various areas. This training is an ideal time to see what the daily work of physician assistants in different fields entails. This hands-on experience can help you determine what type of work you find most engaging and fulfilling.

Step 3: Find a Mentor or Join a Professional Network

Networking can provide valuable insights and connections in the field. By joining professional organizations, connecting with PAs in various specialties and attending conferences, you can meet other PAs who can provide guidance and share their experiences with you.

Step 4: Do Your Research

Take the time to thoroughly research different specialties. It is important to understand the scope of practice, responsibilities and work environment for the various specialties. Salary, career advancement potential and work-life balance may also be important considerations when choosing a specialty.

Key Points
  • Physician assistants (PAs) have a wide array of options when choosing a specialty. 
  • Factors to consider when selecting a specialty include preferences for the inpatient or outpatient setting, the type of work environment and work schedule.
  • Personal satisfaction and fulfillment are important factors in choosing a specialty.
  • The PA profession is versatile. PAs have the opportunity to explore additional interests, take on a second clinical position, or even change specialties as they progress in their careers.

"Be open-minded,” Thomas said. “There are likely several areas of medicine that people will be drawn to and enjoy. Medicine is interesting, there is always something to learn. Medicine is rewarding, there are always patients in need of your care and attention. The clinical setting and colleagues and patients that you interact with can make the experience fulfilling. Be open to new things and learn and grow from every opportunity. You will find there are several settings that you could thrive in."

Whatever specialty you choose, keep in mind that your first job as a PA does not have to be your last. Physician assistants may choose to explore other areas of interest as they gain experience and exposure to other aspects of healthcare.

According to Sean T. Guinane, DHSc, PA-C, DFAAPA, associate professor and assistant director of PCOM's Physician Assistant Studies program, an advantage of the PA profession is the versatility of the training.

"Following the generalist approach, PAs become knowledgeable in treating the whole person. As PAs progress through their career, it's not uncommon for a PA to explore additional interests by taking a second clinical position, or even changing specialties completely," he said. "It's a great benefit for those who know there will be several areas of clinical practice they'd like to see, or enjoy the challenge of learning about something new during their career."

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About the Physician Assistant Studies program at PCOM

PCOM's PA program provides a comprehensive academic and clinical medical education to prepare students for their professional roles as Physician Assistants. Students may enroll at either our Suwanee, Georgia location, or our main campus in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. PCOM offers students a holistic view of health care—one that considers all areas of well being and provides the opportunity to study and collaborate with students from a variety of medical-related disciplines.

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