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How Much Do Physician Assistants Make?

January 4, 2024

The world needs more health care professionals. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the United States faces a shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034, and the worldwide shortfall is at least as severe. Underserved populations—people living in rural areas, marginalized communities, and those without health insurance—suffer the effects disproportionately.

Physician assistants (PAs) can help address this crisis. PAs deliver invaluable primary and specialized care, providing many of the same services as physicians: they conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, write prescriptions, make referrals, offer counsel on preventive health care, and assist in surgery.

PAs aren’t paid as much as medical doctors (MDs) but do earn a good living. How good? This article details the latest data.

How Much Do PAs Make?

Median income for physician assistants is $126,010 per year (or $60.58 per hour), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Their pay ranges from $83,820 for the bottom decile (i.e., the lowest ten percent) to more than $168,120 for the top decile. 

Physician assistant is a growing profession; employment in this field is projected to increase 27 percent from 2022 to 2032, according to the BLS. This equals about 12,200 new job openings per year.

PAs work in varied health care settings (with a range of median incomes), including:

  • Outpatient care centers: $134,180
  • Hospitals (state, local, and private): $129,690
  • Physicians’ offices: $123,430
  • Government facilities: $113,900
  • Educational services (state, local, and private): $107,410

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The National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA), established in 1974, is America’s only certifying body for PAs. NCCPA certification programs verify a broad range of medical skills and have certified more than 185,000 PAs since 1975. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and all U.S. territories require NCCPA certification as a prerequisite for PA licensure.

The NCCPA also collects and reports physician assistant income data. According to the NCCPA, the mean income for PAs in 2021 was $117,381, while the median income was $115,000. Differences in data collection methods account for the differences in NCCPA and BLS results.

PA Income by Specialization

The NCCAP Statistical Profile of Board Certified PAs by Specialty Annual Report collects salary data based on area of medical specialization. The research surveyed 140,815 board-certified PAs as of Dec. 31, 2022. 

Leading specialties that offered increased opportunities were cardiothoracic and vascular surgery (34.9%), critical care medicine (33.4%), and emergency medicine (30.3%). These specialties are also among the highest paid, along with dermatology and neurosurgery.

Listed below are 2022 annual mean PA incomes by specialty:

  • Cardiothoracic and vascular surgery: $143,807
  • Dermatology: $136,749
  • Critical care medicine: $134,027
  • Neurosurgery: $131,883
  • Emergency medicine: $130,689
  • Orthopaedic surgery: $126,640
  • General surgery: $124,661
  • Plastic surgery: $123,169
  • Hospital medicine: $120,615
  • Psychiatry: $119,416
  • Pain medicine: $118,013
  • Cardiology: $117,636
  • Oncology: $117,394
  • Occupational medicine: $117,178
  • Urology: $117,007
  • Geriatrics: $116,544
  • Internal medicine–general practice: $113,727
  • Otolaryngology: $112,803
  • Family medicine/general practice: $112,074
  • Neurology: $111,496
  • Primary care: $111,477
  • Physical medicine/rehabilitation: $110,993
  • Gastroenterology: $110,544
  • Obstetrics and gynecology: $107,790
  • Pediatrics–general: $100,392

PA Income by State

The NCCPA Statistical Profile of Board Certified PAs by State Annual Report shows noteworthy gains in mean and median PA incomes from 2017 to 2021. Mean income rose from $107,742 to $117,381 (8.9%), while median income climbed from $105,000 to $115,000 (9.5%).

Mean income varies substantially from region to region and state to state. The 2021 annual mean income ranged from a high near $135,000 to a low slightly above $100,000. States with the highest mean income for PAs:

  • California: $134,353
  • Nevada: $132,091
  • Connecticut: $128,023
  • Alaska: $128,015
  • Washington: $126,731

The five lowest:

  • Michigan: $109,510
  • Colorado: $109,489
  • Alabama: $108,713
  • Kentucky: $107,969
  • Pennsylvania: $106,946

BLS data paints a brighter picture. The government agency ranked the same states in the top five as the NCCPA, but in another order and with different annual mean income results:

  • Washington: $145,390
  • California: $144,520
  • Alaska: $144,460
  • Connecticut: $143,280
  • Nevada: $141,360

PA Starting Salary

Salary expectations were more modest for PAs just starting out. The vast majority of newly certified PAs in 2021—85.6%—hoped to earn between $80,000 and $110,000 per year, according to the 2021 Statistical Profile of Recently Certified PAs.

Reality exceeded expectations: 65.1% fell within the $80,000 to $110,000 range, while only 9.3% of PAs started with an annual salary of less than $80,000. The remaining 25.6% earned $110,000 and above, with 2.3% drawing starting salaries of more than $140,000.

How to Become a PA

Ready to pursue a fulfilling career and help fill the gap created by the physician shortage? Here is how to become a PA:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree with an average GPA of 3.0 or higher, completing prerequisite courses such as chemistry, biology, physiology, anatomy, microbiology, and statistics.
  • Complete at least 500 hours of patient care experience. Before entering a PA track, candidates often work as nurses, EMTs, paramedics, patient care attendants, nurse’s aides, nursing assistants, medical technicians, or PT/OT assistants or therapists.
  • Obtain a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies (MS-PAS), which typically takestwo years.
  • Gain certification by passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) administered by the NCCPA.
  • Acquire a license to practice in the state where you intend to work.

You can prepare to become a PA through the Physician Assistant Studies Hybrid Program (PAS-Hybrid) at the University of Pittsburgh. The program’s online content delivery enables students to complete much of the program remotely in just two years. In addition to coursework taught by award-winning instructors with decades of experience as certified physician assistants, candidates complete eight clinical rotations in multiple specialty areas within the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences’ network of health care settings across the United States.

These supervised clinical practice experiences include rotations in internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, family medicine, behavioral health, surgery, and emergency medicine. Pitt offers in-person clinical rotations throughout a network of various placement sites across the country. The program also requires three campus visits for immersive learning and professional experience.

The PAS-Hybrid program focuses on these key competencies:

  • Patient-centered practice knowledge
  • Society and population health
  • Health literacy and communication
  • Interprofessional collaborative practice and leadership
  • Professional and legal aspects of health care
  • Health care finance and systems

For more information about the PAS-Hybrid program at Pitt, contact an enrollment advisor.

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