If you’re wondering what kind of earning potential you can expect after graduating from a physician assistant degree program, you’re in luck. Although they may not make “doctor money,” physician assistants command some serious earning potential. With high starting salaries and a six-figure median wage, you’ll find that PAs make a great living providing direct medical care to patients.
Median and Starting Salaries for Physician Assistants
Did you know that PAs earn a six-figure median, or midpoint, salary in the United States? The median wage for this occupation is $112,260, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). For the 10 percent of physician assistants who make the most money, annual wages are upwards of $157,120. That’s still below the median pay for a doctor, which the BLS categorizes as “equal to or greater than $208,000” annually, but not a bad pay rate at all when you consider the additional schooling, residency training, responsibilities and student debt that comes with pursuing a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree.
What about when you’re just starting out? Generally, new physician assistants can expect to earn starting salaries in the ballpark of $87,000 or more, although that figure varies depending on factors like your geographical location, your level of healthcare experience prior to going to PA school and the employer who hires you. Another factor that matters is where you went to school for your master’s degree in physician assistant studies. Students who graduate from prestigious PA programs, such as one of the physician assistant schools ranked most highly by U.S. News & World Report, can see starting salaries as high as the mid- to high-$90,000 range.
Although PAs can earn a great living, some make considerably less than others. The 10 percent of physician assistants in America who earn the least make less than $72,720 per year, according to the BLS.
PA Salary By Specialty
For doctors, the specialty of medicine you practice can substantially affect how much you make. That’s true for physician assistants, too. PAs also specialize, and some specialties have proven to be much more lucrative than others, according to the American Academy of PAs. On the most lucrative side, you’ll find specialties like cardiovascular and thoracic surgery, trauma surgery and critical care – not surprisingly, some of the most complex types of medicine where procedures may be riskier. General pediatrics is the lowest-paying specialty for physician assistants, followed by allergy and immunology, then endocrinology, family medicine and rheumatology.
One positive of being a PA is that you aren’t locked into a specialty. Nearly half of PAs change their specialty during their career, either to make more money or reap the non-financial benefits of a specialty that offers a schedule better suited to family life.
Where Physician Assistants Get Paid the Most
Where a physician assistant works has a big impact on their earning potential. Among the top employers in the field, outpatient care centers, which employ 8 percent of the workforce, pay the most, with a median salary of $119,090, the BLS reported. The next most lucrative roles are in hospitals, where 26 percent of PAs work and the median salary is $115,190. For the 2 percent of the field that works in employment services, the median wage is $114,220. Physician offices, which make up 55 percent of employment in the field, pay a little less, with a median salary of $110,670. The top employing industry that pays the least, educational services, accounts for 3 percent of PA jobs and pays a median wage of $109,080.
Location isn’t just what kind of medical facility you work in, but also where in the nation you work. Physician assistants in Connecticut are the highest paid in the United States, enjoying an average salary of $137,060 per year, according to the BLS. Annual pay rates differ by less than $100 between the second and third highest-paying states, Washington – with a mean wage of $129,520 – and New Jersey, with a $129,440 average salary. Although there are fewer than 500 PAs in all of Alaska, they are the next highest earners in the field, making a mean salary of $128,530. California rounds out the top five states for PA salaries, with an average wage of $127,520.
In the lowest-paying states, PAs earn an average wage in the $80,000 range. Kentucky is the least lucrative state for physician assistants, paying an average salary of $84,870, followed by Louisiana, where the mean wage for the profession is $86,490.