If you’re wondering where you may work after completing one of the top physician assistant degree programs, you’re fortunate enough to have options. PAs work in all types of medical facilities, and their specific work environment affects not only their primary job duties but also what their professional life looks like. Working in a specialist doctor’s office that keeps normal business hours can be a vastly different experience from working the overnight shift in a hospital emergency room. Whether your work environment is laidback or exciting, what physician assistant roles have in common across all work settings is the satisfaction of supplying clinical care directly to patients.
Physician Assistants in Doctors’ Offices
Physician offices are the biggest employers of physician assistants, making up 55 percent of the PA workforce, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Both general practitioners and specialist doctors find roles for physician assistants in their practices. A physician assistant may be the patient’s primary care provider, particularly in general practice, family medicine and women’s health.
Physician assistants practice medicine under the supervision of a doctor, although that doctor doesn’t necessarily have to be on-site. The clinical, direct patient care work that a PA performs in a doctor’s office may look very similar to what the supervising doctor does, but the responsibility for the patient’s wellbeing and treatment plan is shared between the doctor and the PA.
Today’s doctors spend as much as half of their work hours not seeing patients but rather documenting data in electronic health records for insurance billing purposes, according to Forbes. PAs spend less time on administrative tasks and more time with patients.
PA Careers in Hospital Settings
The next biggest employer of physician assistants is the hospital industry. More than one-quarter of all PAs work in hospitals. Physician assistants may work in any number of specialty hospital units, including cardiovascular surgery and emergency medicine. Some PAs even specialize in hospital medicine, an area of medical practice specific to caring for patients in an inpatient hospital setting. A physician assistant in a hospital will perform rounds to check the status of patients and work closely with a team consisting of their supervising doctor, nurses and aides assigned to the patients and other healthcare professionals.
For PAs to seek specialty certification in hospital medicine – which isn’t required to work in a hospital but which can make you a more appealing job candidate – they need basic knowledge of a variety of interventions ranging from intubation to lumbar puncture.
The Role of Physician Assistants in Outpatient Centers
About 8 percent of PAs work in outpatient care centers – also known as ambulatory care facilities – according to the BLS. These clinics, surgical centers and other medical facilities are the sites of tests and procedures – even surgeries – that are performed with the intention that the patient will be discharged to recuperate at home.
While the surgeon – a physician – is the healthcare professional performing surgery in these environments, PAs play important parts in operations and procedures. They may serve as the surgeon’s first assistant and be responsible for securing all of the supplies and equipment the doctor will need during the procedure. Physician assistants may also provide post-operative care to a patient and plan for their discharge home, including providing discharge instructions and follow-up instructions in written format as well as going over these instructions with the patient.
Due to their significantly lower costs and excellent outcomes, outpatient procedures are becoming more and more common.
Where Else Physician Assistants Find Employment
Most PAs find work in a doctor’s office, hospital or outpatient care facility. However, one in 10 physician assistants works in a different setting. Nursing homes are another type of medical environment where PAs are needed, according to The Mayo Clinic. In some ways, working as a PA in a nursing home or other long-term care facility is similar to working in a hospital. You make regular rounds to see numerous in-house patients and you may work night shifts and weekends. However, in a nursing home setting, you will generally work primarily with geriatric patients. You’re not trying to get them well enough to be discharged home, but instead, addressing the medical concerns of residents who are living in the facility on a permanent basis.
You could also work in home health care, visiting homebound patients at their places of residence. Around 3 percent of PAs work in educational services, according to the BLS. Usually, this means teaching aspiring physician assistants, but PAs may occasionally find work within school systems or college health and wellness facilities. Another 2 percent of PAs work in the field of employment services, which can include temporary work arrangements made through staffing agencies, according to the BLS.
PAs can find roles in just about any health setting a doctor or nurse practitioner may work, including diet and fitness centers, retail clinics, phone triage centers and more.