Shadowing a physician assistant

If you wish to become a physician assistant, a powerful way to get a feel for the position is through shadowing a physician assistant (PA) while he or she works in the medical surroundings where they work. This will offer the knowledge you need to come up with a good, well-informed conclusion as to whether this work is suited to your ambitions.

How to find physician assistant to shadow

Shadowing A Physician AssistantA good way to start shadowing a physician assistant is to drop by or call local health care facilities or doctors practices and ask if they would allow PA shadowing of one of their physician assistants.  If the facility doesn’t allow PA shadowing, be sure to inquire whether they could direct you to a hospital or private practice that would allow you to shadow a Physician Assistant. Be aware of the fact that many healthcare facilities don’t allow students to shadow PA’s because of privacy concerns.

Second, connect with other pre-physician assistant candidates and current PA students. It’s possible that they could put you in touch with a practicing PA who would be open to letting you shadow him or her.

A third alternative is to volunteer at a health care facility where physician assistants are employed. This will give you the opportunity to meet some of the hospital staff which might later turn into the opportunity to shadow a PA. This can be doubly good because experience gained through volunteering often counts towards the work related experience hours you need in many PA programs.

A fourth way is to email or write your state’s Physician Assistant association. They might provide you with a list of physician assistants in your area who would be willing to allow a student to shadow them.

How to be a good shadow

There are some things you can do when shadowing a physician assistant which will keep you in good graces with your PA.

  • Be punctual. Physician assistants are extremely busy people today. Always be prompt if you possibly can or at worst be on-time.
  • Have on more comfortable footwear. Physician assistants stand a lot of the working day this means you should be able to walk around and stand plenty.
  • When you show up to shadow a PA, Eat a smart breakfast in order that you will possess energy and endurance. PAs generally try to eat meals when an opportunity presents itself, therefore anticipate to go extended periods while not eating in any way.
  • Don’t wear apparel that could be improper or even revealing. As a shadow, you’re not supposed to stand out so don’t wear something that would likely call attention to you.. And do not use perfume. A lot of health related facilities currently have regulations against fragrances because the chance that it could trigger allergic reactions.
  • Be wary of where you position yourself.. If in case you have any doubt, question the Physician Assistant the place you really should stand and what would be most useful to them.
  • Go along with the physician assistant to where ever he or she goes with the exception of, of course, the bathroom.
  • Be quiet. Don’t disturb the PA with chit chat unless he or she initiates the discussion. Do not ever give any kind of insight unless requested. As described before, Physician Assistants are extremely busy. Even if you find yourself alone,  your PA  is likely thinking about patients. This is the PA’s time and not yours.
  • Be sure to be polite. You are  most likely going be working together with patients. They’re probably those that had a preceding history with the Physician Assistant and that trust her or him. Don’t forget that the patient is letting you compromise their privacy, so be respectful and polite. Here the PA may ask the patient before beginning the exam if it’s okay for you to be in the room during the consultation. If the patient says no, go out of the room and give them the needed privacy. Wait for your Physician Assistant to complete the examination. And don’t eavesdrop.
  • When there’s time, you may ask questions. The PA might be open to providing answers to questions at the proper time, between examining patients, at meals or after the daily routine dies down a bit. First, ask and then wait for the appropriate time. One important thing to discuss with the PA is the physician assistant certification in your state. The PA knows you want to learn and that asking questions is a great way for you to do this. Just make sure that when you ask your questions, the time is appropriate.

Shadow more than one Physician Assistant

If possible, it’s good to shadow several PAs. Just like physicians, they’re different in their approach to patients, the way they handle exams and their bedside manners. There are also different health care specialties that use Physician assistants. By shadowing several different PAs, you’ll not only get a feeling for what it takes to do the job, you’ll be able to see how they handle their work emotionally. While shadowing a physician assistant you will be able to  evaluate which specialty or type of medicine appeals to you most and reach a better long term career decision.

Physician Assistant Associations and Resources

There is a great deal of benefit early in your quest to become a Physician Assistant (PA) to getting involved in as many industry groups and Physician Assistant Associations as you can.  They can connect you with whats going on in your profession, they sponsor educational and networking events, publish incredible magazines, keep up with laws effecting the PA profession and collect statistics about your Physician Assistant Career such as salary info, advanced education, and working conditions.
If you are getting near graduation or just want to get the most information you can join one of the following as soon as possible and get the publications. Also if possible attend one of the conventions to see the vendors and meet others who already work in the industry to get a feel for trends and to help decide on your Physician Assistant career path.
Some of the primary organizations that you will want to contact are:


AAPA – American Academy of Physician Assistants –  The premier site with student and entry level memberships for $75 annually. The benefits of being a member are:
  • Advocacy and Government Affairs  - provides lobbying on behalf of your profession
  • CME and Education Services – They organize and put together continuing educational opportunities for its members. Many states require a large number of continuing education units to maintain your license.
  • Insurance Programs – Discounted Malpractice, liability and personal insurance products.
  • Publications and Information Services – Source for hundreds of publications. Reference Books, resource guides, a Physician Assistant Magazine published monthly,
  • Professional Development Services – They have an incredible networking event and trade show event annually.
  • Employment Tools – Joblines and Salary statistics.
  • AFPPA – Association of Family Practice Physician Assistants, If you are are thinking of being in a general practice or primary care physicians office this is the only association entirely devoted to the industry.  Primary Care physicians represent the largest area of employment for physician assistants. The annual fee is $120 per year.   Student Members only pay $25.
    Some of the benefits are:
  • 3 annual conferences
  • A quarterly newsletter
  • includes subscription to ReachMD radio station on XM radio
  • Job opportunity listings
  • multiple student scholarships
  • Make sure you check for your regional state Physician assistant associations also. They are easily found with a quick web search. All states have regional physician assistant associations and  can be some of the best sources of special information regarding education, insurance, and legal requirements where you plan to work.

    Physician Assistant Employment

    Physician Assistant Employment

    As of 2008,  physician assistant employment totaled 74,800 jobs. This is actually larger than the number of PAs who are practicing because there are a few who are employed at two or more jobs. As an example of this, some PAs work in a healthcare facility but also work for a supervising physician. In fact, according to the American Academy of Physicians Assistants, about 15% of those with Physician Assistant Employment worked in more than one clinical job at the same time.
    The number of PAs is expected to grow by 39% from 2008 to 2018. With the passage of the affordable care act it is likely that physician assistants will play a larger role in providing access to the millions of new patients that will enter the healthcare system over the coming years of implementation.  Many doctors will be forced to add multiple physician assistants to deal with the new patient load and to meet lowerprovider payments that are expected.

    Physician Assistant Employment In physician’s offices

    About 53% of physician employment jobs are in physicians’ offices while an estimated 24% are in surgical hospitals–both public and private–and also in general practice and specialty medical offices. The remaining physicians assistants were mostly in health maintenance organizations, outpatient care centers, public and private colleges and universities and the federal government. Interestingly enough, very few PAs are self-employed.
    Employment opportunities for PAs are expected to grow much faster than the average and are rated as “good,” especially in rural and inner-city areas.

    Cost-effective and productive members of the healthcare team

    The thing about physician assistants is that they can be cost-effective and productive members of the healthcare team. This is because they can relieve doctors of routine duties and procedures. It is clear that physicians and other healthcare providers will use more physician assistants as the various states continue to expand their scope of practice by allowing them to perform or procedures.
    While the majority of PAs today work in physician’s offices, there is expected to be a growing number of jobs in such institutional settings as hospitals, public clinics, prisons and academic medical centers.

    A great outlook

    Physician assistant employment as is not only a career with a bright outlook, it also pays extremely well. The average mean wage of a PA working in the office of a physician is $84,720. Those working in outpatient care centers have an annual mean wage of $87,060 and those employed in general medical and surgical hospitals have an average mean wage of $86,850.

    Work on your own

    While a PA must be supervised by a physician (called a collaborative physician), he or she does not necessarily have to be in the same office. A number of PAs work by themselves in satellite offices or in remote, underserved areas. The supervision by a physician can be in person, by telecommunication or by some other means–for example, the physician may be available for consultation as required.

    Specialize to earn even more

    PAs can do even better if they become qualified for one of the several physician assistant specialties available. For example, PAs working in cardiovascular/cardiothoracic surgery show a mean annual wage of $110,468 and those specializing in dermatology can expect to earn about $104,474. And PAs in neurosurgery have a mean annual salary of $98,024.  Physician Assistant employment provides a lot of specialty opportunities, check out the charts at Physician Assistant Salary.

    Physician Assistant Salary

    Physician Assistant SalaryPhysician Assistant Salary

    Physician assistant (PA)  salary tends to vary based on two factors: first, where the Physician Assistant works–such as the office of a physician or in a hospital–and where the PA is located geographically.
    The annual mean physician assistant salary when working in the office of a physician was $84,720 in 2008.  This compares with the average mean physician assistant salary in 2006 was $74,980 per year, an increase of $9,470 in just two years or about 12.5%.
    If the Physician assistant  works in a general medical and surgical hospital, his or her average mean physician assistant salary was slightly higher–$86,850.
    A physician assistant  working in outpatient care center could expect an average mean physician assistant salary of $87,060 and one employed by the Federal Executive branch might see an average mean physician assistant wage of $81,180.

    Physician Assistant Specialties

    Physician Assistants who practice in physician assistant specialities generally earn more than the average physician assistant salary of all PAs. This makes sense because to become a PA in a specialty requires a residency, much like that of a doctor specializing in a certain field such as nephrology.
    A Physician Assistant specializing in cardiovascular and cardiothoracic surgery could see an annual Physician Assistant salary of around $110,468. As another example, a Physician Assistant specializing in dermatology might earn around $104,474 and in neurosurgery $98,024.

    On the other hand, a Physician Assistant specializing in rheumatology enjoys average Physician Assistant salary of $81,224 and in obstetrics/gynecology $79,229. The average median Physician Assistant Salary  of some other specialties are public health, $81,387; critical care medicine, $96,984; nephrology, $80,842; and a, $78,956.

    Physician Assistant Salary Graph

    A link to current PA Salaries averaged that are being currently offered is below – If you click on the View larger graph you will see current salaries for many specialty branches and trends.

    Annual mean Physician Assistant Salary by geographic area

    Physician assistant salaries also vary based on where he or she practices. As examples of this, a PA practicing in Maine has an annual mean wage of $85,950, while one practicing in West Virginia would have an annual mean wage of $77,560. Alaska is a good place for a physician assistant to practice because the average mean wage there is $81,530. Nevada is even better with an annual mean wage of $103,500; Washington, $96,980, and Connecticut, $96,380.
    How this stacks up against related jobs
    The annual mean Physician Assistant salary of a PA stacks up very, very nicely against other related occupations. For example, a registered nurse has a mean annual wage of $66,530,  and a radiation therapist $77,340. Emergency med techs have a mean annual wage of $51,460 if they’re in the 90th percentile, and police and detective supervisors see a median annual wage of $75,490. In fact, about the only job that pays more on the average than that of the physician assistant salary is an air traffic controller whose mean annual wage is $106,990.