Job Outlook for PAs: ‘Outstanding’

Field for physician assistants growing “much faster than average,” according to NYS Dept. of Labor

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

The physician assistant (PA) has become one of the most lucrative and employable positions in health care. PAs provide direct care to patients in conjunction with a physician and can focus on a medical specialty. Most schools in New York offer a five-year program that is an accelerated bachelor’s and master’s degree, which is followed by required certification.

The 2016 Statistical Profile of Certified Physician Assistants, a report by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, states that more than 115,000 certified PAs work nationwide, an increase of 44 percent in the previous four years.

According to the Department of Labor’s most recent statistics gathered in May 2016, Rochester employs 1.53 PAs per 1,000 people. Their average mean wage is $98,390. The average mean wage statewide is $107,030.

The Department of Labor predicts 37 percent increase in employment change between 2016 and 2026, cited as “much faster than average” growth.

“As demand for healthcare services grows, physician assistants will be needed to provide care to patients,” the site stated.

It only makes sense that the need for care providers has increased. With the jump in insured patients thanks to the Affordable Care Act and the decrease in providers as baby boomer physicians retire, demand for care providers has steadily risen. Many physicians use “physician extenders” — physician assistants and nurse practitioners — to help meet their patients’ needs.

Seth B. Zebrak, lead physician assistant for UR Medicine cardiovascular intensive care unit at Strong Memorial Hospital, speaks enthusiastically about his chosen career path.

Zebrak said that the job outlook for PAs is “outstanding. There’s a lot of potential. Nationwide, PAs have multiple job offers.”

He said that he has never heard of a physician assistant trying hard to find a job; in fact, most have jobs lined up well before graduation.

The physician assistant also has room for advancement through specializing, thanks to fellowships and residencies.

With that experience, “typically, you can get higher salary and more opportunities,” Zebrak said.

PAs practice in every surgical and medical care setting. A few examples include emergency medicine, cardiac care, general surgery, obstetrics, psychiatry, and neurosurgery. Zebrak said that the PA learns a lot about a specialty through on-the-job training.

Beyond the patient care setting, PAs may also find roles in administration of a health care facility or as faculty.

Zebrak said that good PA candidates will have people skills and previous medical experience, such as working as an emergency medical technician or paramedic. These types of employment help the candidate become familiar with medical settings and give a small taste of a few of the tasks PAs do daily.

“I’m looking for someone who is mature and can talk with patients calmly even in an emotionally charged situation,” Zebrak said.

They should also exhibit deep compassion for patients.

Zebrak advises would-be PAs to seek a program that offers more clinical opportunities so students receive plenty of chances to interact with patients and gain hands-on experience.

“More than just the degree and certification, having the experience helps PAs open up more opportunities,” Zebrak said.