Choosing Your Specialty as a Physician Assistant

Working as a physician assistant can be an exciting and fulfilling career choice. Although they work under the direction of a doctor, physician assistants have a lot of independence on the job.  In many cases, physician assistants perform many of the same tasks as a doctor. For example, physician assistants may perform physical exams, take medical histories, and order and interpret diagnostic tests.

The role of a physician assistant is not limited to certain specialties. In fact, physician assistants work in most of the same specialties as doctors. When choosing which specialty to work in, it is important to consider various factors such as interests, personality traits, and the type of lifestyle you want. Below are some of the most common specialties for physician assistants.

Urgent Care

Urgent care centers provide immediate medical care to patients who have an illness or injury that is not an emergency but requires prompt care. Along with doctors, urgent care centers commonly employ physician assistants to care for a variety of patients. PAs in urgent care may treat patients with conditions such as sprains, cuts, minor infections, and the flu. Physician assistants who work in urgent care often work 8- or 12-hour shifts.

Emergency Room

Emergency rooms differ from urgent care centers in that the type of conditions they treat may also include life-threatening situations, such as a heart attack, stroke, or serious injury. A physician assistant in an emergency room may also treat patients with conditions like broken bones, serious infections, and traumatic injuries. The type of tasks they may need to perform are often more invasive and advanced than in urgent care. The work can be fast paced and exciting, which some people may enjoy.


Physician assistants also work in various types of surgery including cardiovascular, orthopedic, and general surgery. Responsibilities of a surgical PA may vary, but often include performing pre-operative exams, preparing the patient for surgery, and assisting the surgeon during procedures. Surgical physician assistants may also follow-up with patients after procedures to monitor healing, answer questions ,and provide discharge instructions. Physician assistants who specialize in surgery may work in surgical centers, hospitals, and in surgical private practices.

Because surgery can be complex, additional training beyond PA school is sometimes required to become a surgical PA.  Post-graduate surgical PA residences may be an option for those who are interested in getting into this specialty. Surgical physician assistants often work long hours, which may include being on call in case of surgical emergencies.

Family Practice

Family practice doctors often hire physician assistants to work in their practice. A family practice PA may have similar responsibilities to a doctor. For instance, a PA may examine patients, order diagnostic tests, and prescribe various types of treatment. Working in family practice may allow a PA the opportunity to get to know the patients they treat. In some instances, doctors and physician assistants in a family practice will care for patients over the course of many years, which some people enjoy.

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