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Physician Assistant Specialties and Salaries

Which PA Specialties Earn the Most?

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Physician assistants are medical providers who can practice independently in some states, and work with the oversight of a licensed physician in other states. Physician assistants complete a master's degree from an accredited physician assistant program. Like physicians, PAs can specialize in a variety of medical specialties. Some specialties provide higher pay than others. Learn what specialties PAs can practice, and which are the highest paying areas of medicine for physician assistants, based on the 2012 compensation survey by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA).

1. Urgent Care - $132,727

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Physician assistants specializing in urgent care earn the highest annual income on average, according to the MGMA. With an average annual salary over $130,000, and a median (midpoint) income of $112,233, urgent care is a very lucrative specialty for physician assistants.

Urgent care is a walk-in model of primary care, for urgent but non-emergent medical needs like sprains, infections, and other acute conditions that don't necessarily warrant a trip to the emergency room, but need a quick remedy whether it's a medication or minor procedure.

The reason that this is a high paying specialty for PAs is probably partially due to the demand and need for practitioners in urgent care, combined with the favorable reimbursement levels for urgent care relative to some other specialties, and the volume of patients typically seen in urgent care in a given day.

The above salary is based on non-surgical practices. A surgical PA in urgent care earns an average income of $117,440.

2. Dermatology - $129,466

PAs in dermatology earn the second-highest annual income on average, according to the MGMA. Dermatology is a lucrative specialty for both physician and non-physician providers like PAs because it combines medically necessary issues such as skin cancer, rashes, etc., which are reimbursable from insurance plans, with cosmetic and elective procedures such as botox, skin peels, and fillers, which are paid on a cash basis by patients. Cash pay provides a boost to the bottom line of medical practices because it prevents interference from insurance companies, which can slow down cash flow and limit reimbursements.

3. Emergency Medicine - $116,779

Another high-paying specialty for physician assistants is emergency medicine, a hospital-based practice seeing patients on a walk-in basis.

4. Cardiothoracic Surgery - $113,596

Surgical physician assistants in the field of cardiothoracic surgery are another group of high-earning medical professionals. These specialists specialize in heart surgery and related surgical procedures of veins and arteries.

5. Neurosurgery - $111,981

Physician assistants in neurosurgery help neurosurgeons operate on the brain and spine primarily. Neurosurgeons are also among the highest-paid physician specialties, with some earning over $1 million annually.

6. Orthopedic Surgery - $111,717

Surgical physician assistants in orthopedic surgery specialize in surgery of bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and joints.

7. Lowest Paying Specialties for Physician Assistants

Not all physician assistants earn six-figure salaries. However, even the lower-paying specialties for PAs pay in the $90,000 range. The lowest paying specialties for physician assistants include:
  • OB/Gyn - $79,104 Obstetrics and gynecology focuses on women's health including pregnancy and pre-natal care, and delivering babies.
  • Neurology - $90,131 - The field of neurology treats disorders of the brain and nervous system, including stroke, head trauma, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's diseases, among many others.
  • Gastroenterology - $91,258 Gastroenterology is the field of medicine that treats conditions, disorders, and diseases of the digestive system.

Other specialties that physician assistants can choose to practice include cardiology, internal medicine, pediatrics, family medicine, and general surgery. These specialties all pay in the mid- to high-$90,000s.

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