Which Medical Specialties Can Physician Assistants (PAs) Work in?

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The third year of medical school is when most students choose a specialty, which is what their residency will be focused on. However, this isn’t necessary to become a physician assistant.

Future PAs only have to complete a physician assistant program that usually lasts only three years, but you’re still able to specialize in a specific area of medicine. Here’s a look at six medical specialties for PAs.

#1: Dermatology

Dermatologists specialize in treating conditions that affect the skin, nails, and hair. Physician assistants can also specialize in dermatology, assisting dermatologists in cosmetic injections and other cosmetic procedures, performing biopsies, and surgery.

Dermatologists and their PAs are typically employed in private practices, but they can also be employed in spas (including med spas).

#2: Emergency Medicine

Emergency medicine physicians and PAs specialize in treating illnesses and injuries that require immediate medical attention because they can be life-threatening to the people suffering from them.

While PAs won’t be able to perform surgery if necessary, they will be able to assist surgeons and other medical professionals. PAs can order and administer diagnostic lab tests. Emergency medicine physicians and PAs are usually employed in emergency settings, which are one of the most stressful places in healthcare.

#3: Family Medicine

Family medicine is also known as primary care, and it’s one of the most common types of medical practice. Some family practices are private, while others may be a part of a hospital network.

While employed in family practice, you’ll assist physicians and nurse practitioners (NPs) in diagnosing and treating various illnesses and providing physical examinations for people of all ages.

#4: Internal Medicine

As the name suggests, internal medicine physicians (also known as internists) diagnose and treat internal diseases and illnesses. Physicians and PAs working in internal medicine can also choose from one of many subspecialties.

Rheumatology

Rheumatologists and their PAs diagnose and treat autoimmune diseases, including arthritis. They don’t usually perform any surgeries or other invasive procedures (this is done by orthopedists), so that means that PAs don’t assist with surgery.

Oncology

Oncology physicians and PAs diagnose, treat, and study cancer as it occurs in the human body. The supervising physician (oncologist) will provide radiation or surgical treatment for cancer, while PAs will assist. Usually, the PA’s main role will be to educate patients about their cancer and explain the treatment options available.

Neurology

Neurologists and their PAs diagnose and treat disorders of the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and nervous system. In some states, you’ll be able to prescribe medications for your patients, but your main job duties will include conducting physical exams to diagnose and treat disorders.

Gastroenterology

Gastroenterology physicians and PAs diagnose and treat illnesses affecting the digestive tract, gallbladder, liver, and pancreas. As a PA in gastroenterology, your main duties will consist of assisting with minor surgeries and ordering, performing, and interpreting lab tests. You’ll be able to find employment in a physician’s office, hospitals (including emergency rooms), and outpatient centers.

Cardiology

Cardiologists and their PAs diagnose and treat diseases and other conditions affecting the heart and the entire cardiovascular system. Cardiologists can perform surgery, and in some states, PAs specializing in cardiothoracic surgery can also perform surgery under the supervision of the supervising physician.

#5: Obstetrics and Gynecology (OB/GYN)

OB/GYN PAs assist obstetricians and gynecologists in performing certain medical examinations that are exclusive to women. This includes breast exams, pap smears, and pelvic exams.

You’ll also assist in providing both prenatal and postnatal care to women of childbearing age and provide care to women going through menopause. You’ll typically be employed in an OB/GYN office, but you can also find employment in family practices, community healthcare centers, and urgent care centers.

#6: Pediatrics

PAs in pediatrics assist pediatricians in diagnosing and treating illnesses, diseases, and behavior problems that occur in children and adolescents. This means that you can be employed in a hospital’s pediatric unit, a pediatrician’s private practice, or any other medical setting that specializes in treating those under the age of 18 (sometimes 13).

The good news is that it’s easier for a PA to switch specialties than it is for a physician, meaning that if you want to try another specialty or subspecialty, you can easily switch.

This is because you don’t focus on a specialty during your schooling— instead, you receive a more generalized education that focuses on various parts of medicine. This is why many people decide to become a PA over a physician. You get more flexibility in where and what you practice, also opening you up to more job opportunities.