Physician Assistant Specialties and Salaries

Physician assistants, also known as PAs, 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 of which provide higher pay than others.

Here are some specialties that PAs can practice ranked according to the highest paying areas of medicine based on the 2016 Statistical Profile of Certified Physician Assistants from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). The survey included 94 percent of all certified PAs.


Pathology — $119,000

Physician and assistant
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Physician assistants specializing in pathology earn the highest annual income on average, according to the NCCPA. With an average annual salary of $119,000 and a median (midpoint) income of $110,000, pathology is a very lucrative specialty for PAs.


Dermatology — $118,145

PAs in dermatology earn the second-highest annual income on average, according to the NCCPA, with an average annual salary of $118,145 and a median salary of $115,000.

Dermatology is a lucrative specialty for both physician and non-physician providers like PAs.

It combines medically necessary issues such as skin cancer and rashes, 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.


Emergency Medicine — $116,661

Another high-paying specialty for physician assistants in emergency medicine, a hospital-based practice seeing patients on a walk-in basis. These PAs diagnose and treat chronic and acute illnesses, perform physical exams, prescribe medications, and order or perform diagnostic tests such as x-rays or labs. While the average annual salary is $116,661, the median salary is $115,000.


Critical Care Medicine — $114,235

Physician assistants in the field of critical care medicine are another group of high-earning medical professionals. They average $114,235 per year, with a median salary of $105,000.


Surgical Subspecialties — $113,752

PAs who go into surgical subspecialties can expect to earn an average of $113,752 per year, with a median salary of $105,000. Among other things, physician assistants in surgical subspecialties provide education for families, treat and diagnose patients, prescribe medications, do physical exams, and help surgeons perform procedures. These surgical subspecialties include cardiothoracic, colon and rectal, gynecology and obstetrics, neurology, gynecologic oncology, ophthalmology, orthopedic, urology, vascular, oral and maxillofacial, otorhinolaryngology, plastic, and pediatrics.


General Surgery — $106,504

Physician assistants in general surgery earn an average of $106,504 annually, with a median income of $105,000. 


Lowest Paying Specialties for Physician Assistants

Not all physician assistants earn six-figure salaries. However, even the lower-paying PA jobs average in the $80,000-$90,000 range. According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook, PAs as a whole averaged around $101,480 in May 2016. 

The lowest paying specialties for physician assistants include:

  • Adolescent Medicine $81,607 
  • Gynecology  $87,609 
  • Pediatrics  $88,764 
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology — $89,942

Other specialties that physician assistants can choose to practice include anesthesiology, family medicine, hospice and palliative medicine, hospital medicine, preventative medicine, psychiatry, urology, pain management, internal medicine, occupational medicine, physical medicine, and radiology. These specialties all pay in the mid- to high-$90,000s or more.

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