There is a physician assistant specialty that is perfect for you, be it surgery, emergency medicine, internal medicine, dermatology, and urology.  If you are considering a career in physician assistant medicine, having an idea about what physician assistant specialty you might train in will help to guide your career trajectory.

About a week ago I wrote on the physician assistant personality, and John Holland’s theory that you tend to enter careers that align with your own personality.  Even if you aren’t yet in PA school, start thinking about which physician assistant specialty might be right for you–now.   Why?  There are two primary reasons:

  1. First, it could make the difference between attending one PA school and another.  For example, my school, UC Davis School of Medicine, places huge value on primary care (AKA general practice or family practice) as a physician assistant specialty.  If primary care wasn’t a good fit for me, it would have made more sense for me to go somewhere else.
  2. If you are interested in a competitive specialty (say, cardiothoracic surgery) you can start shaping your education right now.  You can learn about the specialty, make contacts, and line up clinical experiences that will make you the ideal candidate for work in that area when you graduate.

But how can you know which clinical specialty is right for you before you’re in the field?  You can’t.  What you can do is get a feel for which physician assistant specialty or specialties tend to fit with–you guessed it–your personality.   I should say here that many feel that the power of the PA license is its versatility.  Even so, the world will always need PAs who are experts within specialty areas of medicine.

The MSAT is a quick and free inventory that ranks the various medical specialties that might be a good fit for you and who you are.  It’s helpful and interesting.

Before you take the MSAT, you should know:

  • The test is designed for pre-meds (pre-MD), not PAs.  There’s no way to know if it’s less valid for pre-PA students or not, so just keep this in mind.
  • Because it’s designed for pre-meds, there are specialties listed that may have fewer openings available to PAs.  With that said, there are PAs working in most or all of the areas listed.

Don’t read into this test too much – I include it here to help guide your search for a physician assistant specialty that might be your calling.

Click Here To Take The Medical Specialty Aptitude Test (link)

physician assistant specialties
It’s never too early to think about physician assistant specialties. Besides – it’s fun.
  • Miguel V. February 11, 2011, 4:44 am

    Great article! And that brainstorm diagram with arrows in the bottom was priceless! I laughed the whole way thru. :)

    You mention in the article that some schools are a better choice for certain specialties. How do we, pre-pa students, would go about finding out which are the best programs for these particular specialties? Do you know of any resource where they list this info by some ranking mechanism?

    I know this ranking exists:
    http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-health-schools/physician-assistant-rankings

    But how bout one geared more towards specialty training?

    Reply
    • Paul February 11, 2011, 4:43 pm

      You should start by contacting prospective schools and asking for their information packet. You can also ask by phone (you don’t have to give your name if you don’t want to) if they prepare students for any particular specialty, or group of specialties. Most don’t, but you still shouldn’t assume. It’s a great question, and I will post some more ideas about this in an upcoming post. Thanks for the compliment, and the question! -P

      Reply
  • Kevin December 29, 2011, 7:31 pm

    HA HA HA, great flow chart. I keep leaning towards family practice but it just sounds kind of boring. I’m hoping to bounce around a little, I’d like to do emergency medicine, some general surgery, some obgyn, pediatrics and then land in family practice, maybe some of them concurrently, do you think that’s possible?

    Reply
  • Claudia May 1, 2012, 9:08 pm

    is there any way to download the flow chart? I’m having a hard time reading it(on iPad) but would love check it out as it looks super helpful. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Paul May 1, 2012, 10:03 pm

      You should be able to right click it and pull down to “save as.”

      Reply
  • Brian Wallace May 4, 2012, 12:18 pm

    A very important consideration when thinking about specialty fields is lifestyle. Not only that, but PAs are used in different ways at each hospital or office even among the same specialty. Family medicine is typically one office location 9-5 Monday through Friday (blow my brains out). Private surgery is usually a few days a week in an office and a few days a week in the OR. It may include a hospital day to two. ER is usually something like 4 ten hour shifts and when you leave at the end of the day you are done. There is a lot to consider even aside from the medical areas that you like. The graphic is GREAT!!

    Reply
  • claudia May 4, 2012, 7:59 pm

    Thanks for graphic tip, got it now.

    Wondering how common is it for PAs to have 1 full time job and then also take on part time work? And is it possible to do it in different specialties? My ‘interest’ take me to ER and Dermatology.

    What are typical hours/setting for Derm specialty. Thanks All!

    Reply
    • Paul May 5, 2012, 8:46 am

      It’s not uncommon. We’ve had PA lecture to our class who worked in primary care by day, and psych or emergency as a moonlighting gig. Probably easier the closer the specialities you hope to practice in are – neurosurgery and dermatology might not work so well…

      Reply
  • Maggie June 17, 2012, 4:50 pm

    Hi Paul,

    I’m interested in applying to the UC Davis PA program. I was wondering if you had a hard time searching for a job in CA. How long did it take you to find a job and did the PA program help you as far as job searching? I’m worried about employment. Thanks for the help!

    Reply
    • Paul June 17, 2012, 8:08 pm

      I just graduated last Saturday, so I don’t yet have a job. The program does not have employment assistance, per se (something I asked about when I interviewed). They told me that they had not heard of a graduate having difficulty finding a job in recent years. However the challenge is sometimes in finding the job that you want in a particular geographic area, and it depends a lot on the local demographics, income, number and size of local hospitals, etc. Most of my classmates are currently in the process of applying and interviewing. Some of them have jobs already, and some do not.

      Reply
  • Yelena September 16, 2012, 8:12 pm

    Your specialty map is PRICELESS!!! Way better then the aptitude test! Thank you for creating this website and putting together this great map!

    Reply
    • Paul September 16, 2012, 11:43 pm

      Thanks! I thought it was fun too!

      Reply
  • Leslie December 25, 2012, 11:53 pm

    Thanks for the specialty map! It helped a lot and I think I’m interested in dermatology and radiology. Do you declare a specialty after your 2 years of PA school? And how do you get to your specialty?

    Reply
    • Paul December 26, 2012, 5:00 pm

      No – specializing happens when you accept a job. If you really like the specialty, you continue to take jobs in that area and to develop your knowledge and skills. That’s it. There are a very few residencies (usually in surgical specialties, but they’re rare and most people don’t do them because they aren’t necessary).

      Reply
  • Shana January 18, 2013, 12:34 pm

    I just wanted to say I love your blog!! Keep up the good work! Also, the specialty map is very entertaining.

    Reply
    • Paul January 20, 2013, 10:28 am

      Thanks, Shana!

      Reply
  • abiola October 13, 2014, 2:09 pm

    Hi Paul am Ghanaian with a Bsc. Pa is it possible to do masters in uc Davis or other place and what is required??

    Reply
    • Paul November 2, 2014, 2:19 pm

      It is possible. You should contact the schools that interest you and ask them for their requirements for international student applicants.

      Reply

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