If you’re trying to get a grasp of the physician assistant profession, you should probably know what the typical physician assistant looks like.  I just read the American Academy of Physician Assistants’ most recent census of the nation’s PAs (2009 data), and learned a few things:

The typical physician assistant is female

(About 65% are women).  To give you some perspective, about 50% of physicians are female, and more than 95% of nurse practitioners are female.

The typical physician assistant graduated from PA school at around age 30

A wide range of ages represented (about 50 % of PAs are between 25 and 33).  If this seems high to you, remember that most PA schools require several years of medical experience, so going to PA school straight out of college is not the norm.

The typical physician assistant has a bachelor’s degree or more education.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: the days of getting into PA school with less than a bachelor’s degree are numbered.

The typical physician assistant is white.

I wish I could say that the profession is very diverse, but sadly, I can’t.  PA schools site low numbers of minority applicants, but it’s not clear if this is the problem, or just something they say to help themselves sleep at night.  There is, however, a big push to improve this number.

The typical physician assistant has been out of school for 11 years, and is therefore about 41.

What can I say – on the whole, we are a middle aged profession.  The is probably a reflection of the time it takes to accrue medically-related experience.

The typical physician assistant practices in a group practice (29.5%)

Practicing in a group is more efficient.  Billing, appointment scheduling, filing, and medical assistant duties are shared, which reduces overhead.

The typical physician assistant practices primary care (~25%).

The next closest specialty was emergency medicine, at 10.3%

The typical physician assistant practices in a metropolitan area with a population greater than 1 million.

There is a push to get PAs to work in more rural settings, but it seems this is hard to accomplish.  Let’s face it – there are many many more jobs in the city, and they tend to pay more.

The typical physician assistant (who works at least 32 hours/wk) sees 70 patients per week, an average of 14 per day if working 5 days per week.

Compare this with physicians, who may see twice this number.  It’s no wonder PAs say they like having more time with their patients, and physicians usually report feeling continually rushed.

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If you don’t fit the above demographic, don’t panic – you can still do this.  But it helps to know what types of people you are up against.  There are many great stats in this report, which should give you a better idea of what practicing as a PA is really like.  You can find the complete document at the AAPAs website by clicking here.