PA Demographics: Who is the Typical Physician Assistant?

Posted By: Paul   |   PA Profession   |   4 Comments

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.


  1. Tom Riordan July 30, 2012 at 10:09 pm - Reply

    Thank you for breaking down the research, this really helped!

  2. Uzoama November 7, 2015 at 7:58 pm - Reply

    Hi Paul
    Thank you so much.I am classified as a minority and am eager to get into the PA career.This helps to know what am up against.I just hope the PA schools want the profession to be diverse.This is one area where medicine and nursing are good at.They try to make sure the schools are diverse

  3. Jonathan Opliger January 4, 2016 at 10:26 am - Reply


    You say:
    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.

    I am a 51 year old white male and have been discriminated against numerous times – namely when I applied to multiple US medical schools 15 years ago. I was rejected 4 years until I finally scored upper 2% on the MCAT and got accepted. Minorities constantly matriculated with lower GPAs, MCATs and less medical experience. Minorities also had a special room (Univ. of Kansas School of Medicine) that only they knew about where they could get free printing services etc. regardless of income. I was much poorer than an Hispanic female fellow student of mine yet she got free prints etc.

    If my kid was sick I would want the most qualified doctor. I sat next to an Hispanic male during tests in medical school and watched him continually cheat using notes stored in his calculator (before they handed out calculators).

    Look at AAMC stats – its a fact – minorities don’t need to score as high as white males.

    I am tired of people like wishing for more minorities. Please consider EVERYONE’s feelings and try to be truly color blind.

    Jonathan Opliger

    • Paul January 18, 2016 at 9:27 am - Reply

      Dear John — while I understand your feelings about that system being unfair, I don’t agree with your solution. I do think we need more “minorities” in medical training. That said, I’ve never believed that affirmative action type rules are the way to do so. What we really need is:

      1) PA and MD school classes demographically representative of the public
      2) PA and MD school students who are all similarly qualified (not necessarily equally)
      3) Fairness in school with respect to the costs that are borne by students

      The MD profession has a very long and entrenched history of being only white men. Only in recent years has that changed. Women are now more numerous than men. I’m glad that med schools now have a more diverse student body. Unfortunately, it happened because they saw the problem and “fixed” it artificially, by establishing rules that were equally unfair to white males. The solution to me seems that we need a cultural shift on many levels so that those who have been traditionally underrepresented are just as likely to perform well as those who have not. I think it’s a class issue — people of color in this country are still fighting to have the same opportunities that white people have always experienced as privilege. I have a sense for it, because I’m a tall, straight, white, male, and I’m aware how much privilege I have that some of my friends who are not tall/straight/white/male have not had. Only when the playing field is level from the beginning, will the three items above be possible. I do, however, understand why you feel that you’ve been treated so unfairly. Thanks for your comment.

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