In 2012 the median physician assistant salary according to the US Department of Labor was $91,000. A salary range from $73,000 for the bottom 10% and $128,000 for the top 10% of earners includes physician assistants of all geographic locations and specialties of practice. Salary can range drastically depending on these two factors but the most telling influencer of salary for a physician assistant is level of education and specialty they focus on.
In general, a physician assistant with a specialty of cardiovascular surgery will earn more than working in primary care. This almost certainly has to do with the level of education one must complete to qualify to be a cardiovascular surgeon but also the scarcity of individuals qualified for that position puts a premium on their talent and they a usually paid accordingly.
Below we have a sampling of some of the more common specialty fields and their average salary.
• Cardiovascular Surgery - $121,000
• Emergency Care - $102,000
• General Surgery - $95,000
• Pediatric - $90,000
• Primary Care - $88,000
As mentioned, the above are average salaries for physician assistants across all geographic locations and employer types. Those on the higher end of the salary scale tend to work in private physician offices with a specialty in cardiovascular or emergency surgery. Those on the lower end of the salary scale may work in an educational or government institution and focus on a more general area of medicine like primary care.
When speaking of geographic location, we're talking about urban areas versus less populated regions. Many of the more specialized professionals are in higher demand in urban areas where the population is more dense and there are generally higher rates of need for emergency care due to crime rates and traffic accidents. More rural areas generally operate with smaller staff and smaller budget and transfer more specialized cases to larger facilities in more urban settings. That said, with many urban medical centers finding themselves overwhelmed with shrinking budgets and inability to meet the needs of the aging baby boom generation, more and more smaller facilities outside of urban areas are paying more and offering training programs to make their physician assistants more specialized and capable of meeting the local population's needs without having to transport them to an urban center for treatment.
The majority of physician assistant graduates are entering the workforce in primary care but continuing their education and branching off into more specialized fields after achieving certifications for their preferred specialty.