Surgical PA Profession

According to the AAPA, 25% of PAs have a general surgery specialty or surgical subspecialty.

Education & Licensing

AASPA - Surgical PA Profession

Physician Assistants are licensed health care professionals trained in the same format as physicians. The training is roughly two-thirds the length of medical school with over 100 weeks of general primary care education. The average physician assistant has a bachelor’s degree and four and a half years of health care experience prior to entering a PA program.

Educational Requirements for Surgical Physician Assistants

PAs usually enter surgical practice by one of three routes:

  • Graduation from an ARC-PA accredited surgically focused PA Program
  • Completion of a surgical residency for PAs (after attending PA school)
  • On the job training (after graduating from an ARC-PA accredited Program)

Accredited Academic Program

In every state, a prospective physician assistant must complete an accredited academic program. In 2007, 137 education programs for PAs were accredited or provisionally accredited by the AAPA. More than 90 of these programs offered the option of a master’s degree; the rest offer either a bachelor’s degree or associate degree.

A PA who wants to specialize in surgery assistance will want to choose a program designed with this focus in mind. Most programs are housed in universities, colleges, or other academic institutions. However, programs can also be found in hospitals and military facilities.

Surgical Residency

While not strictly required to become a surgical PA, surgical residencies offer an excellent opportunity to expand your PA skills and gain the experience needed to globally manage patient care in the pre-, intra- and post-operative settings, as is required in specialty positions.


Surgical PAs are licensed by each state to practice and must take a national certification exam given by the National Commission for the Certification of PAs (NCCPA). Each hospital board then credentials the surgical PA for specific practice privileges. So, surgical PAs are able to work anywhere the supervising surgeon has practice privileges.

Visit the NCCPA

The Growing Surgical PA Profession

Opportunities in all surgical specialties are exploding! Why is the surgical PA profession expanding so rapidly?

Cutbacks in Physician Surgical Residency Slots

The number of residency slots for physicians training in surgery has been decreasing yearly since 1980. The workload at surgical teaching institutions has not gone down, and surgical PAs are ideal for helping busy hospitals pre-op patients, keeping the OR close to schedule and performing admission and discharge work

Reduced Resident Work Hours

Regulations now require that all physician residents be limited to an 80-hour workweek. This has had a huge impact on the way that teaching hospitals function. AASPA has been working closely with physician and surgeon organizations to help combat the strain on the health care system. Surgical PAs are taking up the slack when the law requires that physicians-in-training go home.

Reimbursement for PA Surgical Services

PAs can be reimbursed for their services, making them effective in the business of medicine, both in large teaching hospitals and smaller private practices. The presence of a surgical PA on a surgeon's team allows the numbers of patients being treated to expand, thus creating sources of income.

Physician/Surgeon Relief

PAs are member of a team lead by the physician: PAs can use this relationship to become a true partner with the surgeon, which will free the surgeon to concentrate on the most complex cases. Surgical PAs often alternate “call” with their physicians.

The February 2002 edition of The Archives of Surgery report that medical students are showing a lower interest in a career in surgery. This will continue to stress the surgical workforce, and PAs are ideal to help fill the void.

Surgical PA Profession Advocacy

The final reason why our field is growing so rapidly is because of the daily work of the AASPA – much of it behind the scenes.

We network with physicians, surgeons, their organizations, hospitals, HMOs and more to guarantee that they know the effective role that surgical PAs have in healthcare. The surgical PA organizations were the first groups to ever create a marketing advertisement for our profession.

In general, surgical PAs are known as “champions of patient safety.” AASPA participates in national committees promoting safety in the peri-operative setting.

Employee Outlook

Recent statistics from, the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, CNN and others show that the PA is one of the fastest growing professions in the country!

The Department of Labor expects the PA profession to grow by 27% from 2006 to 2016 – much faster than the average for all occupations. and rated the PA profession as the fastest growing health profession, and the fourth fastest growing profession in 2007.

Surgical PAs – especially AASPA Members – are in Demand

Information from the AAPA shows that more than half of all PAs graduating are employed in specialty practice. Job opportunities for PAs in all surgical specialties are currently expanding dramatically, and there are more surgical PA opportunities than there are qualified individuals to fill those positions! Look at the employment section of any PA journal and you will find a majority of jobs for PAs are surgical.


More than 68,000 PAs work in clinical practices. However, the number of jobs is greater than the number of practicing PAs. According the AAPA, 15% of PAs in clinical practice hold more than one clinical job. For example, some PAs work with a supervising physician, but also work in another practice, clinic or hospital.

The 2008 AAPA Physician Assistant Census Report indicates that PAs work primarily for:

  • Single or Multi-specialty Physician Group: 44%
  • Hospitals: 24%
  • Solo Physician Office: 12%


According to the U.S. Department of Labor, median annual earnings of wage-and-salary physician assistants were $101,480 in 2016. Employment of physician assistants is projected to grow 37 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. As demand for healthcare services grows, physician assistants will be needed to provide care to patients.

According to the NCCPA, the top practice settings employing the largest number of PAs in May 2016 were:

  • Office Based Private Practice: 42.3%
  • General medical and surgical hospitals: 39%
  • Federal Government Facilities/hospitals: 5.7%
  • Community Health Center: 3.4%
  • Rural Health Clinic: 2.2%