Physician assistants are authorized to practice medicine, though they do so under the supervision of a physician or surgeon. They are different than medical assistants, who perform more clerical and traditional assistant roles in aiding doctors or physicians. The job outlook for physician assistants is quite good; according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job openings are expected to increase 39 percent between 2008 and 2018. A physician assistant's skill or specialty affects his annual salary, though according to the BLS, the median annual salary for physician assistants in general was $81,230.
According to PayScale, physician assistants who specialize in orthopedics have the highest salary range of all specialties listed. Orthopedic physician assistants earn between $74,810 and $92,898 as of April 2011.
Cardiology and Surgery
Physician assistants who specialize in cardiology have the second highest salary range in the PayScale survey. Those types of physician assistants earn between $75,226 and $91,546 a year as of April 2011. Physician assistants who specialize in surgery have a similar but slightly lower pay range between $74,995 and $91,546.
Family Practice, Internal Medicine and Dermatology
According to PayScale, in April 2011, physician assistants who specialize in family practice earn between $69,336 and $84,938. Family practice physician assistants who focus on pediatrics have a slightly higher pay range; they earn between $69,098 and $86,303 a year. Internal medicine physician assistants earn between $71,421 and $86,450 a year. Physician assistants who specialize in dermatology earn between $69,150 and $89,891 per year.
Salary by Employer Type
According to the BLS, employer type also affects a physician assistant's salary. For example, in 2008, physician assistants employed by general hospitals earned a median salary of $84,550, while those employed by outpatient care centers earned $84,390. Physician assistants who worked in physician offices earned $80,440 on average in 2008, while those who worked for the federal government executive branch earned $78,200. Physician assistants who worked at colleges or schools earned a median salary of $74,200 in 2008.