Working as a physician assistant in the ER

August 28, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Discussing surgery in operating room, Tanzania Physician assistants who enjoy seeing patients with a wide variety of conditions in a fast-moving environment may enjoy working in the emergency room. Although physician assistants work under the supervision of the emergency room doctors, they still need to have good judgment and be able to work independently.

What are the duties of a physician assistant in the ER?

If you have ever watched a medical show on television, the emergency room may seem like a place where every situation involves life and death. Although patients do come to the ER with severe injuries from accidents, heart attacks and other life-threatening problems, not all patients have serious medical conditions. In reality, many patients in the emergency room are treated for non-life threatening conditions, such as the flu, broken bones, cuts and viral infections.

In some hospitals, physician assistants may care for patients who do not have serious or life-threatening conditions. The patients with life-threatening conditions may be treated by an emergency room physician. In other cases, physician assistants perform a lot of the same duties as emergency room doctors and treat all types of patients. There are not typical restrictions on what a physician assistant can do in the emergency room. Individual hospitals may develop policies on how best to use physician assistants. 

Regardless of the severity of the condition, physician assistants working in the emergency room will perform physical exams, order diagnostic tests and review laboratory tests and x-rays. They may also perform a wide variety of procedures, such as fracture reductions, stitches, the draining of abscesses and wound care. Advanced procedures physician assistants may do in the ER include inserting a breathing tube into the trachea, placing central lines and draining fluid from the lungs.

Emergency room PA education

If you think working in the emergency room as a physician assistant sounds like a good fit for you, you will need to graduate from a physician assistant training program accredited by a professional organization, such as the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant.  The requirements to get into school to become a physician assistant vary, but most programs require either an associate or bachelor’s degree. Some programs also require students have completed a certain number of hours working in the medical field. Physician assistant programs vary in length. Most programs are between 24 and 28 months. After graduating, physician assistants need to become licensed in the state they will be working in. Licensing is obtained by taking a certification exam.

Some healthcare facilities may hire physician assistants to work in the ER after they become licensed. In other cases, a hospital may require a physician assistant complete an emergency medicine physician assistant residency, which is usually about 18 months long. 

Opportunities and salary

Physician assistants are hired to work in emergency rooms of all sizes, including small community hospitals and large medical centers. They may also find work in pre-hospital settings, such as medical air transport companies and critical care ambulance companies. Salaries will vary depending on the amount of experience a person has. According to the Society of Emergency Medicine Physician Assistants, the average salary for a physician assistant in the United States working in the ER is about $140,000 a year.