10 traits every physician assistant needs

September 11, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Michaela poses with a newborn and fellow Gap Medics students at Iringa Regional HospitalBecoming a physician assistant is a good career choice for people who are interested in medicine and want to be involved in patient care. If you are interested in the field, you will need to graduate from a physician assistant program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant. 

But before investing time and money into an education to become a physician assistant, it may be helpful to get an idea of what strengths, skills and personal traits are needed in order to be successful in the field. Below are some of the most important traits a physician assistant needs. 


Emotional stability: As a physician assistant, you may be dealing with patients who are in critical condition. The work can be high stress. In addition, both patients and family members may sometimes become upset over their situations. Anger gets misdirected, and tempers may fly. Physician assistants need to be able to deal with all types of situations calmly without letting their personal feelings get in the way of providing the best possible care.    

Detail oriented: In some situations, small details can make all the difference when it comes to the patient’s treatment. As a physician assistant, you may be writing orders for medications and details are often vital to prescribing the correct dosage. You will also be charting information about the patient’s care, and the information needs to be accurate.  

Work well independently: Physician assistants work under the supervision of a licensed physician, but that does not mean they are side by side with the doctor at all times. A physician assistant often performs some of the duties of his or her supervising doctor in the place of the physician. For example, a physician assistant may examine patients post-operatively and follow up on their care while the doctor is performing surgery. Being able to work well on your own is a valuable skill for a physician assistant.   

Be a team player: It may seem like a contradiction to be a team player and work well independently, but as a physician assistant you will need to do both. There will be times when you will work along with other members of the allied healthcare team, such as nurses, therapists and case managers. Keep in mind that it takes a team of medical professionals working together to be able to provide optimal care for patients. 

Compassion: Most people have felt under the weather on occasion. Whether you had the flu or a minor injury, feeling sick is no fun. Now, imagine dealing with a serious medical condition. Patients and their family members may feel scared, confused or overwhelmed. Not everyone has medical knowledge, and all the information that accompanies a diagnosis can be difficult to deal with. All medical workers, including physician assistants, need to remember to treat patients with the compassion they need.

Good problem-solving skills: Strong problem-solving skills are another essential trait of a good physician assistant. Medicine is complex. Patients do not always present with textbook symptoms. They also do not always respond as they should to treatment. At times, making a diagnosis takes a little investigative work. You may need to rule out certain conditions before determining what the patient’s problem is.  There is also some trial and error when it comes to treatment. You may need to try different treatment approaches before something works effectively.

Adaptability: You may be doing one thing one minute and, at the next moment, you need to shift your focus to something completely different. That is how medicine sometimes works. Patients are unpredictable, and situations change quickly. Physician assistants often deal with new admissions, emergency consultations and unexpected procedures. Also, the doctor you are working with may suddenly need you to take on additional responsibilities. A physician assistant needs to be able to shift gears quickly. 

Confidence: Many times, you will be the eyes and ears of the physician with whom you are working. You may see the patients more than the doctor does. Physician assistants need to have strong patient assessment skills and good judgment. Assistants need to have confidence in their abilities and decision making. Keep in mind that confidence does not mean “winging it” when you are unsure of what to do. Knowing when you are in over your head and need help is also a sign of good judgment.  

Strong interpersonal skills: If you are not a people person, a career as a physician assistant may not be the right fit. Similar to other medical professionals, physician assistants work with people from many different backgrounds. You will need to communicate with all types of people and handle all different personalities. In addition to patients, you will deal with workers from many different medical disciplines. Strong interpersonal skills are needed to do well as a physician assistant.

Hard-working: Depending on where you work and what specialty you go into, you may need to be on call and work all types of hours. It is not uncommon for a physician assistant to work 12-hour shifts, and some may work more than 40 hours a week. Additionally, if you are a surgical physician assistant, you may need to spend a large part of your day in the operating room. Your workload may be large at times, and you may have to juggle several things at one time. Being hard-working may also involve having physical endurance. You may be on your feet and walking around the hospital all day. Depending on your workload for the day, breaks may need to wait. Being able to handle a hard day’s work is essential.

Before deciding on any profession, it is a good idea to take a look at your personality and strengths to help you decide if you are a good fit for the job. Your interest in the field and desire to be a physician assistant also plays a part in your choice to pursue the career. After evaluating your skills and strengths, determine your strengths and where you need a little work. Remember, there are always ways to improve.