What Areas Can A Physician Assistant Specialize In?

If you’re thinking of pursuing a career as a physician assistant, you’re probably wondering what areas of medicine they can practice in. You might be surprised to discover PAs can specialize in a variety of fields.

Because of their varied education, continued medical education requirements, and on-the-job training from supervising physicians, PAs possess a great deal of versatility. They often find this leads to flexibility in their career paths. These are some of the more common PA specializations.

Pediatric physician assistant with mother and child.

Family medicine and general practice

Family medicine and general practice is the most common practice area among physician assistants. The National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants reported that nearly 20% of PAs were certified in family medicine or general practice.

PAs working in family medicine are trained to deal with a large variety of medical issues that might be encountered in the general population. They may order lab tests, perform physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, and manage chronic conditions. In primary healthcare where there may be physician shortages, a PA can help patients receive the care they need when they need it.


Physician assistants specializing in dermatology often diagnose and treat conditions that are related to the skin, and even patients’ hair or nails. PAs may even perform both medical and cosmetic surgical procedures. In some cases, PAs may also prescribe medications for dermatological conditions.


Only about 3% of PAs enter into pediatric medicine, according to the same study from the JAAPA. When working in pediatrics, PAs are typically practice either outside of a  hospital setting and provide inpatient care, or they work in a pediatric or neonatal unit.

Occupational medicine

Occupational medicine is an uncommon specialty for physician assistants. A study from the JAAPA reported that only about 1% of PAs work in occupational medicine. Occupational medicine, also known as occupational health, typically focuses on diagnosing and treating work-related injuries.

It’s important for PAs employed in occupational health to remain current on federal and state regulations for workforce health and safety. Besides the treatment of work injuries, PAs in occupational medicine may provide workers’ compensation case management follow-up and workplace health and safety education.

General surgery and surgical subspecialties

Only about 3% of PAs enter into general surgery practice; however, surgical subspecialties, including cardiothoracic, neurological, and orthopedic surgery, are quickly on the rise, with around 24% of PAs working in a surgical subspecialty in 2013.

Emergency medicine

Emergency medicine is another common specialization. According to the JAAPA, around 11% of physician assistants work in emergency medicine. This type of care might see PAs working in the emergency room, urgent care, or critical care units.


Psychiatry is another field in which PAs are greatly needed. Many patients need to wait months to see psychiatric providers, but PAs can bridge the gap and provide critical mental healthcare.

PAs in psychiatry work under the supervision of a psychiatrist. In this role, they may complete patient assessments, order labs, assist with medication management, and more.

Want to learn more about what physician assistants can do? Explore career opportunities, salary information, and more.