PA salaries 2020: What PAs earn and which specialties pay the most

Physician assistant salaries are increasing overall, according to the most recent American Academy of PAs (AAPA) PA salary report. The AAPA surveyed more than 13,000 PAs between February 1 and March 1, 2020. Since that time, the COVID-19 pandemic has had clear impacts on PA earnings; however, the cumulative effect of coronavirus on PA income remains to be fully understood. Despite this unexpected downturn, the 2020 survey reveals interesting insights about PA salaries, including which specialties earn the most, the highest- and lowest-paying states for PAs, and potential growth areas.

Median salaries for PAs

The median compensation for PAs increased to $111,000 in 2019, up from a median of $107,500 in 2018. While nearly 80% of PAs earned an annual base salary ($110,000 in 2018, a $4,000 increase), 16% earned a median hourly wage. That median wage is now $62.73, a $2.73 increase from 2018.

Half of full-time PAs received a bonus, a median of $5,500. A small percentage of PAs surveyed (4%) were paid a productivity-based salary and reported a median of $145,000 annually for 2019.

The PAs earning the highest salaries are self-employed or independent contractors. They reported a median salary of $144,000 in 2019. Other PAs earning the highest annual salaries include those who worked for an HMO — $136,620 — or medical device manufacturer — $130,000. The lowest-paid PAs worked in school health clinics earning $98,500 annually, followed by those in outpatient clinics or doctor offices ($108,000 annually), and correctional centers ($109,000).

Chart showing PA salary by employer type

More than 38% of PAs reported they work in hospitals, but salaries varied depending on specialty. PAs who work in critical access hospitals reported the highest median salary, $125,000, followed by those in emergency departments at $123,168.

Chart showing PA salary by work setting

The lowest-paid hospital PAs worked in primary care (including family medicine, internal medicine, and general pediatrics) and earned a median salary of $105,000 in 2019.

Chart showing PA salary by specialty

Based solely on salary, PAs can expect to earn more if they work as independent contractors or find jobs outside clinics and hospitals at private healthcare industries. However, it’s important to consider cost of living and salaries in different states as well.

PA salary by state

The AAPA found that PAs earned the highest base salaries in Alaska, California, Nevada, and Wyoming and the highest hourly wages in Alaska, Nevada, Arkansas, and California in 2019. States with the lowest base salaries include Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee. PAs earn the lowest hourly wages in Nebraska, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

Chart showing PA salary by state

However, when considering the cost of living in each state, PAs earn the highest base salaries in Wyoming, Oklahoma, Nevada, and New Mexico. They earn the highest hourly wages in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

The states with the lowest annual salaries when considering cost of living were District of Columbia, New York, Massachusetts, and Maryland. Similarly, PAs in the District of Columbia, New York, New Hampshire, and Maryland earn the lowest hourly wages.

For more help determining whether it’s worth moving to a new state for higher income potential, check out the AAPA’s cost of living calculator.

Growth potential for PAs

When the AAPA collected survey data in March 2020, nearly 10% of PAs surveyed said they used telemedicine in their clinical practice. Of those using telemedicine, emergency medicine PAs were more likely to report this option (18.8%), followed by primary care PAs (11.8%), pediatric PAs (11.1%), and internal medicine (8.2%).

However, many healthcare settings closed physical offices due to the COVID-19 pandemic as early as March 2020 and began offering telemedicine as an option to patients. Physician assistants with experience working in telemedicine may find more opportunities as hospitals and clinics continue to expand video and phone consultations.

It’s worth noting that the PA profession remains young compared to other healthcare careers. Nearly 66% of PAs surveyed were younger than 40 years old, and almost 64% had fewer than 10 years of clinical experience as a PA. With many professionals still new in their careers, PAs are poised to adapt more easily as healthcare settings and organizations change.

Although COVID-19 has impacted healthcare salaries for many professionals, including PAs, the AAPA report shows an overall trend that PA compensation is increasing. While PA salary varies by specialty, healthcare setting, and state, a 3.3% increase from 2018 shows potential for continued growth. The career’s flexibility, particularly within telemedicine, also offers PAs many opportunities. Check out the AAPA’s online digital salary report for more information and other PA resources.

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