The Highest-Paid PA Specialties | Top 20 List

May 7, 2024
6 min read


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 5/7/24

Are you planning on becoming a physician assistant? Wondering what the highest-paid PA specialties are? Well, we got you covered! In this guide, we’ll provide a list and an overview of PA specialties' salaries. 

Once you’ve finished PA school and taken the PANCE, it’s time to start practicing! Although PAs work in multiple specialties, some are more lucrative than others. Becoming a PA can open doors to high salaries; we’ll review the top-paying physician assistant specialties below!

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Top 20 Highest-Paid PA Jobs

PAs are incredibly valuable members of the medical profession! There are a number of areas that you can choose to specialize in if you’re hoping to become a PA, all with their own pros, cons, and salary ranges. The average median annual income for PA positions is $127,000 and continues to rise. 

The AAPA states that the highest-paying PA specialties include: 

  • Cardiovascular/cardiothoracic surgery
  • Dermatology
  • Emergency medicine
  • Occupational medicine
  • Critical care

Below is a table that covers even more of the highest-paid specialties for physican assistants.  

PA Specialty Median Annual Income
Cardiovascular/Cardiothoracic Surgery $152,500
Dermatology $145,000
Transplant surgery $140,691
Cardiology $142,000
Emergency Medicine $133,990
Urology $133,921
Occupational Medicine $133,120
Critical Care $133,000
Orthopedic $131,785
Oncology $131,345

PA Specialty Median Annual Income
Surgical Subspecialties (Other) $130,000
Psychiatry $130,000
Neurosurgery $129,000
Pediatric $129,310
Urgent Care $128,980
Orthopedic Surgery $128,000
Primary Care $126,713
Rheumatology $122,400
Gastroenterology $120,212
Family Practice $105,708

1. Cardiovascular/Cardiothoracic Surgery - $152,500

PAs in this specialty work beside cardiothoracic surgeons to care for patients before they undergo surgical procedures. The types of surgery patients undergo for this area of medicine includes the heart, lungs, and chest wall.  

PAs in this field speak to patients about what they can expect during and after a procedure. They also monitor how a patient is doing during and after surgery. Approximately 2.3% of PAs work in this specialty and have a median of nine years of experience. 

2. Dermatology - $145,000

Dermatology physician assistants work with dermatologists to provide care in the skin care field. They’re trained to examine and diagnose skin-related health problems, administer treatments, and monitor a patient's progress under a dermatologist's supervision. 

They can also order lab tests, write prescriptions, and perform many procedures for various skin diseases. Approximately 3.2% of PAs work in dermatology and have a median of six years of experience. 

3. Transplant Surgery - $140,691

Transplant surgery PAs are fully trained to assist surgeons in the operating room during all kinds of transplant surgery. This might include liver transplants, kidney transplants, and more. 

Transplant surgery PAs also work with patients to help them understand how transplantation works as well as proper procedures to follow. 

4. Cardiology - $142,000

Cardiology physician assistants work with cardiologists to provide proper care to patients. This may include participating in surgery, explaining important elements of heart and cardiovascular health care to patients, and performing certain tests and exams that don’t require a cardiologist. 

Roughly 2,300 PAs practice in cardiology, with this number expected to increase. 

5. Emergency Medicine - $133,990

ER doctors and nurses are aided by emergency medicine PAs in the urgent care and emergency room. Their duties include:

  • Taking note of a patient's health history
  • Performing physical exams
  • Ordering lab tests
  • Performing urgent care tasks

Emergency medicine physician assistants may diagnose illnesses, prescribe medication and treatments, and apply casts. Approximately 7.2% of PAs work in emergency medicine and have a median of six years of experience. 

If you’re interested in emergency medicine, consider looking into specialized emergency medicine residency programs!

6. Urology - $133,921

Urology PAs support both urologists and patients in a variety of ways. They focus primarily on illnesses and disorders related to urology, including urinary tract infections, kidney stones, prostatitis, infertility, and cancers of the urinary tract, among others. 

Urology physician assistants typically work closely with patients. Some of their duties include conducting physical exams, taking patient histories, prescribing medication, and answering questions related to symptoms, causes, and treatment options for urinary tract illnesses. 

7. Occupational Medicine - $133,120

Occupational medicine PAs specialize in the health assessment of employees and injuries sustained in the workplace. They assist doctors in performing exams, diagnosing illnesses, and ordering laboratory tests. Their responsibilities include prescribing medications and evaluating patients’ progress. 

Occupational medicine PAs also provide counseling and education for patients to help them manage and recover from illnesses. Approximately 1.1% of PAs work in this specialty and have a median of 13 years of experience. 

8. Critical Care - $133,000

A critical care physician assistant works under the supervision of a doctor. They also assist nurses and medical staff working in the intensive care unit. Their duties include examining patients, making diagnoses, and assessing illnesses. 

They provide healthcare from a physiological perspective and use their technological skills to treat patients. Approximately 2.3% of all PAs work in this specialty, with a median of five years of experience. 

9. Orthopedic - $131,785

If you’re interested in orthopedics (treating bones and muscles), then you might enjoy becoming an orthopedic PA. Orthopedic PAs assist with procedures such as tendon repairs, fracture management, wound closures, and various orthopedic surgeries. 

Orthopedic physican assistants also work closely with patients, diagnosing and treating various injuries and illnesses. 

10. Oncology - $131,345

Oncology PAs primarily spend their time working with patients who have been diagnosed with cancer of various kinds. These PAs work with oncology physicians and patients to develop and administer appropriate treatment plans for patients. 

Oncology PAs also monitor the patients’ statuses, prescribe medication, and communicate with patients and families about proper medical procedures. 

11. Surgical Subspecialties (Other) - $130,000

A surgeon's job tends to be very hectic; therefore, they need as much help as they can get. Surgical physician assistants help surgeons during surgery and are responsible for caring for patients before, during, and after operations. 

Surgical PAs are also trained to perform physical exams, analyze diagnostics tests, and advise patients on treatment options. Approximately 1.3% of all PAs specialize in surgical subspecialties; they have a median of seven years of experience.  

12. Psychiatry

If you’re interested in helping patients who are affected by mental health disorders, then psychiatry is a good PA specialty for you. You can also specialize further in other fields related to psychiatry, including behavioral health or addiction counseling. 

As a PA in the psychiatry specialty, you’ll perform psychiatric evaluations, formulate diagnoses, and develop treatment plans.

13. Neurosurgery - $129,000

Neurosurgeons are assisted by neurosurgical physician assistants. These PAs offer support by taking notes of a patient's health history. They also help with diagnosing patients and suggesting treatment options to them. 

Some of PAs’ duties include conducting blood work and other laboratory diagnostics and performing physical exams, including CT scans. Neurosurgical PAs also offer assistance during surgical procedures and aid with follow-up appointments. 

Approximately 2.7% of PAs work in neurosurgery, with a median experience of 6 years. Finding a good neurology residency program will help you secure a spot as a neurosurgery PA!

14. Pediatric - $129,310

Pediatric PAs and physicians provide care for children. If you work well with kids, you might want to go into pediatrics

As a pediatric PA, you’ll perform typical duties for your young patients, including updating medical history, performing various tests, and diagnosing illnesses and injuries. You’ll also work with kids and their families to answer questions about treatment and proper medical care. 

15. Urgent Care - $139,250

Urgent care physician assistants look after patients who need immediate medical attention. They quickly diagnose patients and recommend treatments for illnesses. Urgent care PAs also conduct physical exams, prescribe treatments, and decide whether patients should move to another facility for specialized treatment.

Depending on what state and city you live in, the amount of supervision for this field of medicine may vary. Approximately 6.2% of PAs work in urgent care, with a median experience of six years.

16. Orthopedic Surgery - $128,000

PAs working in orthopedic surgery can perform exams, interpret diagnostic tests, prescribe medication, and assist surgeons during surgery. They can also perform minor outpatient and diagnostic/therapeutic procedures. 

Approximately 10.1% of PAs work in orthopedic surgery, a higher percentage than any other specialty in this list. They also have a median of seven years of experience. 

17. Primary Care - $126,713

Primary care PAs are the first point of contact for patients. They can work within a variety of specialties to diagnose and treat illnesses, conduct physical exams, perform various procedures alongside a physician, and educate patients and families. 

Nearly 24% of PAs work in primary care, and almost 70% of primary care physicians report high satisfaction levels with their positions! 

18. Rheumatology - $122,400

A typical day for a rheumatology PA includes diagnosing and treating a wide variety of illnesses and conditions related to rheumatology. Rheumatologist work involves joint conditions and other painful, inflammatory conditions in the musculoskeletal system. 

Often, rheumatology PAs work with patients who deal with arthritis and other autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. 

19. Gastroenterology - $120,212

Gastroenterology PAs treat patients who deal with gastrointestinal diseases and other illnesses in the digestive tract. PAs assist gastroenterology physicians with various procedures as well as performing physical exams, taking medical history, and creating care plans for and with patients.

20. Family Practice - $105,708

PAs who work in family practice work closely with individual patients within the context of a wider family and community. This specialty can include dealing with many different types of illnesses or diseases.

Family practice PAs may treat infections, manage chronic illnesses, or performing minor surgical procedures, among other various day-to-day PA tasks.


If you still have questions after reading this guide, check out these frequently asked questions about the highest-paid PA specialties. 

1. What Is the Highest-Paying PA Specialty?

The highest-paying PA specialty is cardiovascular/thoracic surgery. The median salary for this specialty is $152,500. Here are some other high-paying PA specialties and their annual salary:

  • Emergency medicine: $133,990
  • Dermatology: $145,000
  • Transplant surgery: $140,691
  • Telehealth: $112,126

These specialties pay a very generous wage; however, the annual salary depends on years of experience in the field. 

2. Which PA Specialty Makes the Least Money?

The PA specialty that pays the least is adolescent medicine. This PA specialty has a median annual salary of $90,000. 

3. Can Physician Assistants Make Six Figures?

Yes, a physician assistant can make a six-figure income. All the specialties in this list report median salaries above $100,000 annually. 

4. How Do PA Vs. MD Salaries Compare? 

Generally, MDs make more than PAs. The difference between PA versus MD salaries is clear, despite factors such as specialty, location, and job setting. PAs make $127,000 annually on average, while MDs make $229,300 on average annually.

Final Thoughts

If you're leaning towards becoming a physician assistant and working your way toward meeting education requirements, it might sway you to pursue a PA specialty that pays a generous salary. Just remember, what you make will depend on your years of work experience.

Although looking at a specialty that pays a lot might be your goal, choosing a specialty that you are genuinely interested in is essential. Keep in mind the specialty you choose requires long-term commitment, so choose wisely.

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