10 Highest-Paid PA Specialties

October 12, 2023
8 min read


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 10/12/23

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 10 Highest-Paid PA Specialties

Here’s a list of the top 10 highest-paid PA specialties (including base pay and bonuses), according to the America Academy of Physicians Associates (AAPA).

PA Specialty Median Annual Income Median Years of Experience
Cardiovascular/Cardiothoracic Surgery $152,500 9
Dermatology $145,000 6
Emergency Medicine $133,990 6
Occupational Medicine $133,120 13
Critical Care $133,000 5
Surgical Subspecialties (Other) $130,000 7
Psychiatry $130,000 5
Neurosurgery $129,000 6
Urgent Care $128,980 6
Orthopedic Surgery $128,000 7

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.  

PA with paient

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. 

dermatology PA with patient

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. 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 department at hospital

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. 

4. 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 PA with patient

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. 

5. 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. 

medical monitor

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. 

6. 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. 

surgeon and patient

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.  

7. Psychiatry - $130,000

PAs in psychiatry practice under the supervision of a psychiatrist to provide mental health services to patients. PAs working in this specialty can order labs, refer patients to other health professionals, and prescribe medication. 

Psychiatry session

PAs oversee patient care, perform follow-ups, and evaluate how patients respond to counseling, medication, and other therapies. Approximately 2.7%% of PAs work in this specialty, with a median of five years of experience. 

8. 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.

9. Urgent Care - $128,980

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.

hand with IV

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. 

10. 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. 

Radiology images

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.

Highest-Paid PA Specialties: FAQs

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

  • Dermatology: $145,000
  • Emergency medicine: $133,990
  • Occupational medicine: $133,120

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 $95,000. Here are some other PA specialties that pay the least and their annual salary:

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. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, PAs make $121,530 annually on average, while MDs make $208,000 or more 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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