10 Highest-Paid PA Specialties

March 27, 2023


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 5/13/22

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. 

When you think of professionals that take care of you in the healthcare field,  doctors, nurses, or even lab technicians typically come to mind. However, another medical professional plays a highly crucial role in taking care of your health. 

Physician assistants (PAs) are essential members of the healthcare field. Their role is to practice medicine under the direction and supervision of a licensed doctor. 

First founded in 1968, the American Academy of Physician Associates (AAPA) became the national professional society for PAs. They represent about 159,000 PAs all over the U.S. 

The PA profession was created to improve and expand healthcare. The first PA class graduated in 1967 from Duke University

While some physician assistants pursue a doctoral degree, you only need a master's to become a PA. To get into a physician assistant program in the U.S., you must have an excellent GPA, an educational background in science, and many hours of healthcare experience.

PAs can work in many areas of the healthcare field. Below is a chart of the different areas of healthcare in which a PA practices medicine.

Types of PA specialties
Source: Tufts University School of Medicine

PAs  can perform various medical practices under the supervision of a licensed doctor. 

In this guide, we'll be going over the top highest-paid PA specialties. So if you're ready, let's get started!

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Top 10 Highest-Paid PA Specialties

Here is a list of the top 10 highest-paid specialties in the physician assistant field. 

Cardiovascular/Cardiothoracic Surgery

Average annual salary: $147,200

Job outlook (2021-2031): 28%

Physician assistants within 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. Although PAs don't participate in the actual surgery, they perform other procedures, such as chest tube insertions and endoscopic retrieval. 


Average annual salary: $146,000

Job outlook (2021-2031): 28%

Dermatology physician assistants work with dermatologists to provide care in the skin care field. Dermatology PAs are 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. 

Emergency Medicine

Average annual salary: $129,146

Job outlook (2021-2031): 28%

ER doctors and nurses are aided by emergency medicine physician assistants 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. 

Surgical Subspecialties

Average annual salary: $127,775

Job outlook (2021-2031): 28%

A surgeon's job tends to be very hectic and 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. 

For this role, a PA must be compassionate while interacting with patients to help soothe their anxieties. 

Occupational Medicine

Average annual salary: $125,600

Job outlook (2021-2031): 28%

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. 

Besides treating patients, occupational medicine PAs also provide counseling and education for patients’ to help them manage and recover from illnesses. 

Critical Care

Average annual salary: $124,886

Job outlook (2021-2031): 28%

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. 


Average annual salary: $124,000

Job outlook (2021-2031): 28%

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.

Urgent Care

Average annual salary: $123,517

Job outlook (2021-2031): 28%

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. 


Average annual salary: $122,357

Job outlook (2021-2031): 28%

Radiology physician assistants use x-ray, computer tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines to diagnose illnesses. These PAs also assist radiologists in performing invasive and non-invasive procedures.

Radiology physician assistants also educate patients on possible treatments and report the findings from images to the doctor. 

Plastic Surgery

Average annual salary: $122,000

Job outlook (2021-2031): 28%

Plastic surgeons and plastic surgery physician assistants work together to provide therapeutic and surgical care to patients. PAs responsibilities include conducting patient assessments, developing treatment plans, and aiding in pre- and post-operative care. 

PAs also assist plastic surgeons in the operation room for cosmetic procedures. After the operation, plastic surgery physician assistants provide:

  • Patients with discharge instructions.
  • Setting up follow-up appointments.
  • Answering questions the patient may have. 

PAs are in charge of making sure patients are well taken care of before and after surgery.

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 $147,200 for an average of eight years of experience. Here are some other high-paying PA specialties and their annual salary:

  • Dermatology: $146,000
  • Emergency medicine: $129,146
  • Surgical subspecialties: $127,775

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 $90,588. Here are some other PA specialties that pay the least and their annual salary:

  • Pediatrics: $92,194
  • Public health: $95,323
  • Obstetrics and gynecology: $96,244

Although these specialties are the lowest-paid in the physician assistant field, they still  pay a good wage.  

3. Can Physician Assistants Make Six Figures?

Yes, a physician assistant can make a six-figure income. For instance, specialties that pay on the higher end, such as thoracic surgery and emergency medicine, do pay over $100,000/year.

Final Thoughts

If you're leaning towards becoming a physician assistant, it might sway you to pursue a PA specialty that pays a generous salary. Just remember that the amount 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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