Bones, joints, muscles and ligaments -- that's what you'll deal with as an orthopedic physician assistant. Physician assistants, or PAs, are health-care professionals who practice under the direction and supervision of a physician. As of 2010, 61 percent of PAs were female, according to the American Academy of Physician Assistants, so you should find lots of colleagues who understand the world of the working woman. Although the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not specifically track orthopedic PAs, it reports that PAs in general earned an average annual salary of $92,460 in 2012.
PAs are trained according to the same format as physicians, but you'll only spend about two-thirds the amount of time in school, according to Physician Assistants in Orthopaedic Surgery, a professional PA organization. A PA receives about 108 weeks of primary-care training from an accredited PA program and subsequently learns her specialty while working with an orthopedic surgeon and through continuing education. Most enter PA training with a bachelor’s degree and an average of four-and-a-half years of experience in a health-care field. All states require that PAs be licensed.
Even if you have test phobia, it's worth taking the certification exam from the National Board for Certification of Orthopaedic Physician's Assistants. Certification shows you have entry-level knowledge in the specialty of orthopedic medicine and surgery. A certified PA has demonstrated knowledge in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, the assessment of patients with adult or pediatric diseases and injuries, and the principles and techniques of operative procedures. Your certificate proves you understand how to use instruments and equipment for orthopedic surgical procedures, how to apply and utilize splints, casts and traction and how to interpret and evaluate laboratory, X-ray and other diagnostic studies.
Scope of Practice
Orthopedics is a highly technical, hands-on profession. As a physician extender, you're authorized to assess patients, develop a plan of care and evaluate the patient’s progress toward the goals of the care plan. You can prescribe medication, perform patient education, document your care and the patient’s response to care, and provide emergency care if needed. In a typical day, you might apply a brace for an office worker who has carpal tunnel syndrome, treat a gimpy knee for a teen who wiped out on a skateboard or prescribe medications for an elderly woman with painful arthritis. Each state regulates PA scope of practice, so not all PAs perform exactly the same tasks in every state. PAs generally provide care in physicians’ offices, clinics and hospitals, but in addition to your office duties, you might assist the surgeon during surgery and make rounds on hospitalized patients in some states.
Specialized Procedures and Surgery
As an orthopedic PA, you'll perform specialized procedures under the supervision of an orthopedic surgeon. Among these are joint aspirations, joint injections, the application of splints, braces and casts and the use of local anesthetics. You might assist the orthopedic surgeon to reduce fractures and dislocations, assist with or perform the removal of superficial orthopedic hardware, and perform digital blocks -- a specialized type of local anesthesia. In the operating room, you'll assist with draping and positioning the patient, supply the surgeon with instruments or hardware and suture the wound when the surgeon finishes the operation.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: May 2012 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates United States
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physician Assistants
- American Society of Orthopaedic Physician’s Assistants: About OPAs
- The University of Texas-Pan American: Physician Assistants and Orthopedic Physician Assistants - The Distinctions
- Physician Assistants in Orthopaedic Surgery: Job Description for Physician Assistants in Orthopaedic Surgery
- American Academy of Physician Assistants: Physician Assistant Census Report Results from the 2010 AAPA Census
- Jochen Sands/Digital Vision/Getty Images