Physician Assistant Specialties: How to Decide Which is Right for You

June 14, 2024
One of the best perks of the PA profession is the diversity of career paths you can take after graduation. It’s so interesting looking back and seeing where all my classmates ended up! I have friends across the board of physician assistant specialties, which is especially helpful when looking for advice.
With such variety of patient populations, lifestyle considerations, and even hours worked, how do you decide which specialty is best for you? Here’s what to consider!

1. Pick a patient population.

Most students find their niche during clinical rotations, but if you’re not one of those people don’t fret! 

In fact, I find it’s even more valuable to find out what you don’t like. I remember graduating with a ton of interests, and only a handful of specialties I knew weren’t for me. At the end of the day, we’re in this position because we love medicine and health care in general, so it’s normal to have a lot of interests!

My best advice is to first decide which patient population you want to work with. Do you have a passion for pediatrics? Are you looking to practice in a high-acuity setting, such as the intensive care unit? Do you want to work with your hands in the operating room? Are you looking to provide care in an outpatient setting? This is only the starting point for making a decision, but it does help you get a general idea of where to start looking.

Looking for a breakdown of individual physician assistant specialties? Check out these other blog posts from PAs who have been in your shoes!
🥼 Dermatology PA 
🫀 Cardiology PA
🧬 Oncology PA

2. Decide if you want variety, or more of a routine.

Of course, to make things more complicated (or exciting, depending on your point of view ), a lot of settings overlap. I currently work in cardiothoracic surgery, where my days are split between the operating room and the intensive care unit. We even do some inpatient rounding as well! 

I love the diversity of this position and how no two days are the same, but some may find the variation in routine irritating. 

Another example of this is that if you’re working in an outpatient specialty, such as orthopedics or pulmonology, you may find yourself having to make rounds in the hospital on occasion. 

Now this isn’t always the case, and there are definitely positions that keep to the same routine, so if that’s something you’re looking for, you can absolutely find that as well.

3. Think about the schedule you want.

I think the hours you want should be a big factor in your decision-making process. Do you want a predictable day-shift schedule, or are you amenable to a variety of hours? Are you willing to take calls overnight for the right position, or do you prefer that your day ends when you leave the building? 

What about weekends? Do you want every weekend off, or are you okay with some variety in your schedule? Ask yourself these questions, and be honest! If you’re interested in trauma or critical care roles, but also want a regular day-shift schedule, that may be hard to find.

In cases where it’s tough to match the physician assistant specialties you’re interested in with the schedule you want, you’ll have to decide which is more important to you: the specialty or the lifestyle? This can vary depending on where you’re at in your career and personal life. Any life changes or stressors could put you in a position where you need to alter your work schedule and that’s okay! Perhaps when you come out of school you’re willing to work any hours or take call shifts, but one day you may find yourself looking for a more predictable schedule. 

In my experience…

I know firsthand how important it is to have the schedule you want. The first job I took was a hospital medicine and intensive care position working overnights. The shifts were seven days on, followed by seven days off. This meant I had to work every other weekend, but it did give me a whole week off in between. 

I absolutely loved the work I was doing in this position. It was high acuity with a lot of autonomy, and it provided me with a great opportunity to learn and grow as a provider. However, I realized that working overnights (on opposite shifts from my husband) was not good for my mental health. While some people thrive working nights, it simply was not for me. And despite how much I loved the position, I had to look for a new one given what I was looking for in life.

4. Realize that most PA specialties require on-the-job training! 

No matter what position you take, if it’s a new role for you you’ll likely have to do some on-the-job training. So don’t let that deter you from taking a role you’re interested in, as employers anticipate this when hiring someone new to a specialty!

5. Do some shadowing. 

If you’re thinking about certain physician assistant specialties, but aren’t quite ready to take the jump of applying for a position, don’t hesitate to see about PA job shadowing opportunities. Employers are more than willing to have potential candidates spend a day or so with the team. 

Now of course, life is busy and this may not always be feasible, but it’s a great way to see if you would be happy in the role. Other ways to “feel out” positions before applying to them include reading blog posts and talking with providers practicing in those areas about their day-to-day.

Final Thoughts 

Overall, determining the right specialty for you can be overwhelming. Just know it’s normal to love many different things! Use these tips to narrow down which of the physician assistant specialties you really want to work in. Remember, there’s a world of opportunities out there for you to take advantage of! Best of luck on your journey, and be sure to reach out if you need assistance.

Is this the right PA specialty for you? is a series that provides practical advice from PA-Cs for students and individuals looking for their right fit.

Rosh Review is the leading Qbank provider for PA programs across the United States. Whether you’re a pre-PA student or PA-C, Rosh Review has something for you along your PA journey. Start a free trial today!

By Olivia Graham, PA-C

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