Top 5 Physician Assistant Specialties in Which PAs Practice

A physician assistant practicing a top PA specialty

For students finishing up a PA program and looking ahead to clinical practice, there is a broad array of PA specialties to consider. Due to the growing demand for PAs and the career flexibility their education provides, PAs have more options than many other vocations.

New PAs look at the different physician assistant specialties and make career choices for a variety of reasons: professional interest in that specialty, level of salary, the physician assistant specialties in demand, desire to live in a certain state or region, etc. But most often, it is a combination of these factors that leads a new PA to choose a specialty or an established PA to switch specialties.

According to the National Commission on Certification of PAs (NCCPA®) 2020 Statistical Profile, here are the top five certified physician assistant specialties (most popular):

2020: PA Specialties by DemandNumber of PAs Practicing This SpecialtyPercentage of PAs Practicing This Specialty
1. Surgical Subspecialties19,90218.7%
2. Family Medicine / General Practice19,31218.1%
3. Emergency Medicine13,21912.4%
4. Internal Medicine Subspecialties10,1489.5%
5. Internal Medicine — General Practice4,6444.4%

And rounding out the top ten most popular physician assistant specialties are . . .

2020: PA Specialties by DemandNumber of PAs Practicing This SpecialtyPercentage of PAs Practicing This Specialty
6. Dermatology4,3504.1%
7. Hospital Medicine3,8593.6%
8. General Surgery3,2083.0%
9. Pediatrics — General Practice2,0001.9%
10. Psychiatry1,8871.8%

Among nearly all PA specialties, there is an increase in demand from year to year, and the ten most popular PA specialties act as a snapshot of that growth trend.

It is interesting to note that of the top ten physician assistant specialties in 2020, nine of them showed growth between 2016 and 2020, with six of those PA specialities experiencing a double-digit percentage increase:

PA Specialties2016: Number of PAs Practicing This Specialty2020: Number of PAs Practicing This SpecialtyPercentage
Change | 2016–2020
Surgical Subspecialties17,00919,90217.0% (↑)
Family Medicine / General Practice18,99419,3121.9% (↑)
Emergency Medicine12,15213,2198.8% (↑)
Internal Medicine Subspecialties8,48710,14819.6% (↑)
Internal Medicine — General Practice4,7784,644-2.8% (↓)
Dermatology3,5894,35021.2% (↑)
Hospital Medicine3,0863,85925.0% (↑)
General Surgery2,7913,20814.9% (↑)
Pediatrics — General Practice1,8792,0006.4% (↑)
Psychiatry1,2011,88757.1% (↑)

In their 2020 Statistical Profile, the NCCPA gives statistical data for additional PA specialties outside of the ten listed above:

Addiction Medicine, Adolescent Medicine, Anesthesiology, Critical Care Medicine, Gynecology, Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Neurology, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Occupational Medicine, Ophthalmology, Otolaryngology, Pain Medicine, Pathology, Physical Medicine/Rehabilitation, Preventive Medicine/Public Health, Radiation Oncology, Radiology, Urology, and Other — and 12 of these specialties showed an increase in job demand between 2016 and 2020.

But it should be noted that in 2020 the top 10 physician assistant specialties comprised over three-quarters (77.5%) of Certified PAs.

So, what does this information about the physician assistant specialties in demand tell the average PA student who may be just beginning didactics, taking EOR exams, finishing up a PA program, or preparing for the high-stakes PANCE exam

  1. Surgical Subspecialties, Family Medicine/General Practice, Emergency Medicine, Internal Medicine Subspecialties, and Internal Medicine–General Practice are currently the top five certified PA practice areas. 
  2. Dermatology, Hospital Medicine, General Surgery, Pediatrics–General Practice, and Psychiatry round out the top ten certified PA practice areas.
  3. The top ten PA specialties (along with the rest of the PA profession) continue to show higher than average job growth.
  4. There is a wide variety of rewarding PA specialties for new PAs to consider or existing PAs to consider switching to.

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2020 – NCCPA.NET. (n.d.). Retrieved September 28, 2021, from
https://www.nccpa.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Statistical-Profile-of-Certified-PAs-2020.pdf.

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