Top 10 Paying Specialties in the PA Profession

Surgical Subspecialties and Emergency Medicine Top 2020 Compensation

December 9, 2020

By AAPA Research Department

The PA profession includes PAs who work in several dozen specialties, ranging from family or emergency medicine to pathology or hospital medicine. Compensation differs substantially between some specialties. Compensation statistics based on “major specialty area” are included in the first section of the AAPA Salary Report, grouping more than 54 specialties into seven distinct “buckets.”

Figure 1. Median Compensation from Primary Employer by Major Specialty Area*

Based on this data from thousands of PAs, one may conclude that emergency medicine is the highest paid specialty – however, it is important to remember that categories about include median compensation for each category, and several of the categories include many specialties. So, what are the top paid specialties in the PA profession currently?

Figure 2. Median Compensation from Primary Employer by Individual Specialty Area**

When examining compensation between specific specialties, rather than major specialty areas, emergency medicine still has a high level of compensation in the profession, but top spots go to two surgical subspecialties: cardiovascular/cardiothoracic surgery as well as thoracic surgery, followed by emergency medicine. Among the 10 highest compensated specialties in the PA profession, four of the top 10 specialties are surgical subspecialties, one is emergency medicine, four are “all other specialties,” and one is an internal medicine subspecialty.

While specific primary specialty is in fact associated with compensation, it is not the only factor associated with it. First, among all PAs, median years of experience as a PA is seven years, and PAs in the top two highest paid specialties have more years of experience than the national average. We also know from previous research that examined the role of gender in total compensation that a variety of other factors are also associated with compensation. For example, in a recent study published in JAAPA by AAPA Research, geographic region of work, statewide cost of living, mode of compensation, whether a bonus was received, years of experience, primary specialty, primary work setting, hours worked weekly, weeks worked annually, patients seen weekly, whether a PA took call, leadership roles, and ownership in a practice also predict compensation in PAs.

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About the data
The data reflect PAs who worked 32 hours or more per week in 2019. “Compensation” includes all compensation types: base salary, annualized hourly wage, and productivity pay. Compensation statistics in this article do not include bonus (if one was received).

*For the median compensation by major specialty area graph near the beginning of this article, percentages inside bars of graph indicate the percentage of PAs who report that employer specialty as their primary specialty area. The percentages and median years of experience may slightly differ from the profession-wide percentage as they reflect full-time PAs who provided their compensation in the 2020 AAPA Salary Survey.

**Only specialties with 20 or more respondents nationwide are included.

Author is Timothy C. McCall, PhD, associate director of surveys and analysis. Contact him at [email protected].

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More Resources:
2020 AAPA Salary Report

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