We’re here to guide you through the exciting journey of becoming a physician assistant who specializes in orthopedics – a vital role among healthcare professionals dedicated to orthopedic care.

At first glance, Orthopedics is a singular specialty.

But, as we will see, Orthopedics is a widely varied specialty and a Physician Assistant in orthopedics has the opportunity to choose a general ortho-path or a niche-subspecialty.

We will lay out the steps that lead to launching a career as an Orthopedic Physician Assistant and help you understand if this career option is a great fit for you.

Orthopedic Physician Assistant

Key Takeaways

  • Most positions in this specialty require a Master’s degree from a Physician Assistant program.
  • Some practices offer an option for an Orthopedic Residency program.
  • You have the option to get additional certificates and have added Qualifications such as the CAQ for orthopedic surgery.
  • Hands-on experience is a cornerstone of training for orthopedic care excellence. Focus on getting your foot in the door so that you can gain the knowledge to achieve your goals.

Differences Between Orthopedic PAs and Certified Orthopedic Physician’s Assistants/Orthopedic Assistants

The purpose of this article is to explore Certified Physician Assistants advancing a career in orthopedics referred to in this article as PA-Cs or Ortho PAs.

PA-Cs are very similar in name to Certified Orthopedic Physician’s Assistants (OPA-Cs) or Orthopedic Assistants (OAs) but they have very different training, certifications, and licensing.

This article addresses Certified Physician Assistant practicing in Orthopedics referred hereafter as Orthopedic PAs, Ortho PAs, or PA-Cs all of which have educational requirements of a graduate program Master’s degree.

Types of Orthopedic Physician Assistant Practice Settings

Healthcare ownership is rapidly changing and that includes orthopedics. We continue to see larger and larger orthopedic practices (often driven by private equity) where some states are dominated by just one or two ortho practices for the whole state.

In addition, hospitals and health systems are also purchasing orthopedic practices to help them increase revenue and streamline costs.

As orthopedic physician assistants (PA-Cs), the breadth of practice settings available is as varied as the conditions and patients encountered. Depending on the size of the practice, hospital, or health system – an Ortho PA can work in more than one of the below settings.

Outpatient Clinic

Most Ortho PAs spend some time each week practicing in their clinic. Even hospital practices can have clinic hours.

In clinic settings, PA-Cs often serve as the primary point of contact for patients presenting with orthopedic concerns – both pre and post-op. Here, they manage a myriad of duties, including initial evaluations, ongoing treatment plans, coordinate with other providers, and provide patient education.

The clinic atmosphere is primed for those with advanced training who thrive in a fast-paced environment, focusing on achieving long-term outcomes and monitoring less severe orthopedic conditions.

Urgent Care

In many larger cities, orthopedic practices are now opening dedicated urgent care settings. Outpatient Urgent Care clinics help patients avoid the high cost of emergency room visits for more routing ortho episodes that need attention quickly.

Orthopedic Urgent Care settings are well suited for experienced Ortho PAs who are able to work well independently and offer the same benefit as regular urgent care settings – more stable shift hours and flexibility of schedule.


Although most Ortho PAs work for independent orthopedic practices and have privileges at their local hospitals, some larger hospitals have dedicated Orthopedic Physician Assistants to support their orthopedic patient population.

The hospital setting demands a greater intensity, with PA-C duties often extending into surgical assistance as well as pre-surgery prep, postoperative recovery, and final discharge.

They may be in the room during spine surgery or trauma surgery and require additional experience to land a job and have the level of knowledge to perform this kind of work.

When working in a hospital setting, the PA-C generally has a set schedule which can be a ten-hour day.

Teaching Hospital

The role of an Ortho PA at a Teaching Hospital is very similar to a non-Teaching Hospital.

One distinction is that Teaching hospitals will likely see more difficult ortho cases and have medical residents who perform a number of tasks a PA-C may perform in non-teaching hospitals.

An advantage of working in a teaching hospital is the continued ability to attend educational opportunities and see a variety of complex cases.

Military Hospital

The unique setting of a military hospital offers the chance to serve our nation’s servicemen and women – addressing specialized injuries related to active duty, as well as retired service men and women healthcare.

Military hospitals also offer an opportunity to have a more set routine and schedule over other hospitals.

Primary Care Physician Assistant

Some Orthopedic PAs choose to use their medical training in orthopaedic medicine, family medicine, or internal medicine clinics. There they can offer advice on preventative care to patients.

Choose the Right Practice Setting

Each of these practice settings opens up a new avenue in which you can expand your orthopedic expertise and elevate the standard of patient care provided.

Choosing the right environment for your skillset and career aspirations is crucial to finding a practice opportunity with a high level of job satisfaction.

Specialization of Orthopedic Physician Assistants

Not only can an Ortho PA choose the type of practice setting, but also the type of patients that are seen.

Generally, Ortho PAs are paired with a smaller number of surgeons – often just one – which allows them to seamlessly know what the other needs and work more efficiently as a team. By being paired with the same surgeon, you will follow the same cases as the surgeon and the same specialty.

General Ortho

In general orthopedics, the PA-C provides versatile care across a spectrum of ortho conditions. These all-rounders are the backbone of the orthopedic team, adept at managing a vast array of injuries and disorders.

Pediatric Ortho

Pediatric Ortho PAs are focused on the needs of children’s musculoskeletal issues. While Pediatric Ortho PAs often work in Pediatric Hospitals, they can also work for private Orthopaedic practices.

Trauma Ortho

Trauma Ortho PAs are focused on the aftermath of severe injuries. These opportunities are more found in larger metropolitan areas where more trauma occurs and patients from rural areas are transferred to.

They deliver crucial care when every second counts, working tirelessly to reconstruct the musculoskeletal system. Trauma Ortho PA’s schedule can vary widely based on the severity of the cases they have.

Spine Ortho

Spine specialists focus on the complexities of the vertebral column, from chronic back pain to acute spinal injuries, providing innovative care for one of the body’s most critical structures.

Sports Medicine Ortho

The Sports PA-C merges a passion for athletics with medical expertise, addressing sports-related injuries and enabling athletes to regain their form and return to peak performance.

Joints / Body Part Ortho

Focusing on specific joints or body parts, such as shoulders, hips, or knees, these specialists concentrate on the intricate details of particular anatomical areas which are pivotal to mobility and quality of life.

Choosing a Specialization

The quest to specialize within the realm of orthopedics is an embarkation on a journey of lifelong learning and professional development.

It reflects an unwavering commitment to excellence – ensuring that as specialists, we provide the highest standard of care to those in need.

The dynamic nature of orthopedic physician assistant specializations commands a robust education foundation, hands-on residency training, and a dedication to surpassing the rigorous standards of the certification examinations.

As we forge ahead in our careers, the profound impact we have on patients’ lives is a true testament to the significance of our specialty choices in the healing arts.

What to Expect as an Orthopedic Physician Assistant

Becoming an orthopedic assistant ushers in a challenging career that brims with the satisfaction of transforming patient care.

From getting certified by the national board for certification, to administering direct patient care, and exhibiting supervision skills, here’s what awaits those eager to pursue this dynamic path:

Rewarding Patient Results

At the core of an orthopedic assistant’s role is the reward that comes from seeing patients improve and regain mobility. While many diseases are chronic, an Ortho PA usually sees an improved patient outcome as a result of their treatments.

Diversity of Work Types

Navigating a typical day could mean conducting examinations, participating in surgeries, working in a clinic, consulting with other providers, and / or providing post-operative care. A spectrum of tasks at hand ensures every day is different and filled with new learning opportunities.

Challenging Work

Perhaps your 100th hip replacement is routine, but in general, ortho cases are different and complex – leading to an incredibly fulfilling experience.

High Level of Autonomy as Your Career Progresses

With time and experience comes greater autonomy in making medical decisions and leading patient care strategies. The journey may start under close supervision but evolves into a role where critical thinking and judgment are entrusted to you.

Long Hours

Anytime your day involves surgery, you can expect longer working hours. You never know when something will not go according to plan – either in your case or in one ahead of you that resulted in a backup. While balancing life and work is a priority, the demands of the field require a readiness to put in the time when it’s required.

An Early Start to the Day

Surgery starts early and you need to be there to prepare for those cases. If you are not a morning person, or if you don’t live close to the hospital / surgical center, a Physician Assistant career in orthopedics may not be for you.

Physically Demanding Work

Ortho PA work isn’t just mentally engaging—it’s physically demanding too – especially if you first assist.

Ortho PAs often find themselves on their feet for extended periods, supporting patients maneuver, holding retractors, and assisting during lengthy operations.

This is the essence of the journey for those emboldened to become an orthopedic assistant—a career marked by hard work, learning, and an incomparable sense of achievement in patient care.

A day in the life of an Orthopedic Physician Assistant

In the multifaceted world of healthcare, orthopedic physician’s assistants are integral to the continuum of orthopedic care.

PA-Cs are equipped with the competencies to not only assist in clinical settings but also provide essential support in surgical environments.

Ortho PAs knowledge and skills are continually refined under the expert supervision of an orthopedic surgeon, ensuring that each patient’s journey to recovery is met with utmost care and professionalism.

Patients Visits (Clinic / Urgent Care / Hospital)

You may see a diverse array of patients in various settings including clinics, urgent care centers, and hospitals.

You may be performing initial evaluations, formulating a diagnosis, and devising treatment plans.

Also, the ability to prescribe medications under supervision allows you to offer comprehensive care that aligns with each patient’s specific needs.

First Assist in OR

OR First Assistants play a vital role in ensuring surgical procedures run smoothly – collaborating closely with surgeons to provide the best possible outcomes for patients. They may perform physical examinations, help with preventative care, and perform a physical assessment.

In this role, it is important to have a strong relationship with the surgeon to ensure that the first assist can provide seamless support for the orthopaedic surgeon.

Manage Patients Pre-Op and Post-Op

Responsibilities extend beyond the OR, as PA-Cs manage patient care before and after surgery.

They collaborate with other healthcare professionals to coordinate pre-op preparations and foster a seamless recovery, monitoring each patient’s progress post-op to ensure they are on the right track to healing.

Coordinate with Other Teams Involved in Patient Recovery

The path to recovery is a collaborative effort, and Orthopedic PA-Cs act as liaisons, coordinating with various healthcare teams either in the hospital or with various Physical Therapy or Occupational Therapy teams.

The Ortho PA role involves orchestrating a multidisciplinary approach to ensure that each patient receives comprehensive and cohesive care throughout their recovery process.

By mastering these dynamic elements of your role as orthopedic physician’s assistants, you solidify your place as a vital member of the orthopedic healthcare community.

Your dedication and expertise support the overarching goal of delivering superior patient care under the esteemed supervision of an orthopedic surgeon, adhering to the rigorous standards set by the national commission.

Educational Pathways to Become an Orthopedic PA

The journey toward becoming an esteemed orthopedic physician assistant is marked by rigorous academic achievements and specialized training programs. Our mission is to guide you along this transformative path.

Obtaining a Master’s Degree in Physician Assistant Studies

Embarking on a career as an orthopedic physician assistant demands a solid educational foundation – which traditionally begins with earning a master’s degree from an accredited PA program.

A Master’s Degree in Physician Assistant Studies encompasses an intensive, broadly focused medical curriculum that lays the groundwork for future specialization in the field of orthopedics.

Aspiring PA-Cs undergo meticulous training in both classroom and clinical settings, developing a comprehensive understanding of patient care for various medical conditions.

Consider Orthopedic Fellowship Programs

Following the achievement of a master’s degree, further refinement of skills and experience is achieved through participation in a care physician assistant program or an orthopedic fellowship program.

These post-graduate training opportunities provide an in-depth exposure to orthopedic medicine, offering advanced clinical experience.

The focused educational environment fosters the development of specialized competencies required for proficient orthopedic practice. It’s within these fellowships that PA-Cs truly hone their skills, learning alongside experienced healthcare professionals.

Succeeding in these demanding education programs prepares graduates not just for the workforce, but also for the critical board certification examination administered by the Board for Certification of Physician assistants. Certification is a testament to one’s dedication and expertise in the specialty of orthopedic care.

We understand that the road to becoming an orthopedic physician assistant is complex and requires a significant investment of both time and effort. Yet, the rewards of a career filled with opportunities to make a tangible difference in the lives of patients dealing with musculoskeletal issues are unparalleled.

Orthopedic Physician Assistant Education Pathways

Add a Certificate of Added Qualifications (CAQ) in Orthopaedic Surgery

After practicing for six years in orthopedics, a PA-C is eligible to sit for the Certificate of Added Qualifications (CAQ) in Orthopaedic Surgery.

The NCCPA provides a growing number of Certificate of Added Qualifications programs.

The Orthopedic Surgery qualifications has a requirement of time practicing in the Orthopedic specialty as well as CME continuing education credits.

The CAQ demonstrates an Ortho PA’s dedication and knowledge of the specialty and often results in an increase in responsibility and or compensation.

Getting Your First Orthopedic Physician Assistant Job

Embarking on a fulfilling career in orthopedic medicine begins with strategic steps during your educational and training journey.

The path to secure your first role as an Orthopedic Physician Assistant (PA-C) encompasses the consolidation of specialized job training, maximizing the benefit of clinical training, and nurturing a strong professional network.

Let’s delve into how you can effectively position yourself for healthcare opportunities and become a licensed PA-C ready to enter this dynamic field.

Build a Background That Is Ortho-Focused

Before you enter PA school knowing that you want to pursue a career in Orthopedics, use every opportunity to gain muscular skeletal knowledge.

Your preparation for an orthopedic-focused career starts by laying a strong foundation in the related fields of anatomy, physiology, and musculoskeletal conditions.

Seek out additional coursework or certifications can enhance your understanding of orthopedic medicine, thereby making you more competitive in the job market.

This could involve seminars, hands-on workshops, pursue an undergrad degree in Athletic Training, or even research projects that highlight your commitment to specializing in orthopedics.

Use Your Clinical Rotations to Your Advantage

During your clinical rotations, seek out placements in orthopedic departments or practices.

These rotations are not just a graduation requirement – they are invaluable opportunities for hands-on experience and real-world skill-building.

Impress your physicians and ask for feedback, as their endorsements can be pivotal when you transition from training to the workforce. Even if they are not hiring, they may know someone who is – and a recommendation goes a long way to getting the interview and job.

When considering your clinical rotations, try to secure locations where you want to live. Your clinical rotations are about learning and building relationships that lead to job offers. The best option is to work with your school to secure rotations in one or more of your top cities.

Build and Leverage Your Professional Network

Every person you meet in healthcare is a connection that can lead to a job offer – especially in your clinical rotations.

Consider our Social Media article and how tools like LinkedIn can help you build your online profile.

Forging connections within the healthcare community can lead to job opportunities that are not widely advertised. We encourage you to attend industry conferences, join professional associations, and connect with both peers and mentors on professional networking platforms.

A robust network can provide insights into job openings and referrals, which can be crucial in the early stages of your career.

Be Open to Different Locations or Salary Ranges to Break Into Orthopedics

Most people consider location, specialty and salary when evaluating a Physician Assistant employment offer.

When trying to find your first Physician Assistant job in orthopedics, you may need to give-up one of these three factors.

Flexibility can be key when you’re seeking your first role in the competitive field of orthopedics. Being open to different geographic locations may open doors to job opportunities you hadn’t considered.

Moreover, a willingness to accept a wider range of salary offers can make you more accessible to employers looking for passionate, entry-level PA-Cs who are keen to gain experience and grow with their institution.

Your goal is to create a successful launch as a PA-C. Utilizing your practical experiences, expanding your professional network, and being flexible with your initial job prospects, you can navigate the orthopedic medicine landscape effectively.

Advance Your Career: Skills and Qualities of Successful Orthopedic PAs

As a seasoned orthopedic physician assistant, recognize the significance of not just mastering the fundamentals but also pushing the envelope of what it means to excel in orthopedics.

There is a trio of pillars that underpin the ongoing success and advancement of any orthopedic PA – key competencies, a dedication to continuous learning, and a robust network within the healthcare community.

It is within this framework that we focus our professional development and, ultimately, our ability to provide exceptional orthopedic care.

Key Skills and Competencies in Orthopedic Care

A combination of clinical acumen and people skills is at the heart of orthopedic care.

The former includes a firm grasp of anatomy, the dexterity and strength for surgical assistance, and detailed post-operative management.

To these, an orthopedic physician assistant adds the ability to communicate effectively ensuring that patients feel understood and at ease.

Every interaction, from initial consultation to final follow-up, requires a balance of these competencies for a successful patient outcome.

The Importance of Continuous Learning and Specialization

The orthopedic landscape evolves with new technologies and treatment modalities, demanding a commitment to education that extends far beyond our initial certification.

Specialization in areas such as sports medicine or pediatric orthopedics is one avenue through which we enhance our expertise. Another consideration is to sit for the Certificate of Added Qualifications (CAQ) in Orthopaedic Surgery to demonstrate your knowledge.

Networking and Professional Development in Orthopedic Healthcare

While clinical expertise establishes your ability to provide care, your professional network seeds opportunities for career advancements.

Engagement in various healthcare forums, whether through conferences or professional associations, is a beacon for ongoing professional development.

These networks act as conduits for sharing innovative practices and can often illuminate the next steps in your career paths.

Professional development is thus a synergistic product of continuous learning, specialization, and the networking efforts that connect you to the wider community of orthopedic professionals.

Successful Orthopedic Physician Assistant

To keep the momentum of your growth in the healthcare sector, you must intertwine these elements skillfully. They fuel not only your individual aspirations, but also the collective mission to progress orthopedic care.

It is a journey that unfolds over the course of a career, as you evolve from the early days of learning the ropes to mastering the full spectrum of care as a specialized, respected orthopedic physician assistant.

The Job Market and Career Advancement in Orthopedics

In the dynamic healthcare industry, the role of an orthopedic physician assistant remains both crucial and in demand.

Career prospects in this specialty present us with numerous avenues for growth and development.

As we explore the job market, it’s evident that the potential for career advancement in orthopedics aligns with dedication to enhancing patient care and commitment to continuous professional development.

Average Salary and Factors Influencing PA Compensation in Orthopedics

Financial reward is just one aspect that reflects the value of orthopedic physician assistants within the medical community.

Currently, the average annual salary for PA-Cs is ranks in the top 10 according to the AAPA.

Further, many practices allow the PA-C to earn extra compensation either for taking on extra responsibilities or through various bonuses tied to billing or RVUs.

All compensation is influenced by various factors including geographic location, years of experience, and the setting within the healthcare system or medical practice, but ortho PAs are one of the highest earning specialties.

Navigating the Job Market: Finding Orthopedic PA Opportunities

Finding opportunities in healthcare, particularly within orthopedics, is a multifaceted endeavor.

It involves leveraging professional networks, staying abreast with job boards, and attending relevant industry conferences.

Moreover, during interviews and application processes, showcasing your experience, specialized training, and a clear understanding of the latest trends in orthopedic care becomes crucial.

By actively engaging in these practices, navigating the job market and career advancement is easy.


What Does an Orthopedic Physician Assistant Do?

Orthopedic physician assistants assist orthopedic surgeons in providing comprehensive patient care, which includes conducting patient assessments, assisting with surgeries, managing pre-op and post-op care, and prescribing medications. The role is crucial in orthopedic healthcare teams, ensuring quality care for patients with musculoskeletal conditions.

How Can I Become an Orthopedic Physician Assistant?

To become an orthopedic physician assistant, you’ll need to complete a master’s degree from an accredited physician assistant (PA) program that includes both coursework and clinical training in medical and orthopedic care. After graduating, you must pass the certification exam by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) or a similar certifying body to become licensed and practice as an PA-C.

What Are the Differences Between PA-Cs, CPA-Cs, and Orthopedic Technologists?

Orthopedic Physician Assistants (PA-Cs) provide a broad range of patient care under the supervision of an orthopedic surgeon, including assisting in surgery.

Certified Orthopedic Physician’s Assistants (CPA-Cs) and Orthopedic Assistants (OAs) may have a more specialized role, focusing on patient care and support during and after surgery.

Orthopedic technologists usually handle the technical aspects of orthopedic care, such as casting and bracing.

Each role requires different levels of certification and training.

In What Settings Do Orthopedic Physician Assistants Work?

While most Orthopedic PA-Cs work for private practices, their work is performed in various healthcare settings including clinics, urgent care centers, general hospitals, teaching hospitals, and military hospitals. Each setting offers a unique environment for providing orthopedic care, from primary to acute care and surgical assistance.

Can Orthopedic Physician Assistants Specialize in Specific Areas?

Yes, orthopedic physician assistants may choose to specialize in areas such as pediatric orthopedics, orthopedic trauma, spine conditions, sports medicine, or focusing on specific joints or body parts. Specialization usually requires additional education, such as completing a residency program, and may include passing subspecialty components of a certifying examination.

What Is the Career Outlook for an Orthopedic Physician Assistant Like?

The career outlook as an orthopedic physician assistant is very positive, with rewarding patient outcomes and diverse work experiences. As healthcare professionals, they often enjoy a high level of autonomy as their careers progress, despite the longer hours and physically demanding nature of the job.

What Are the Daily Responsibilities of an Orthopedic Physician Assistant?

Daily responsibilities include seeing patients in various primary care settings, assisting in the operating room, managing patients’ pre-operative and post-operative care, and coordinating with other healthcare teams involved in patient recovery, all under the supervision of an orthopedic surgeon.

What Educational Pathways Should I Consider to Become an Orthopedic PA?

Starting with a Master’s Degree in Physician Assistant Studies from an accredited program is essential. Following graduation, you could consider an Orthopedic Fellowship Program, which offers intensive specialized training and prepares you for certification and practice in advanced orthopedic care.

How Can I Get My First Job Working for an Orthopedic Surgeon?

To land your first job, build a strong orthopedic background through your education and clinical rotations. Leverage your professional network to discover opportunities and be flexible about job locations and salary expectations when starting in the field. Additionally, securing licensure and accumulating specialized training will make you stand out to potential employers.

What Skills and Qualities are Important for Successful Orthopedic Physician Assistants?

Key skills include clinical expertise in orthopedic care, strong communication abilities, and the capacity to work well under pressure. Continuous learning and specialization in the field is important, as is networking and engaging in professional development to further your career within orthopedic healthcare.

What Factors Influence the Salary of an Orthopedic Physician Assistant?

Several factors influence salaries – such as geographic location, years of experience, and the healthcare setting we work in. Their level of expertise and specialization can also contribute to the variability in compensation among orthopedic physician assistants.

How Do I Navigate the Job Market as an Orthopedic PA Looking for Opportunities?

Navigating the orthopedic PA job market involves employing multiple strategies: networking with healthcare professionals in the field, utilizing orthopedic-focused job boards and employment resources, and demonstrating your specialized training and relevant experience throughout the application and interview processes.

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