Physician assistants
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Overview
Physician assistants, also known as PAs, practice medicine on teams with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers. They examine, diagnose, and treat patients.
Predicted employment growth
Over the next decade, jobs for physician assistants are expected to grow by 37%, and should have about 10,600 job openings a year.
Safety from automation
Physician assistants are less likely to be automated than 73% of other careers.
Workforce size
Physician assistants, with 106,200 workers, form a larger workforce than 66% of careers.
Education
About 71% of physician assistants have a graduate-level education, and 89% have at least a bachelor's degree.
Education attained by physician assistants
High School
Some College
Bachelor's Degree
Master's Degree
Doctorate
Context: workers with graduate degrees
More physician assistants have graduate degrees than 96% of other careeers.
Salaries
The median (middle) salary for physician assistants is higher than 94% of all other jobs' middle salaries. The graph shows inflation-adjusted salaries for most physician assistants.
This job's median $109KAll jobs' median $39K$103K$38K20142015201620172018$0$50K$100K$150K$200K
Context: Median Salary
Gender
Women account for 65% of physician assistants -- that's a larger percentage than 80% of other jobs.
Gender of physician assistants
Men
Women
Context: Salary inequity
For each career, we compared the median (middle) men's salary to the median women's salary. For physician assistants, the median men's salary was 15% more the median woman's salary.
Race/Origin
About 16% of physician assistants are minority, and 11% are foreign-born.
Race/origin of physician assistants
White
Black
Pacific Islander
Hispanic
Asian
American Indian
Multiracial
Other
Context: Foreign-born workers (11%)
Where are the most jobs?
We ranked the number of jobs in Physician Assistants per thousand workers in each state, DC, and Puerto Rico. The darker the blue, the higher the job density.
AKMEVTNHWAIDMTNDMNMINYMARIORUTWYSDIAWIINOHPANJCTCANVCONEMOILKYWVVAMDDEAZNMKSARTNNCSCDCOKLAMSALGAHITXFLPR
Job benefits
Employer or union-sponsored pension plans are offered to 46% of physician assistants, and 62% have company-sponsored health insurance (25% have dependents enrolled in their employer's health plan).
Employer-provided health coverage for physician assistants
100% premiums covered
Partial premiums covered
Plan with no cost sharing
No health insurance
Top college degrees
Here are the top college degrees held by the 92% of people in this job who have at least a bachelor's degree. Some of degrees may link to multiple programs due to the way Census classifies college majors. Click on a program to learn more about career opportunities for people who major in that field.
The downside
Some jobs are more stressful than others, and some are just plain dangerous. The following list gives the percentages of physician assistants who report hazardous or difficult situations typically occurring at least once a week.
  • Exposed to Disease or Infections (98%)
  • Responsible for Others' Health and Safety (71%)
  • Time Pressure (70%)
  • Consequence of Error (67%)
  • Exposed to Radiation (56%)
  • Deal With Unpleasant or Angry People (50%)
  • Exposed to Contaminants (47%)
  • Frequency of Conflict Situations (41%)
  • Exposed to Hazardous Conditions (33%)
SOURCES:24.0 O*NET
Salary and diversity
Salary overview
What do physician assistants earn?

In this section, we want to give you a clear idea of what you can expect to earn in this career. We use two sources of data here: the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which asks employers to classify their workforce and to report salaries using the SOC-specialty level of reporting, and the American Community Survey (ACS), which asks people to classify their jobs using the broad classifications that ididio uses for career profiles, and to self-report their salaries. For some jobs, the differences in survey approaches between BLS and ACS can paint a very different end-picture. Whenever possible, we provide data from both sources.

The BLS-compiled salary data is reported by companies for their employees. This data excludes self-employed workers. We first show the distribution of salaries for physician assistants, and then we show how the middle (median) salary for physician assistants compares to the BLS-computed median salaries of other careers.
Distribution: Salaries for physician assistants (BLS Salary Data)
$109K$0$50K$100K$150K$200K
Context: Median salaries across careers (BLS Salary Data)
$109K$0$50K$100K$150K$200K
We compiled household data from the ACS to determine the salaries that people working at least 35 hours a week report themselves to earn. Unlike the BLS estimates, this data includes self-employed wages. We first show the full salary distribution for all physician assistants, and then we show how the median (middle) salary for physician assistants compares to the median ACS-reported salary of other careers.
Distribution: Salaries for physician assistants (ACS Salary Data)
$95K$0$50K$100K$150K$200K
Context: Median salaries across careers (ACS Salary Data)
$95K$0$50K$100K$150K$200K
Employers and salary
A look at employers and corresponding salaries
The donut shares the break-down of workers by employer type, and following we show the salary distributions for these workers based on those employer types. For some careers, the salaries can be vastly different between private, government, and self-employment. As with our salary overview, we view the both the BLS economists' salary profiles and the household-reported salaries from ACS to get a thorough understanding of where physician assistants work and for what salary. We have the great faith in the accuracy of economist-vetted BLS data; however, the BLS restrictions on which employers are surveyed skews the data a bit (read more in the sources), and the ACS responses provide different and useful categorizations of employers and salaries.
Employers of Physician assistants (ACS)
Private for-profit (66.0%)
Private not-for-profit (23.9%)
Local government (1.6%)
State government (2.2%)
Federal government (4.7%)
Self-employed incorporated (1.1%)
Self-employed not incorporated (0.6%)
Working without pay (0.0%)
Distribution: Salaries of physician assistants by type of employer (ACS data)
Following are the salary distributions by employer type calculated by aggregating individual household survey responses.
$95K$93K$100K$101K$92K$0$50,000$100,000$150,000Federal governmentLocal governmentPrivate not-for-profitPrivate for-profitAll
Distribution: Salaries of physician assistants by type of employer (BLS data)
Following are the salary distributions by employer type as reported by BLS based on large employer-focused surveys. We note that smaller employer categories are not included by BLS.
$109K$100K$108K$109K$102K$0$50,000$100,000$150,000$200,000Federal governmentState governmentLocal governmentPrivateAll
Age and career advancement
Salary growth for physician assistants

The biggest take-away from the following two charts is the relationship between salary and experience that we can infer from age. Does this job seem to attract especially younger or older workers? Does it reward experience?

Take a minute a look at how much you might expect your salary to increase with each five years' experience, as well as how the numbers working in this career changes. We only provide this data when there are enough consistent ACS survey responses to allow a reasonable margin of error, so for some careers you will see gaps in our reporting of salary by age.

$107K$94K$103K$105K$104K$83K$101K$102K$26K$0$50K$100K$150K$200KSalary distribution20-2425-2930-3435-3940-4445-4950-5455-5960-64
05K10K15K20K25KNumber employed20-2425-2930-3435-3940-4445-4950-5455-5960-64

Our only sources for career data containing age, gender, or origin/race come from the Census Bureau. To provide these breakdowns, we have aggregated ACS person-level career survey responses by career, gender, race, and age. These graphics reflect the results of our aggregations, and are useful for identifying trends. A careful statistical study of the impact of age, gender, and race on salaries would correct for other factors that could be contributing to salary differences.

Gender and Equity
Physician assistants and gender

With 65% women, this occupation has a higher percentage of women than 80% of careers.

Context: Women in the workforce
65%0%20%40%60%80%100%
Gender of Physician assistants
Men (35%)
Women (65%)
Distribution: Salaries by gender

As we'll illustrate at the bottom of this section, the median salary for all full-time male workers in the US exceeds the full-time median salary for women by 20%. The situation is a little better for physician assistants, with the median salary for men 15% higher than the median salary for women. This chart shows you the salary range for most workers by gender.

$91K$104K$0$50K$100K$150K$200KWomenMen
Context: Salary Inequity

Nationwide there are twenty careers for which men do not have a higher median (middle) salary than women. The chart below shows the salary inequity, the percentage by which the median men's salary is higher than the median women's salary, for most jobs. Physician assistants have one of the middle percentage increases for men's salary, with the increase for the men's median salary over the women's median salary in this job higher than that for 43% of other jobs.

15%0%20%40%60%80%100%

Our only sources for career data containing age, gender, or origin/race come from the Census Bureau. To provide these breakdowns, we have aggregated ACS person-level career survey responses by career, gender, race, and age. These graphics reflect the results of our aggregations, and are useful for identifying trends. A careful statistical study of the impact of age, gender, and race on salaries would correct for other factors that could be contributing to salary differences.

Race/Origin
Race and origin of physician assistants

The representation of minority and foreign-born workers is quite different between careers, and the relative pay of those workers also varies significantly between careers. There is a smaller percentage of minority physician assistants than for 65% of other careers. As with minority workers, there is also a smaller percentage of foreign-born workers in this career than in most other careers.

Race/origin of physician assistants
White (82% )
Black (7% )
Asian (6% )
Multiracial (2% )
Other (2% )
Hispanic (0% )
American Indian (0% )
Pacific Islander (0% )
Context: Representation of minorities in the workforce
16%0%20%40%60%80%100%
Context: Representation of foreign-born workers
11%0%20%40%60%80%100%
Distribution: Salaries for physician assistants by race/origin

For some careers, there is a pay disparity depending on race or origin, though this is not prevalent. We calculate standard errors for all of our calculations, and when the error is high we do not show results. Therefore, for some jobs will have omitted race/origin categories.

$83K$84K$88K$91K$96K$0$50K$100K$150K$200KBlackOtherMultiracialAsianWhite
Distribution: Salaries for physician assistants by nativity
$91K$95K$0$50K$100K$150KAll foreign-bornAll native citizens

Our only sources for career data containing age, gender, or origin/race come from the Census Bureau. To provide these breakdowns, we have aggregated ACS person-level career survey responses by career, gender, race, and age. These graphics reflect the results of our aggregations, and are useful for identifying trends. A careful statistical study of the impact of age, gender, and race on salaries would correct for other factors that could be contributing to salary differences.

Pathways to this career
Education requirements and salary
Education attained by physician assistants

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physician assistants typically hold a master's degree.

Sometimes the typical education identified by the BLS differs a bit from the reality of the how much education current workers actually have. The donut shows the education level held by people currently working as physician assistants as reported in responses to the American Community Survey. Following, we investigate whether education level influences salary for physician assistants.

Education attained by physician assistants
None
High School
Some College
Associate's Degree
Bachelor's Degree
Master's Degree
Professional Deg/Doct
Doctorate
Details: Education and training recommended for physician assistants

Most applicants to physician assistant education programs already have a bachelor’s degree and some patient care work experience. Although admissions requirements vary from program to program, most programs require 2 to 4 years of undergraduate coursework with a focus in science. Many applicants already have experience as registered nurses or as EMTs or paramedics before they apply to a physician assistant program.

Physician assistant education programs usually take at least 2 years of full-time study. More than 200 education programs were accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. (ARC-PA) in 2017. Almost all of these accredited programs offer a master’s degree.

Physician assistant education includes classroom and laboratory instruction in subjects such as pathology, human anatomy, physiology, clinical medicine, pharmacology, physical diagnosis, and medical ethics. The programs also include supervised clinical training in several areas, including family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine, and pediatrics.

Sometimes students serve in one or more clinical rotations in these areas under the supervision of a physician who is looking to hire a physician assistant. In this way, clinical rotations may lead to permanent employment.

Details: Licensing and certification recommended for physician assistants

All states and the District of Columbia require physician assistants to be licensed. To become licensed, candidates must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). A physician assistant who passes the exam may use the credential “Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C).”

To keep their certification, physician assistants must complete 100 hours of continuing education every 2 years. The recertification exam is required every 10 years.

In addition, state licensure laws require physician assistants to hold an agreement with a supervising physician. Although the physician does not need to be onsite at all times, collaboration between physicians and physician assistants is required for practice.

Distribution: Salary by education level

What level of education is truly needed for physician assistants? Below we see the distribution of physician assistants salaries based on the education attained. These comparisons are based on all survey responses by those who identified themselves as physician assistants, and are not intended as a statistical analysis of salary differences that would correct for non-educational factors that could contribute to high or low earnings.

$38K$42K$41K$84K$100K$103K$0$50K$100K$150KHigh School (2%)Some College (3%)Associate's Degree (6%)Bachelor's Degree (18%)Master's Degree (56%)Professional Deg/Doct (13%)
Bachelor's degree pathways
College majors held by physician assistants

This table shows the college majors held by people working as physician assistants. Select any degree to see detailed information. We are able to connect careers to degrees using the American Community Survey (ACS), and their degrees are defined a little differently from our programs, which are based on standard CIP classifications. Therefore, selecting some degrees will lead to a selection of CIP-level programs from which to choose.

If you see "**" before the name of a degree/program, that means this field is one that the Department of Education believes is preparatory for this career. However, you can see from this list that those recommendations are far from your only path to this job!

Degree
Select any title to learn more about that degree
Percentage of Physician assistants with this degree
Salary for all majors
Salary distribution (across jobs). Showing 0-$200,000.
Median
Middle 50%
Middle 80%
Education
Final education level of all people with this major
Bachelor's Degree
Master's Degree
Doctorate
Gender
Gender of people this bachelor's degree
Men
Women
The link between degrees and careers
The link between degrees and careers

With the following "sankey" diagram, you can follow the top ten bachelor's degrees held by people working as physician assistants, and then, in turn, you can see the 10 occupations that hire the most of each degree's graduates. This visualization links fields of studies and careers, suggesting both similar careers and options for degrees. The full list of bachelor's degrees held by physician assistants given in the previous section reminds us that there are many paths to these careers beyond what we can summarize here.

This job
Top 10 majors
Each major's top ten jobs
Physicians and surgeonsPostsecondary teachersManagers (specialized areas)Elementary and middle school teachersDentistsRegistered nursesPhysical scientists (specialized areas)Epidemiologists and Medical/Life ScientistsClinical laboratory technologists and techniciansPharmacistsPhysical therapistsOccupational therapistsHealthcare practitioners and technical occupations (specialized areas)Therapists (specialized areas)Medical and health services managersPhysician assistantsDental hygienistsMedical assistantsHealth Practitioner Support Technologists and TechniciansDental assistantsDiagnostic related technologists and techniciansNursing, psychiatric, and home health aidesNurse PractitionersNurse anesthetistsSocial workersCounselorsPsychologistsLawyers, judges, and magistratesHuman resources workersEducation administratorsRecreation and fitness workersSecondary school teachersAthletes, coaches, umpires, and related workersWholesale and manufacturing sales representativesFirst-line supervisors of retail sales workersAccountants and auditorsVeterinariansChiropractorsBiologyTreatment TherapyProfessionsMedical Assisting ServicesGeneral Medical and HealthServicesNursingPsychologyPhysical Fitness, Parks,Recreation, and LeisureMultidisciplinary or GeneralScienceHealth and MedicalPreparatory ProgramsPhysiologyAll other degrees
Switching Careers
Most common new jobs
The most common next careers for physician assistants

What jobs will most physician assistants hold next year?

The data in this chart comes from person interviews for the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey. The survey interviews households eight times over a two-year period, allowing us a glimpse into how people move from job to job. You can see more details from the results of the survey in our last tab in this section, and you can read about our methodology in our source descriptions.

Here we see all of the jobs that at least 1% of physician assistants reported holding in their second year's survey. Is your future job on this list?

Physician assistantsMedical assistantsPhysicians and surgeonsRegistered nursesNursing, psychiatric, and home health aidesTherapists (specialized areas)Health Practitioner Support Technologists and Technicians
Lateral career moves
Lateral job transitions for physician assistants

A lateral career transition is a move to a job with similar pay and responsibilities. A move to such a job can offer a change of pace without an increase in stress or a decrease in pay. The following table simply identifies all 4 jobs which were held by at least 1% of survey respondents before working as physician assistants as well as 1% of respondents after working as physician assistants. Select a row to investigate the job's full description and determine if it truly offers an opportunity for a lateral transition.

Lateral-move careers for physician assistants
Annual openings
How many openings are expected each year?
Salary
Salary distribution for people in this occupation. Range is 0-$200,000.
Median
Middle 50%
Middle 80%
Education
High School
Some College
Bachelor's Degree
Master's Degree
Doctorate
Gender
Men
Women
Registered nurses
203,800
$0$200K$63K
Medical assistants
95,000
$0$200K$30K
Health Practitioner Support Technologists and Technicians
71,400
$0$200K$32K
Physicians and surgeons
28,600
$0$200K$76K
Full prior and next career listings
Prior and next careers for physician assistants: full listings

What do people typically do before and after they work as physician assistants? Here are the full lists of all jobs that at least 1% of physician assistants surveyed reported as holding a year earlier or later.

Choose which type of transition to view
Prior jobs
Next jobs
Prior careers for physician assistants
Annual openings
How many openings are expected each year?
Salary
Salary distribution for people in this occupation. Range is 0-$200,000.
Median
Middle 50%
Middle 80%
Education
High School
Some College
Bachelor's Degree
Master's Degree
Doctorate
Gender
Men
Women
Percentage Transitioning
What percentage worked in this job the previous year?
Waiters and waitresses
522,900
$0$200K$21K
1.5%
Registered nurses
203,800
$0$200K$63K
1.5%
Medical assistants
95,000
$0$200K$30K
10.5%
Market research analysts and marketing specialists
78,300
$0$200K$63K
1.3%
Health Practitioner Support Technologists and Technicians
71,400
$0$200K$32K
1.3%
Physicians and surgeons
28,600
$0$200K$76K
2.2%
Chief executives and legislators
24,000
$0$200K$96K
1.1%
Nurse Practitioners
14,900
$0$200K$99K
1.2%
Human resources managers
12,400
$0$200K$69K
1.0%
Physician assistants
10,600
$0$200K$95K
51.9%
No occupation
13.9%
Read about physician assistants
Responsibilities and activities
Responsibilities and activities

Physician assistants typically do the following:

  • Take or review patients’ medical histories
  • Examine patients
  • Order and interpret diagnostic tests, such as x rays or blood tests
  • Diagnose a patient’s injury or illness
  • Give treatment, such as setting broken bones and immunizing patients
  • Educate and counsel patients and their families—for example, answering questions about how to care for a child with asthma
  • Prescribe medicine
  • Assess and record a patient’s progress
  • Research the latest treatments to ensure the quality of patient care
  • Conduct or participate in outreach programs, talking to groups about managing diseases and promoting wellness

Physician assistants work on teams with physicians or surgeons and other healthcare workers. Their specific duties and the extent to which they must be supervised by physicians or surgeons differ from state to state.

Physician assistants work in all areas of medicine, including primary care and family medicine, emergency medicine, surgery, and psychiatry. The work of physician assistants depends in large part on their specialty or the type of medical practice where they work. For example, a physician assistant working in surgery may close incisions and provide care before, during, and after the operation. A physician assistant working in pediatrics may examine a child and give routine vaccinations.

In some areas, especially rural and medically underserved communities, physician assistants may be the primary care providers at clinics where a physician is present only 1 or 2 days per week. In these locations, physician assistants collaborate with the physician as needed and as required by law.

Some physician assistants make house calls or visit nursing homes to treat patients.

Physician assistants are different from medical assistants. Medical assistants do routine clinical and clerical tasks and do not practice medicine.

Personality and skills
Personality and skills

Can you see yourself in the ranks of physician assistants? Here are the skills and traits that could lead to success.

Communication skills
Physician assistants must explain complex medical issues in a way that patients can understand. They must also effectively communicate with doctors and other healthcare workers to ensure that they provide the best possible patient care.
Compassion
Physician assistants deal with patients who are sick or injured and may be in extreme pain or distress. They must treat patients and their families with compassion and understanding.
Detail oriented
Physician assistants should be observant and have a strong ability to focus when evaluating and treating patients.
Emotional stability
Physician assistants, particularly those working in surgery or emergency medicine, should work well under pressure. They must remain calm in stressful situations in order to provide quality care.
Problem-solving skills
Physician assistants need to evaluate patients’ symptoms and administer the appropriate treatments. They must be diligent when investigating complicated medical issues so they can determine the best course of treatment for each patient.
Trends in employment
Salary trends
Distribution and trends: Salaries for physician assistants
Choose actual dollars or inflation-adjusted dollars to view
Adjusted for inflation
Historic dollars

In 2018, the median (middle) salary for physician assistants was higher than 94% of all other jobs' middle salaries. This graphic shows how the salary distribution (adjusted for inflation) has changed for this job over recent years. The gray line, as a comparison, shows the median salary of all US workers.

This job's median $109KAll jobs' median $39K$92K$38K200420052006200720082009201020112012201320142015201620172018$0$50K$100K$150K$200K
Projected versus actual employment
Exploring actual employment trends versus projected trends

Currently, jobs for physician assistants are anticipated to grow by 37% over the next decade; only 0% of jobs are predicted to grow more.

The projected employment for physician assistants is the best guess created by talented economists and statisticians at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, as you look through several careers you'll notice that the projections are heavily influenced by past performance and may miss current trends. No one can tell the future, and as new information and better techniques are developed, actual counts and future projections may change. Here's a glimpse at the actual counts versus the projections over time.

2000201020202030050,000100,000150,000
Employment counts
Actual measured employment
BLS 10-year predictions
Variation by state
Employment
State-by-state employment numbers

Some careers tend to be centered in specific parts of the country. For example, most jobs in fashion are in New York or California. Let's see if your dream job is easy to find in your dream location! We have a few choices for viewing the data that can help you get a full employment picture.

Job density versus job count

Which states hire the most physician assistants? We wonder if that's a fair question since states come in all sizes, so instead let's start with the question of which states have the highest density of people working as physician assistants. You can choose to view the number of jobs per state if you prefer.

BLS vs ACS data

This map defaults to employment information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which provides job totals carefully compiled for accuracy and with a primary focus on how employers describe their workers. The BLS job totals do not count self-employed workers. We've also compiled totals using the Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS) which are based on how workers describe themselves. Sometimes ACS results are quite a bit different from the employer-based BLS data.

Choose the metric to review
Jobs per 1000 working
Number of jobs
Use this data source
BLS
Number of Physician Assistants per 1,000 workers (BLS)
Select a state to see local area details
AKMEVTNHWAIDMTNDMNMINYMARIORUTWYSDIAWIINOHPANJCTCANVCONEMOILKYWVVAMDDEAZNMKSARTNNCSCDCOKLAMSALGAHITXFLPR
0.00.51.01.52.0
Salary
Salaries by state
Let's get a feel for where physician assistants earn the highest salaries. There are several choices for which data we consider and how we view that data, and each can lead to different conclusions, so please read on...
Median salary versus state ratio

We use two methods to compare salaries across states:

  • In-state comparisons: the ratio of median (middle) salaries for physician assistants compared to the median salary for all people working in each state, or
  • Median salary: the unaltered median salaries for physician assistants.

We hope the ratio allows perspective about how salaries may compare to the regional cost-of-living.

BLS vs ACS data

We have two sources for statewide salary information with important distinctions. The BLS data is created by surveying companies, missing individuals who are self-employed or work for smaller companies. The ACS data is compiled from multi-faceted household surveys and may reflect the inconsistencies that people may have in reporting information.

Choose the metric to review
In-state comparisions
Median salary
Use this data source
BLS
Median salary ratio: Physician Assistants to all workers (BLS)
The darkest shading corresponds to states in which physician assistants earn the highest salary when compared to other jobs in the state. We think this ratio might be a better indicator than the actual salary for your buying power as a state resident.
Select a state to see local area details
AKMEVTNHWAIDMTNDMNMINYMARIORUTWYSDIAWIINOHPANJCTCANVCONEMOILKYWVVAMDDEAZNMKSARTNNCSCDCOKLAMSALGAHITXFLPR
0.01.02.03.04.0
Compare to similar jobs

If this job interests you, then use the dots below to find other jobs you might like. The dots closer to the top represent jobs that are like Physician assistants (shown with a blue star). Look for the dots to the right to find the best salaries! (We pulled salary data from BLS, and they give a top salary value of just over $200K to protect privacy, so our graph would go much higher if the salaries were not top coded.)

How should the career similarity be computed

There are a number of ways to measure the similarity of jobs, here are a few we provide:

  • Interests: Also known as a Holland Code - Are you a thinker? A helper? What fits your personality?
  • Environment: Are there hazards? Will you be comfortable? Will it be stressful?
  • Knowledge: What do you need to know the most about?
  • Physical Abilities: Do you need to especially strong or coordinated?
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