What is a Physician Assistant?
Physician assistants (PAs) are health professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. All PAs, with the exception of those employed by the federal government and credentialed under a separate system, are qualified by graduation from an accredited PA educational program and certification by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).
Within the physician/PA relationship, physician assistants exercise autonomy in medical decision making and provide a broad range of diagnostic and therapeutic services. A PA's responsibilities may also include education, research, and administrative services.
The growth of the profession has been substantial since its inception in 1965. PA programs were begun to offset the shortage of doctors. Many of the first PAs were former medical corpsmen who wanted to use their medical knowledge and experience in civilian life.
State Laws Regulating PAs have expanded access to physician services provided by PAs, including the authority to prescribe in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, and Guam. The development of HMOs and other prepaid plans and the growing acceptance of PAs by other health care professionals have combined to strengthen the job market for PAs.
PAs practice in all 50 states and the District of Columbia; the U.S. Territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the United States Virgin Islands. They work in virtually all health care settings, including hospitals, physicians’ offices, HMOs, correctional institutions, military installations, VA medical centers, nursing homes, public health agencies, community clinics, research centers, urban/rural health clinics, health care education and administration offices, industrial medicine clinics, and even the White House.
The responsibilities of a PA depend on the practice setting, education, and experience of the PA, and on the state laws and regulations. PAs can take medical histories, perform physical exams, order and interpret laboratory tests, diagnose and treat illnesses, counsel patients, assist in surgery, and set fractures.
PAs are educated as generalists in medicine, and their education and credentialing are based on a primary care foundation. However, many PAs work in specialty fields, such as cardiovascular surgery, orthopedics, and emergency medicine. The largest proportion opts for the primary care specialty areas of family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology.
Every day, thousands of people have access to quality health care because there are PAs in their communities. Many PAs hold positions in rural communities that would otherwise be without a health care provider. As patient advocates and educators, PAs help people use the health care system more efficiently and effectively. If you want to make a difference — and have a positive influence on health care in this country — the PA profession is waiting for you.
Go to http://www.aapa.org to access more information compiled by the American Academy of Physician Assistants about the responsibilities of PAs, job projections over the next decade, and other statistics on the PA profession.
If you are interested in becoming a PA, you may want to subscribe to the PA Programs Directory, the only comprehensive listing of PA educational programs in the United States. The directory contains each program’s contact information, admission deadlines and application instructions, entrance requirements, curricula, tuition fees, financial aid, housing, and other relevant information. The directory also includes links to the programs’ websites, which offer program-specific, detailed information and resources. Subscribe to the online PA Programs Directory at http://www.paeaonline.org/index.php?ht=d/sp/i/25515/pid/25515. The cost for a year’s online access is $35. Health advisors may access this directory at no charge. Please contact Ashley Smith, email@example.com, for log-in information.
Frequently Asked Questions
For a list of responses to frequently asked questions, please click here.
Why Should You Become a PA?
Click here to download the informational brochure, Student Brochure (PDF Document)