Physician Assistants (PAs) are health professionals trained in the medical model, as are their physician supervisors, in nationally accredited educational programs. PAs are not independent clinicians; they are highly skilled professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. The PA's ability for autonomous decision making and patient management contributes tremendously to the physician/PA team, thus ensuring the highest quality standards of patient care. PAs deliver a broad range of medical and surgical services to diverse rural and urban populations and may perform educational, research, and administrative activities.
What can a PA do?
Physicians may delegate to PAs those medical duties that are within the physician's scope of practice. As part of their comprehensive responsibilities, PAs take medical histories, perform physical examinations, order and interpret laboratory tests, diagnose and treat illnesses, prescribe medications, assist in surgery and perform minor procedures, counsel patients and give medical advice. PAs also make rounds in nursing homes and hospitals. In most states, PAs can treat patients when the physician is away from the practice. State laws require that the supervising physician be immediately available for consultation, usually by telephone, while the PA is seeing patients. An example would be a PA working in a rural clinic while the supervising physician may be at the hospital or another office.
What qualifies a PA to practice?
PAs are educated in the medical model at nationally accredited educational programs. Prerequisites are dependent on whether the program awards a master's or bachelor’s degree upon completion. Typically, most programs require a bachelor's degree, or at least two years of prerequisites. The majority of applicants have a bachelor's degree with an average of four years prior health care experience. After graduation, PAs must pass a national certification exam developed by the National Board of Medical Examiners (the same testing organization for physicians) and administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Only those PAs with current certification may use the designation "PA-C" (Physician Assistant - Certified). PAs must earn 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years and take a recertification exam every six years to maintain certification. The certification and recertification exams help ensure a core competency of medical/surgical knowledge that each PA should attain and maintain. In addition, a PA must meet state licensing requirements from the Composite State Board of Medical Examiners in order to practice.
Where do PAs practice?
The education, licensure and certification of PAs allow them to work in virtually any medical and/or surgical setting, such as:
* Physician's Offices
* Community Clinics
* Military Installations
* VA Medical Centers
* Urban/Rural Health Centers
* Health Care Education
* Health Care Administration
* Public Health Agencies
* Correctional Institutions
* Independent Contractor
* Private Industry and/or Research
Within any of these settings, PAs may specialize in a single branch of medicine, including family medicine, emergency medicine, internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, and obstetrics/gynecology.