About the Profession

What is a Physician Assistant?

photo of PA student with patientA physician assistant (PA) is a health professional licensed by a state or credentialed by a federal employer to practice medicine as delegated by and with the supervision of a physician. Upon graduation from an accredited program, PAs are eligible to take the national certifying examination administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Only those passing the examination can use the title “Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C).” PAs keep up with medical advances through continuing medical education courses (CME). In order to maintain national certification, PAs must complete 100 hours of CME every two years and take a recertification exam every six years.

A hallmark of physician assistant practice is that PAs provide a broad range of medical and surgical services as part of a team with their supervising physicians. As part of the physician/PA team, PAs diagnose and treat illness and injuries and can exercise a degree of autonomy in their decisions. Physician assistants perform physical examinations, order and interpret diagnostic tests, prescribe medications and provide patient education and preventive health care counseling. They also perform therapeutic procedures such as suturing lacerations and applying casts. A particular PA's responsibilities vary with training, experience, state law, and what is delegated by the supervising physician. PAs are recognized throughout the nation as quality health care providers.

PAs are employed in virtually all types of health care settings -- hospitals, clinics, private physician offices, schools, and HMO's. PAs can be found in communities of all sizes, from the smallest rural town to major metropolitan areas, and in virtually every medical and surgical specialty. Although the majority of PAs work in primary care medicine -- family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology -- many also work in specialty medicine, such as cardiothoracic surgery and orthopedics. Voluntary specialty certification in some areas will soon be available. PAs may also work in the areas of medical education, health administration and research.

Additional information about the profession may be obtained from the American Academy of Physician Assistants:

American Academy of Physician Assistants
950 North Washington Street
Alexandria, VA 22314-1552

Phone: 703/836-2272