The PA Profession

What is a PA?

Physician assistants are an essential part of a medical team.  By design, a physician assistant, or PA, works together in a medical team with a physician.  A PA is a medical professional who graduates from an accredited PA education program, is nationally certified, state licensed, and practices medicine with the supervision of a licensed physician. The concept of the profession originated in the early-to-mid 1960's as a way to enhance medical care to people residing in medically underserved areas.

What do PAs do?

Physician assistants provide high-quality medical care to patients. They practice and can prescribe medications in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  The profession is starting to expand abroad and many countries including Canada, India, and the Netherlands have already started to incorporate PAs into the health care system and the U.K. and Australia are piloting PA programs.  In the United States, PAs practice in a wide range of medical settings including; hospitals, physician offices, urgent care centers, military and Veterans Administration installations, nursing homes, industrial health and correctional institutions.  They always work in conjunction with a physician and have a wide array of responsibilities including:

  • Medical history taking
  • Performing physical examinations
  • Ordering or performing lab and other diagnostic tests
  • Synthesizing data to make a proper diagnosis
  • Developing a treatment plan
  • Performing health related counseling
  • Performing various procedures such as casting and suturing
  • Assisting in surgery

How do PAs maintain certification?

As lifelong learners, PAs participate in continuing medical education, 100 hours every 2 years, and take a recertification exam through the National Commission for Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) every 6 years in order to maintain certification.

How is the profession growing?

According to the AAPA, in 2010, the median PA salary was $90,000 annually. Approximately The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that PAs will be the second-fastest-growing profession in the next decade, increasing from 74,800 in 2008 to 103,900 in 2018. 64 percent of PAs report being “most satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their jobs. The PA Profession has recently gained much public attention, being ranked as the 2nd best profession by CNN Money in both 2009 and 2010 ( based on criteria such as salary, job satisfaction, and work schedule.

There are currently over 150 accredited PA programs in the United States. The vast majority award master’s degrees. The Physician Assistant profession is represented by the American Academy of Physician Assistants(AAPA).  PA educational programs are represented by the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) and accredited through the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant(ARC-PA).

For more information, visit

YOUTUBE VIDEO on What is a PA that features Michael Rackover and our students in the classroom

Short 1 minute video

More extensive 7 minute video