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 with two new categories - self-assessment and performance improvement CME (P1-CME) and take a recertification exam through the National Commission for Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) every 10 years in order to maintain certification.

How is the profession growing?

Physician Assistants have earned No. 1 spot on Glassdoor's 2015 list of the Best Jobs in America. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports these professionals — who typically practice medicine in collaboration with physicians and other healthcare professionals — make over $97,000 a year.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of physician assistants is projected to grow 30 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. As demand for healthcare services grows, physician assistants will be needed to provide care to patients. And thanks to the growing need for healthcare services, combined with a shortage of physicians, PAs are in high demand right now.

To find out what it's like to have the best job in America right now, Business Insider talked to Jeffrey A. Katz, a family practice physician assistant and president and chair of the board of the American Academy of Physician Assistants: 

"Now is the moment for PAs. It's our time, and the overwhelming recognition by multiple sources including Glassdoor in just the past year shows that being a PA is the best of all worlds.

PAs get to do what they love — practice medicine. This is a career for those who have a passion for caring for others, who want to affect change in healthcare, and, ultimately, who want to positively influence lives and heal.

In addition to accomplishing meaningful healthcare, career flexibility and work-life balance are the hallmarks of the PA profession. A typical PA may practice in two to three specialties throughout his or her career, making PAs uniquely versatile in today's healthcare industry.

The PA schedule can also be family friendly, and PAs have more control over their work environments — which leads to higher levels of professional satisfaction. 

We are also evolving healthcare and continue to be agents of change. PAs across the country and AAPA work daily with state and federal lawmakers to improve scope-of-practice laws, remove barriers that stand in the way of our ability to deliver care, and, ultimately, improve patient access to care.

And our healthcare system continues to need PAs. According to healthcare search firm Merritt Hawkins, demand for PAs increased more than 300% from 2011 to 2014."

What being a PA entails …

"At the heart of it, PAs practice medicine.

Because our education is modeled on the medical school curriculum, PAs share similar diagnostic and therapeutic reasoning with physicians. This education and training fully prepares us to collaborate on the healthcare team and perform a wide variety of highly skilled medical roles, including pre-operative, intra-operative, and post-operative care.

And while teamwork and team-based care have long been at the core of a PA's DNA, we also practice with a great deal of independence and autonomy in collaboration with all members of the healthcare team.”

There are currently over 210 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).


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