A physician assistant (PA) is a health professional licensed by the state or certified by a federal employer to practice medicine with the supervision of a physician. Physician assistants provide a broad range of medical and surgical services that have traditionally been performed by physicians. As part of the physician/PA team, physician assistants diagnose and treat illness and injuries and can exercise a degree of autonomy in their decisions. A hallmark of physician assistant practice is that PAs practice as part of a team with their supervising physicians. PAs are increasingly recognized as quality health care providers. They can meet the needs of patients in a variety of clinical and hospital settings.
What's the difference between a PA and a physician?
Physician assistants are trained in medicine, just like physicians, and in some programs PAs attend many of the same classes as medical students, but
- On average, an accredited course of study for a PA takes approximately 108 weeks to complete compared to 153 weeks for the typical medical school program.
- Physicians are required to do an internship, and the majority also complete a residency in a specialty following the internship. PAs do not have to undertake an internship or residency.
- A physician has complete responsibility for the care of a patient. PAs share that responsibility with physicians.
- Performing physical examinations
- Compiling patient medical histories
- Ordering and interpreting diagnostic testing, including electrocardiograms and other tests
- Performing therapeutic procedures, including suturing and cast removal
- Developing/monitoring patient treatment plans based on medical diagnoses
- Counseling patients about preventive care and risk management (including crisis intervention)
- Prescribing medication
- Ensuring the patient's general "wellness"
- Acting as first and secondary assist in surgery
- Providing emergency medical services