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Physician Assistant

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.

PA Responsibilities

  • 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

Physician Assistant Links