Q: What is a Physician Assistant (PA)?
A: Physician assistants are health care professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. As part of their comprehensive responsibilities, PAs conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventative health care, assist in surgery, and write prescriptions. Within the physician-PA relationship, physician assistants exercise autonomy in medical decision making and provide a broad range of diagnostic and therapeutic services. A PA’s practice may also include education, research, and administrative services.
Q: What does “PA-C” stand for? What does the “C” mean?
A: Physician Assistant-Certified. It means that the person who holds the title has met the defined course of study and has undergone testing by the NCCPA. The NCCPA is an independent organization and the commissioners represent a number of different medical professions as well as PAs. The NCCPA is not part of the PA professional organization. To maintain that “C” after “PA”, a physician assistant must log 100 hours of continuing medical education every 2 years and take the recertification exam every 6 years.
Q: How is a Physician Assistant educated?
A: Physician assistants are educated in intensive medical programs accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). The average PA program curriculum runs approximately 26 months. Until recently, PA programs awarded certificates and associate degrees in addition to master’s and bachelor’s degrees. Now the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) requires that all programs offer graduate level degrees.
Because of the close working relationship PAs have with physicians, PAs are educated in the medical model designed to complement physician training. Education consists of classroom and laboratory instruction in the basic medical and behavioral sciences (such as anatomy, pharmacology, pathophysiology, clinical medicine, and physical diagnosis), followed by clinical rotations in internal medicine, family medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, emergency medicine, and geriatric medicine.
Q: Can PAs prescribe medications?
A: All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam have enacted laws that authorize PA prescribing.
Q: What do physicians think about Physician Assistants?
A: Most physicians who have worked with physician assistants like having PAs on staff. The American Medical Association, the American College of Surgeons, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Physicians, and other national medical organizations support the physician assistant profession by actively supporting the PA certifying and the PA program accrediting agency.
Studies done by the Federal Government have shown that PAs, working with the supervision of physicians, provide care that is comparable to physician care. The Eighth Report to the President and Congress on the status of Health Personnel in the United States (released in 1992) states, “Physician assistants have demonstrated their clinical effectiveness both in terms of quality of care and patient acceptance.”
Q: What is the working relationship between a physician and a physician assistant?
A: The relationship between a PA and the supervising physician is one of mutual trust and respect. The physician assistant is a representative of the physician, treating the patient in the style and manner developed and directed by the supervising physician. The physician and PA practice as members of a medical team.
To learn more about PAs, click on the links below:
www.aapa.org (American Academy of Physician Assistants)
www.nccpa.net (National Commission on Certification of PAs)
www.njsspa.org (New Jersey State Society of Physician Assistants)
www.paos.org (Physician Assistants in Orthopedic Surgery)