Physician Assistants are a relatively new type of healthcare professional. The category arose in the 1970s as a creative solution to doctor shortages, and now there are more than 150,000 highly trained physician assistants in the United States.
In May 2021, the American Association of Physician Assistants voted to change the title of this position to Physician Associate. The organization is implementing a strategic plan to make this change and is asking physician assistants to wait to make the change in their interactions with patients until the process is well established. This means that you may hear both terms for a while. They mean the same thing.
Physician Assistant training
Physician assistants must earn a Bachelor’s degree and then complete a three-year PA’s degree. They are required to complete 100 hours of continuing education after passing a certification exam, and must be recertified every ten years.
With thousands of hours of training, PAs focus on the whole patient and may refer patients to different kinds of medical specialists. PAs will be part of a medical care team, and may also function as primary care physicians.
A PA certification program includes 2,000 hours of clinical rotation, but the people who enter these programs have an average of 3,000 hours of patient contact. Often they have worked as emergency medical technicians, paramedics, or athletic trainers before deciding to pursue licensure as a physician assistant.
What do physician assistants do?
PAs take medical histories, conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, and work with patients on preventive care. PAs may assist surgeons but are not themselves licensed to perform surgery. In the past, a PA usually worked under a specific doctor’s supervision, but now PAs usually collaborate with physicians and nurses on a care team.
PAs can prescribe medications, just as physicians do. PAs provide increased access to medical care in Arkansas and across the nation.
At MANA, PAs have been an important part of our medical team in urgent care and family medicine for the last two decades. We have excellent PAs and are so glad they are part of our team this year and every year!