Physician assistants (PAs) practice medicine under the supervision of physicians. They perform a wide array of health care services that were traditionally provided by doctors. They diagnose and treat illnesses. Physician assistants develop and implement treatment plans. Some PAs assist in surgeries. Their duties vary with their experience, training and state laws.
In many states, physician assistants are allowed to write prescriptions. In most states a physician assistant is allowed to treat patients while the doctor is out of the office. In some inner-city or rural clinics a physician assistant may be the primary care provider and a doctor may only be present one or two days per week. In these situations a physician assistant consults with a supervising doctor and other medical professionals as needed and as required by law.
Some PAs go to hospitals to check on patients. A physician assistants practice corresponds to the supervising physician's practice. The doctor will generally deal with the more complex medical cases and cases that are not routine for a physician assistant.
PAs are found in all areas of medicine. About half of physician assistants practice primary care medicine (family medicine, pediatrics and internal medicine). Many are involved in surgery or a surgical subspecialty.
- Examine and treat patients
- Provide diagnostic and therapeutic services
- Take medical histories
- Order and interpret laboratory tests
- Treat minor injuries
- Provide preventive healthcare services
- Order or carry out therapy
- Assist doctor's during surgeries
A physician assistant's work schedule may vary according to the work hours of the supervising physician and the medical practice environment. PAs that work in clinics typically work 40 hours per week. Those working in hospitals may work at night, during weekends or work early in the morning to visit patients.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has forecasted a 39 percent employment growth for physician assistants from 2008 to 2018 which is much faster than the average for all occupations. The employment growth is due to an emphasis on cost containment and the expansion of healthcare industries. Physician assistants are cost effective.
The median annual earnings for physician assistants in 2008 was $81,230. The highest paid 10 percent earned more than $110,240.
Education, Certification, and Licensing
Physician assistant education programs typically take at least two years to finish. Most of these programs are at allied health schools, medical schools, academic health centers and four-year colleges. Many physician assistant accredited programs have clinical teaching affiliations with medical schools. The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant provides accreditation for physician assistant educational programs.
Most candidates for physician assistant educational programs have earned a college degree and have some health-related work experience. However, admissions requirements vary by program. many PAs have prior work experience as registered nurses, emergency medical technicians and paramedics. After graduation, they partake in continual medical education programs and they also acquire more knowledge via their interaction with doctors and other healthcare providers.
Some schools for physician assistants provide many of the classes that are provided to medical students. Physician assistant educational programs include classroom learning, time in laboratories and supervised clinical training in several areas including family medicine, surgery, internal medicine, prenatal care, gynecology, pediatrics, emergency medicine and geriatrics.
Every state has legislation that governs the practice of physician assistants. Every jurisdiction requires PAs to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination which is provided by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. To remain certified, PAs must complete 100 hours of continual education every two years. Every six years they are required to pass a re-certification examination or complete an alternative program which combines a take-home examination and learning experience.
- American Academy of Physician Assistants Information Center
- Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistants
- National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, Inc
The top employers are physician offices, hospitals and outpatient health care centers.
Schools for Physician Assistants are listed in the Browse Schools Section.