Physician assistants are health 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 preventive 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. The clinical role of physician assistants includes primary and specialty care in medical and surgical practice settings in rural and urban areas. Physician assistant practice is centered on patient care and may include educational, research, and administrative activities.*
Services performed by physician assistants include, but are not limited to the following:
Evaluation – initially approaching a patient of any age group in any setting to elicit a detailed and accurate history, perform an appropriate physical examination, delineate problems, and record and present the data.
Monitoring – assisting the physician in conducting rounds in acute and long-term inpatient care settings, developing and implementing patient management plans, recording progress notes and assisting in the provision of continuity of care in office-based and other ambulatory care settings.
Diagnostics – performing and/or interpreting, at least to the point of recognizing deviations from the norm, common laboratory, radiologic, cardiographic and other routine diagnostic procedures used to identify pathophysiologic processes.
Therapeutics – performing routine procedures such as injections, immunizations, suturing and wound care, managing simple conditions produced by infection or trauma, participating in the management of more complex illness and injury, and taking initiative in performing evaluation and therapeutic procedures in response to life-threatening situations.
Counseling – instructing and counseling patients regarding compliance with prescribed therapeutic regimens, normal growth and development, family planning, situational adjustment reactions and health maintenance.
Referral – facilitating the referral of patients to the community’s health and social service agencies when appropriate.
Because of the close working relationship the PAs have with physicians, PAs are educated in the medical model designed to complement physician training. Upon graduation from an accredited physician assistant educational program, physician assistants take a national certification examination developed by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) in conjunction with the National Board of Medical Examiners. To maintain their national certification, PAs must log 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years and sit for a recertification every six years. Graduation from an accredited physician assistant program and passage of the national certifying exam are required for state licensure.*
*Information provided by American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA)