Physician assistants are a valuable asset to the medical community.
They treat millions of patients across the country, including those
who are traditionally underserved. Their role is an important one and
their value is tremendous, especially when you consider that the number
of uninsured Americans is at an all-time high, and people are living
longer than ever before.
Below are some fast facts about physician assistants.
What exactly is a PA?
A PA is a health care professional who is licensed to practice medicine
with physician supervision. A PA conducts physical exams, diagnoses
and treats illnesses, orders and interprets tests, counsels on preventive
health care, assists in surgery, and writes prescriptions.
How many are there in the U.S.?
What are the basic components of a
PA educational program?
Physician assistants undergo intensive education preparing them to
practice medicine in physician-directed teams. The average program
lasts 24 – 32 months and requires a minimum of four years of college plus
some experience in the health care field. There are 140 PA programs
accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for
the Physician Assistant.
What does certification entail?
PAs must pass a national certification exam given by the National
Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Once
certified, a PA completes a continuous six-year cycle to keep this
certification current. Every two years, a PA must earn and log 100
hours of continuing medical education (CME). At the end of their sixth
year, they must pass the Physician Assistant National Recertifying
Examination (PANRE) or Pathway II. All states require NCCPA
certification for state licensure.
What is the median salary for physician assistants?
For those with more than one year of experience: $80,000+
For those with less than one year of experience: $70,000+
How do the duties of a PA differ from those
performed by a physician?
The responsibilities of a PA vary widely, depending on need, state laws,
and the PA’s training and experience. A PA will usually see many of the
same types of patients as a physician, although physicians generally
handle the more complex cases. The primary difference between a PA
and a physician is not the curriculum studied, but rather, the amount of
formal education. In addition to coursework, physicians are required to
complete clinical rotations, and many may also complete postgraduate
training in their selected specialty as well.
Aside from their vast expertise, what are some
other benefits of working with PAs?
For one thing, while providing high quality medical care, they tend to be
more available than physicians — and able to spend more time with each
patient. Also, studies show that PAs save as much as 20 percent of the
costs of medical care, can perform at least 80 percent of the functions
in an ambulatory care practice, and are widely accepted by patients.
Where do PAs practice?
They work in virtually every medical and surgical setting. Many are in
hospitals, while others are in a group practice or solo physician office.
Others work in rural and community health centers, nursing homes,
schools or university-based facilities, industrial settings, or correctional
Generally speaking, what is the nature of the
relationship between physicians and PAs?
Physicians and physician assistants work side by side as a team, with
the physician directing the PA the duties that the physician chooses and
for which the PA is trained and can practice under state law. PAs always
work with physician supervision, even though the physician may not
always be on-site.
What is the American Academy of
AAPA is the only national professional association that represents all
PAs in all areas of medicine. Founded in 1968, AAPA represents PAs in all
50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the federal services.
What is the Physician Assistant Foundation?
It is the philanthropic arm of AAPA, and its mission is to foster education
and research to enhance the delivery of health care. The Foundation
seeks to increase understanding of the PA profession and to develop
and promote philanthropic activities.