Physician Assistant Program

2012 9:36:25 AM

What Can Physician Assistants Do?

What a PA does varies with training, experience, state law and the scope of the supervising physician's practice. In general, a PA will see many of the same types of patients as the physician. Referral to or consultation with the physician is done for unusual or hard to manage cases. All fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Guam have enacted laws that authorize PA to prescribe in the context of the M.D.-PA practice arrangement.

PAs provide a broad range of diagnostic and therapeutic services. They can be found in the primary care specialties of family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology. PAs can be found practicing in many medical or surgical subspecialties including, but not limited to oncology, endocrinology, rheumatology, plastic and reconstructive surgery, dermatology, interventional radiology and radiotherapy.

As part of their comprehensive responsibilities, PAs conduct interviews and physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery. A PA's practice may also include higher education and clinical research.

Once certified by the NCCPA, the new graduate must be licensed to practice medicine with supervision by an appropriate state medical board. To maintain national certification, each PA must log 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years and sit for a recertification every ten years.

Physician assistants are clinicians who are licensed throughout the United States to practice medicine in association with physicians. They perform many of the tasks previously done solely by their physician partners, including examination, diagnosis, and carrying out investigations, as well as treatment and prescribing. All physician assistants must be associated with a physician and must practice in an interdependent role, described as "negotiated performance autonomy."

"Physician assistants are not independent practitioners but practice-focused autonomous professionals delivering care in partnership with physicians, in a role described as "negotiated performance autonomy." This relationship allows them to staff satellite clinic offices, provide on-call services in the practice, and deliver care in rural areas, as in most states the physician partner need not be physically present for the physician assistant to practice. They may work as house staff in large academic teaching centers, replacing physicians whose posts are no longer funded, and they also serve as commissioned officers in all branches of the American armed forces. They have demonstrated social responsiveness by focusing on primary care practice, thus fulfilling the original intent of the profession's founders to improve access to health care for populations in rural, inner city, and other medically underserved areas." (Mittman, DE, Fenn, WH, Cawley, JF, 2012)

"Numerous studies have shown that the quality of care given by physician assistants is at the level of that given by physicians in comparable situations, with high levels of patient satisfaction. Actuarial data do not show any increased liability as a result of using physician assistants. A growing body of research and extensive clinical experience shows that they are accepted by both patients and doctors and that their performance in terms of quality of care, expanded access, and cost effectiveness is satisfactory." (Mittman, DE, Fenn, WH, Cawley, JF, 2012)