What is a Physician Assistant (PA)?

Physician Assistants are health care practitioners who practice medicine in collaboration with a physician. PAs act as autonomous providers and physician extenders who provide a variety of services to include:

  • Take medical histories
  • Conduct physical exams
  • Diagnose and treat illness
  • Order and interpret tests
  • Develop treatment plans
  • Prescribe medication
  • Counsel on preventive care
  • Perform procedures
  • Assist in surgery
  • Make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes
  • Do clinical research

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Physician Assistant Education

Physician Assistants must graduate from an ARC-PA accredited program. PA programs typically vary in length from 24 to 27 months. The first year consists of didactic education. The curriculum consists of rigorous, intensive classroom and laboratory educational experiences. The second year is designed for supervised clinical practice experiences. Students spend a pre-determined amount of time in required clinical rotations under the supervision of a licensed preceptor. Students complete more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations in medical and surgical disciplines, including family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, general surgery, emergency medicine and psychiatry.


National Certification

Students who have graduated from an accredited PA program are eligible to sit for the National Certifying Exam (PANCE) administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. To maintain certification, Physician Assistants are required to complete 100 hours of continuing medical education (CME) every two years and take a recertification exam (Physician Assistant National Recertifying Exam (PANRE) every 10 years.


Where do PAs Practice?

There are more than 140,000 PAs who practice in every medical setting in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. They work in hospitals, medical offices, community health centers, nursing homes, retail clinics, educational facilities, workplace clinics and correctional institutions. PAs also serve in the nation’s uniformed services and work for other federal government agencies, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs.


History of the PA Profession

The Physician Assistant Profession has a rich and diverse history. Please visit the Physician Assistant History Society for a full historical tour of the profession.



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Tammy L. Knierim,
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