Continuing the Discussion on Changing the Title of the PA Profession


by Robert Wooten, PA-C, AAPA president 


This past October in response to increased interest, I wrote to all PAs urging your input on whether the title of the PA profession should remain “physician assistant” or be changed to “physician associate” or another title. I also encouraged an active discourse among all PAs and pledged that the Academy would help promote this dialogue in advance of the 2012 House of Delegates meeting that, as dictated in our bylaws, serves as a forum for debate on matters impacting the PA profession’s continued growth and prominence in America’s health care system. 

First and foremost, thank you for sharing your thoughts and opinions. Since then, the Academy has promoted a series of listening sessions, point-counterpoint articles, and several blog discussions that included this topic. I am pleased that similar discussions have occurred in other PA publications, websites and social media. To help provide greater information, the following two questions were included in this year’s PA census survey questions. 

Are you in favor of a name change from physician assistant for the profession? 

  • Yes change it to Physician Associate 
  • Yes, change it to: _______________                                    
  • No 
  • I'm not sure/I'm not interested 
  • I prefer not to answer 


Would you be willing to pay for the direct and indirect costs for a name change? 

  • Yes, without hesitation 
  • Yes, with hesitation 
  • No 
  • I don't know 
  • I prefer not to answer 


In brief, among the nearly 15,000 PAs who answered these questions, 45.5 percent were in favor of a title change, 33.6 percent were against and 20.9 percent indicated they were either not sure, interested or preferred not to answer the question. Less than two percent of PAs recommended a professional title other than physician associate, which included physician extender, medical practitioner and associate physician.

When it comes to paying for the direct and indirect costs of a title change, 46.2 percent of PAs did not want to pay for the associated costs, 36.3 percent of PAs were willing to pay and 17.6 percent did not know or preferred not to answer. 

Among the 45.5 percent of PAs in favor of the professional title change, 70.5 percent were willing to pay, 10.9 percent against paying and 18.6 percent did not know or preferred not to answer.For the 33.6 percent of PAs against a title change, 91.2 percent were not willing to pay, 4.1 percent willing to pay and the 4.7 percent did not know.

A cross-tabulation breakdown of the responses for these two questions by age, gender, practice and membership can be found on AAPA's website.

For the benefit of the discussion, the Academy has also compiled current PA professional identification requirements by state. More specific cost impact information on a potential professional title change is being developed and will be available at the House of Delegates meeting. 

Every PA is represented at the House of Delegates through their state and uniformed services chapters, specialty organizations, caucuses and the student academy. PAs interested in expressing their opinion on this issue should contact your delegate(s) to ensure that your position is represented by the delegation. Contact information for your delegate(s) is typically available on your state, specialty or service organization’s website or through the AAPA Membership Directory. Debate on this and other issues impacting the PA profession will occur at the 2012 AAPA House of Delegates meeting on May 26-28 in conjunction with this year’s annual conference, IMPACT 2012 in Toronto.

I know that the varied opinions on this matter run deep. It is my sincere hope that we maintain an open and respectful dialog, in keeping with the high standards this profession represents. 


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