A PA is a nationally certified and state-licensed medical professional.
PAs practice medicine on healthcare teams with physicians and other providers.
They practice and prescribe medication in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories, and the uniformed services.
PAs are vital to healthcare. The Affordable Care Act, which was enacted in 2010, recognized PAs for the first time as one of three primary care providers (PAs, Nurse Practitioners and Physicians). The law also empowered PAs to lead patient-centered medical teams. Team-based care is at the core of a PA’s training. PAs can practice autonomously or in a collaborative relationship with other members of a patient’s healthcare team. This combination is a major source of their strength.
PAs are experts in general medicine. They undergo rigorous medical training. PAs must take a test in general medicine in order to be licensed and certified. They must graduate from an accredited PA program and pass a certification exam. Like physicians and NPs, PAs must complete extensive continuing medical education throughout their careers.
PAs diagnose, treat and prescribe medicine. Thanks to an education modeled on the medical school curriculum, PAs learn to make life saving diagnostic and therapeutic decisions while working autonomously or in collaboration with other members of the healthcare team. PAs are certified as medical generalists with a foundation in primary care. Over the course of their careers, many PAs practice in two or three specialty areas, giving them deep experience and the flexibility to meet the changing needs of their patients, employers and communities.
PAs are trusted healthcare providers. Studies have shown that when PAs practice to the full extent of their abilities and training, hospital readmission rates and lengths of stay decrease and infection rates go down. A Harris Poll found extremely high satisfaction rates among Americans who interact with PAs. The survey found that 93 percent regard PAs as trusted healthcare providers, 92 percent said that having a PA makes it easier to get a medical appointment and 91 percent believe that PAs improve the quality of healthcare.
PAs are in heavy demand. Three quarters of PAs receive multiple job offers upon passing their initial licensing and certification exams. Studies show that the most financially successful hospitals maximize their use of PAs. The PA profession has been named by several top media outlets, including Forbes and USA Today, as the most promising job in America. The demand for PAs increased more than 300 percent from 2011 to 2014, according to the healthcare search firm Merritt Hawkins. As of December 2016, there were more than 115,500 PAs nationwide who interact with patients upwards of 350 million times annually.
- Take your medical history
- Conduct physical exams
- Diagnose and treat illnesses
- Order and interpret tests
- Develop treatment plans
- Counsel on preventive care
- Assist in surgery
- Write prescriptions
- Make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes
- Do clinical research
PAs’ specific duties depend on:
- The setting in which they work
- Their level of experience
- Their specialty
- State laws
PAs work in all specialties and settings.
They treat patients in:
- Medical offices
- Rural and urban community health centers
- Nursing homes
- Retail clinics
- Schools and university-based facilities
- Workplace clinics
- Correctional institutions
- The uniformed services and other federal government agencies
Most programs are approximately 26 months (three academic years) and require the same prerequisite courses as medical schools. Most programs also require students to have about three years of healthcare training and experience.
Students take courses in basic sciences, behavioral sciences and clinical medicine across subjects such as anatomy, pharmacology, microbiology, physiology and more.
They then complete a total of more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations in:
- Family medicine
- Internal medicine
- Obstetrics and gynecology
- General surgery
- Emergency medicine
More helpful information about PA Education:
Before they can practice, PAs who graduate from an accredited program must:
- Pass the PA National Certifying Exam (PANCE) administered by the National Commission on Certification of PAs
- Get licensed by the state they wish to practice in
In order to maintain certification, PAs must:
- Complete a recertification exam every 10 years
- Complete 100 hours of continuing medical education (CME) every two years
The “PA-C” after a PA’s name means they are currently certified.
Find out more about the PA profession. Download these PA fact sheets:
- PAs Practice Medicine Infographic (PDF): Read basic information about who PAs are and what they do.
- PA Myth Busters Infographic (PDF): Getting the facts straight about PAs.
- About AAPA (PDF): Find out more about the American Academy of PAs.
- America Needs PAs (PDF): Learn about PAs or help your patients and your practice understand the PA’s role and professional training.