The Latest on PA Brand and Title Change

AAPA Continues Working Toward Implementation of “Physician Associate” Title

December 13, 2023

By Lisa Gables

Since the AAPA House of Delegates passed a resolution affirming “physician associate” as the official title of the PA profession in 2021, AAPA has made progress in building public awareness of this new title while simultaneously elevating the PA brand. The purpose of the new title is to address a common misperception that PAs only “assist” physicians when in fact, PAs are highly educated medical professionals who have an essential role in delivering high-quality, team-based healthcare.

Initiating this title change demands a strong awareness of the PA profession. To achieve this, we unveiled our new professional brand, PAs Go Beyond in 2022. Since then the brand has reached millions of patients nationwide, emphasizing PAs as trusted healthcare professionals dedicated to expanding access to care and transforming health and wellness through patient-centered, team-based medical practice.

AAPA is actively pursuing opportunities to promote the professional brand. As a result, PAs showcased PAs Go Beyond at the 2023 AAPA Legislative and Advocacy Summit, engaging with legislators on Capitol Hill. PAs Go Beyond also took the spotlight as the theme for PA Week for the second year in a row. These efforts have garnered millions of impressions across social media and in the press.

The strength of our professional brand is paramount to the success of legal title change efforts at both the state and national levels, which is a long-term process. AAPA has officially changed its legal name to reflect the “physician associate” title, and at present five state chapters have followed suit.

While title change is a priority at the state level, the timing for pursuing legislative change is being carefully considered by state chapters. AAPA remains committed to supporting state chapters in the legislative process when the time is right.

During this interim period, it is important for PAs to maintain the use of “physician assistant” or “PA” as their official legal title in clinical settings and when interacting with patients. The title “associate” should not be employed in a clinical setting until the jurisdiction overseeing a PA’s licensure and practice formally adopts the title “physician associate.” It is crucial to heed the strong advice from AAPA’s legal counsel, Foley & Lardner LLP, which strongly discourages PAs from identifying themselves as “physician associates” at this time.

It’s important not to appear ahead of legislatures and regulators at local or federal levels, as doing so could have adverse consequences for PAs, including regulatory challenges, disciplinary actions, and malpractice issues. Further, we do not want to jeopardize any aspect of implementation, including the passage of legislation in states that are actively pursuing title change at this time.

The transition to “physician associate” is in the best interest of patients and the healthcare system, offering clarity that accurately reflects the role PAs play on healthcare teams. The process will be incremental, rooted in strategic efforts to achieve title change legislation nationwide, and will require the focused advocacy efforts of AAPA, state chapters, and individual PAs. AAPA encourages individual PAs to get involved in their state chapter to help advance title change in their state.

Lisa M. Gables, CPA, is the CEO of AAPA.

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