FAQs

General

Learn more about becoming an AAPA member or renewing your membership.

 

A Note About Updates to the FAQs

Given the complexity associated with implementing a title change, and as we learn more during meetings with stakeholders, AAPA will be updating these FAQs on a regular basis. Please check back frequently for updated content. For questions not covered here, please email [email protected].

Why Title Change

Why is title change good for patients and the healthcare system at large?

Excellent healthcare starts with a human connection and strong personal relationships. PAs are rigorously educated medical professionals who are passionately devoted to providing quality care to their patients. And they understand that trust and connection begin with the first encounter with their patient; when they introduce themselves as a physician associate, the title will evoke clarity about the care they will be providing and the relationship the two will be building.

The value PAs bring to the U.S. healthcare system is undeniable, evidenced by their frontline service during the COVID-19 pandemic. As highly respected medical professionals PAs have an essential role in delivering high-quality, team-based healthcare. It is in the best interest of patients and the healthcare system for PAs to hold a professional title that ensures clarity about the work PAs do. The new title – physician associate – directly addresses the common misperception that PAs merely “assist” physicians. They do so much more!

We know that in medicine, accuracy and precision are critical to positive outcomes. AAPA strongly believes the profession’s title must accurately reflect the responsibilities of PAs in all medical settings – caring for patients, developing treatment plans, and prescribing medications.

As the PA profession continues to grow, patients deserve to understand how PAs participate in their healthcare. A more accurate title will improve that understanding; therefore, title change will lead to better patient experiences.

Does title change impact PA scope of practice?

No. Changing the profession’s title does not change what PAs do or impact a PA’s scope of practice. PAs know what their scope of practice is; they are educated to recognize when circumstances call for consultation, collaboration, and/or referral.

AAPA believes that these elements of team-based care should be determined at the practice level as they will vary based on the patient, setting, and healthcare team.

PAs are united with their healthcare colleagues by the shared mission of providing safe, effective, high-quality care to all patients. Committed to patient-centered team-based care, PAs partner with other healthcare professionals to deliver the best patient outcomes. This commitment to a team-based model can only benefit patients when each individual team member’s experience and expertise is fully engaged to inform diagnosis and treatment.

Timing of Title Change

Can PAs start calling themselves “physician associates” now?

AAPA’s legal counsel, Foley & Lardner LLP, recommends that PAs refrain from representing themselves as “physician associates” at this time. Their view is based on the following:

  • Implementing the new HOD policy is going to be complex and challenging, and will take many years to complete. There are many considerations that require thoughtful due diligence to ensure we do not jeopardize any aspect of implementation. It would be unwise for the profession to appear to be out in front of state and federal legislatures and regulators. The next few years of work will be critical and must be strategically undertaken.
  • Prematurely using the term “physician associate” could subject the PA to a regulatory challenge or discipline from their state licensing board or an attorney general’s office action. Other professions looking to hold back the PA profession may seize upon such premature usage to file complaints with the regulators.
  • Employers or healthcare facilities where the PA has privileges could view the action as a violation of policy, procedure, or professional staff bylaws.
  • There may be professional malpractice issues if adverse outcomes are linked to perceived “informed consent” violations from patients who claim they believed they were being treated by a physician. A malpractice insurer could use this as an excuse not to cover the claim.
What is the timeline for changing the title?

Title change implementation requires a significant commitment from the profession and its associated entities in terms of financial obligations, resource allocations, and legislative and regulatory efforts. For more details on a potential five-year implementation timeline and estimated costs, please refer to the November 2020 Final Report to the AAPA House of Delegates (requires log-in).

Considerations for COs

Does an AAPA constituent organization (CO) have to change their organization’s name?

No. Each constituent organization (caucus, chapter, special interest group, or specialty organization) will make its own determination about changing their organization’s name. However, we believe it is important for the profession to have a unified title as well as unified voice. For that reason, AAPA has developed resources and will provide support for each CO to pursue changes when they are ready.

Does an AAPA CO have to pursue professional title change?

Each CO will decide whether to pursue professional title change. AAPA will continue to work with each state chapter to pursue professional title change in state legislatures.

Educating the Public

How will AAPA educate the public about the profession’s new title?

First, AAPA is developing a branding campaign to demonstrate the vital role that PAs have in healthcare. It will likely include advertising, earned media, communications toolkits for our key audiences, and more. Branding gives meaning to consumers; our campaign’s goal is to increase awareness about the PA role in healthcare. The branding campaign will also help to educate all stakeholders on the new title.

It’s also vitally important that all PAs take part in showcasing the PA brand. Brand can be reflected in those very personal and caring conversations you have with a patient, and then that patient shares with their friends, family, and colleagues. Here are some more examples of how a brand might be showcased:

  • Brand is the stories shared via earned media or paid media focusing on medical interactions a patient has had with a PA that have resulted in successful treatments in conjunction with real compassion.
  • Brand is showcasing a PA on a panel of experts at a hospital conference where the PA is providing perspective, learnings, and education on how the healthcare system can deliver high-quality care to patients.
  • Brand is a media story featuring a PA working with an Indigenous population in Alaska, bringing preventive care to a place in the U.S. that has been ignored – providing these patients with the hope that they too can lead healthy lives.
  • Brand is a social influencer or entertainer who is your patient – and they tell the story of how the best value in healthcare needs some attention. The PA, who has been part of their healthcare team, is the one who made the biggest difference in their care: their true partner in wellness.
  • Brand is a major network interview with a PA astronaut and her thoughts around the future of healthcare.
  • Brand is partnering with corporations or medical celebrities who can amplify PA voices and tell your stories to bigger audiences.
  • Brand is sitting on an esteemed National Panel at a revered medical organization to represent the profession on a body of work that will impact the way primary care is delivered.
  • Brand is research (AAPA or PA) that provides insights into how mental health can best be addressed with patients during well visits.

The PA brand is who you are and what you do each day to deliver on your purpose. Those interactions, stories, and your devotion to your patients will serve to educate and elevate the PA role in healthcare.

Title Change Implications

What will the estimated cost be?

The estimated cost in the final Title Change Investigation report is $21.6 million. This estimate was based on discovery, research, and environment at the time of publication. For details, please refer to the Financial Impact Analysis section of the November 2020 Final Report to the AAPA House of Delegates, pg. 81-85.

How will this affect the pursuit of other AAPA priorities like Optimal Team Practice (OTP)?

Pursuit of state legislative initiatives such as OTP will continue to be determined by PA state chapters. Each state chapter will make its own determination about pursuing the profession’s title change as well as OTP, which remains a top priority of AAPA.

How does the title change affect AAPA’s 2021-2025 Strategic Plan?

In developing the plan, AAPA made sure the strategy was flexible enough to enable us to pivot as necessary to account for the variety of possible outcomes with both the Title Change Investigation and Optimal Team Practice.

Do PAEA, NCCPA, and ARC-PA agree with this change?

Each organization prepared a report for the HOD on the impact of a potential title change on their respective organization. Each organization will make its own decision about implementation. AAPA is committed to working with all PA organizations to ensure ease and accuracy of adoption.

Are the other PA organizations supporting title change?

We continue to work with PAEA, NCCPA, and ARC-PA on the complex implementation of title change.

How will this change impact my AAPA membership?

AAPA will continue to provide high-quality resources and services to its members as the organization implements a title change. We are committed to our mission, values, and plans to support and lead the profession.

Title Change Investigation

Why did AAPA undertake a Title Change Investigation (TCI)?

Title change has been the subject of discussion within the PA profession for many years. There has been a long-standing concern about the disconnect between the PA profession’s brand identity – which includes title – and the role of PAs in day-to-day medical practice . . . that the title does not adequately reflect their role and responsibilities in delivering quality healthcare to patients.

The decision by AAPA’s House of Delegates (HOD) to change the PA title was the result of a methodical process that unfolded over the course of three years and was informed by rigorous and substantial research by independent experts.

What was the goal of the TCI?

At the root of title change discussions was the fact that the title “physician assistant” does not accurately describe to patients what the profession does, nor does it convey the value of PAs within the healthcare team and healthcare delivery system.

What was the process and conclusion of the TCI?

Please refer to the November 2020 Final Report to the AAPA House of Delegates, which includes input from WPP, the firm hired to conduct the investigation (to include Kantar, Kantar Research, and Landor); AAPA, the national professional organization; and Foley & Lardner LLP, AAPA’s external legal counsel.

Title Change Vote: 2021 AAPA House of Delegates Meeting

What is the AAPA House of Delegates and why did they discuss the title change at their meeting?

The House of Delegates (HOD) is the policy-making body of AAPA, responsible for enacting policies establishing the collective values, philosophies, and principals of the PA profession. This authority is delegated to them under AAPA’s Articles of Incorporation. The HOD is comprised of elected representatives from 57 state and federal service chapters, 26 specialty organizations, 10 caucuses, and the Student Academy.

The formal title of the profession is acknowledged in an AAPA policy. Therefore, it was the responsibility of the HOD to consider any changes to this policy.

It was the 2018 HOD that passed a resolution requesting that the Board of Directors “contract with an appropriate independent consulting/research firm(s) to investigate state/federal, financial, political, branding aspects and alternatives to the creation of a new professional title for physician assistants that accurately reflects AAPA professional practice policies.”  This policy resolution initiated the Title Change Investigation, which concluded with an extensive report to the 2020 House of Delegates. At that meeting, delegates were charged with returning to their respective constituencies to begin the next phase of this process – discussing the current policy that titles the profession “physician assistant” and returning to the May 2021 HOD Meeting with any proposed changes to that policy.

What was the resolution the HOD voted on?

HOD delegates, board members, representatives of PAEA, ARC-PA, & NCCPA, and AAPA members met in a reference committee hearing on May 21, 2021, to debate and discuss proposed resolutions. On May 24, the AAPA House of Delegates (HOD) passed a resolution affirming “physician associate” as the official title of the PA profession by a majority vote of 198 to 68.

Can the AAPA Board of Directors overturn the decision of the HOD regarding the title change?

No. Per AAPA Bylaws, Article VII, Section 1(j), the role of the Board of Directors is: “To review and determine, on no less than an annual basis, how to implement those policies enacted by the House of Delegates on behalf of the Academy that establish the collective values, philosophies, and principles of the PA profession. If it determines that implementation of one or more such policies will require an inadvisable expenditure of Academy resources, or is otherwise not presently prudent or feasible, the Board shall, at its earliest convenience, report to the House the reasons for its decision.”