What are the advantages of seeing a PA for medical care?

PA education and practice emphasize patient education, preventive care, and chronic care management. PAs’ generalist medical training enables them to provide a wide spectrum of patient care and treat the “whole patient.” For example, during an appointment with a PA working in cardiology, in addition to discussing the patient’s heart issues, a PA might notice a skin condition and either treat it or refer that patient to a dermatology practice. PAs make it easier for patients to get the care they need when they need it. A 2014 Harris Poll found that 92 percent of Americans who have seen a PA or have a family member who has seen a PA said that having a PA makes it easier to get a medical appointment.*

* “Attitudes Toward PAs: A 2014 Survey by the American Academy of PAs.” The Harris online survey was conducted September 15–22, 2014 among 1,544 adults age 18 and older living in
the US, including an oversample of 680 adults who have seen a PA and/or have accompanied a loved one to see a PA in the past 12 months. For full methodology visit aapa.org/media.

What is a PA?

PAs are medical professionals who diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications, and often serve as a patient’s principal healthcare provider. With thousands of hours of medical training, PAs are versatile and collaborative. PAs practice in every state and in every medical setting and specialty, improving healthcare access and quality.

What education does a PA have?

PAs are educated at the master’s degree level. There are more than 250 PA programs in the country and admission is highly competitive, requiring a bachelor’s degree and completion of courses in basic and behavioral sciences as prerequisites. Incoming PA students bring with them an average of more than 3,000 hours of direct patient contact experience, having worked as paramedics, athletic trainers, or medical assistants, for example. PA programs are approximately 27 months (three academic years), and include classroom instruction and more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations.

What is included in the PA school curriculum?

A PA’s medical education and training are rigorous. The PA school curriculum is modeled on the medical school curriculum that involves both didactic and clinical education training.

In the didactic phase, students take courses in basic medical sciences, behavioral sciences, and behavioral ethics.

In the clinical phase, 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.

Read more about PAs’ work in various specialties:
Breaking Ground as Hawaii’s First PA in Rheumatology
PAs Can Become Leaders in Obesity Medicine

What do PAs do?

PAs’ specific duties depend on the setting in which they work, their level of experience, their specialty, and state laws.

Generally, PAs can:
• 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

Where do PAs work?

There are more than 123,000 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.

PA LTC Jones Practices Protective Medicine at the White House

How do PAs work with physicians?

PAs are committed to team practice with physicians and other healthcare providers. Currently, most state laws require PAs to have an agreement with a specific physician in order to practice. These agreements were included in early PA practice acts 50 years ago when the PA profession was new and untested.

Today, PAs are still held to these obsolete requirements despite the PA profession being well established, highly trusted, and essential to the U.S. healthcare workforce.

In 2017, the American Academy of PAs passed new policy called Optimal Team Practice, which calls for laws and regulations that remove the requirement for PAs to have an agreement with a specific physician in order to practice, enabling practice-level decision-making about collaboration. Under the Optimal Team Practice framework, PAs will still be legally and ethically obligated to consult with and refer patients to physicians based on the patient’s condition, the standard of care, and the PA’s education and experience. Read more here.

Is there a high demand for PAs?

Yes. The PA profession is one of the fastest growing in the country. The demand for PAs increased more than 300 percent from 2011 to 2014, according to the healthcare search firm Merritt Hawkins. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the profession will increase 37 percent from 2016 to 2026, significantly faster than the average for all occupations. The demand for PAs is so high that three quarters of PAs receive multiple job offers upon graduation.

To learn more about becoming a PA, visit aapa.org/career central.

What is the public perception of PAs?

PAs are trusted healthcare providers. A 2014 Harris Poll found extremely high satisfaction rates among Americans who have seen a PA or have a family member who has seen a PA. The survey found that 93 percent regard PAs as trusted healthcare providers and 91 percent believe that PAs improve the quality of healthcare.*

* “Attitudes Toward PAs: A 2014 Survey by the American Academy of PAs.” The Harris online survey was conducted September 15–22, 2014 among 1,544 adults age 18 and older living in
the US, including an oversample of 680 adults who have seen a PA and/or have accompanied a loved one to see a PA in the past 12 months. For full methodology visit aapa.org/media.

How are PAs different from nurse practitioners (NPs)?

At the practice level, there are likely more similarities than differences between PAs and NPs. However, there are two key differences:

• PAs are educated in general medicine, which offers a comprehensive view of all aspects of medicine. NPs must choose a “population focus,” e.g., pediatric nurse practitioner or women’s health nurse practitioner.

• PAs are trained to practice medicine using a curriculum modeled on medical school education. NPs are trained in the advanced practice of nursing.

Additional Resources

Milestones

1967: The first PA class graduates from the Duke University PA program on October 6.
1968: The American Association of Physician Assistants (later to become the American Academy of PAs) is incorporated.
1971: The American Medical Association (AMA) recognizes the PA profession. The first six states pass legislation authorizing PA practice.
1973: First national PA certifying examination is administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME).
1977: PAs in certified rural health clinics begin receiving Medicare reimbursement.
1987: National PA Day (October 6, 1987) is celebrated for the first time to honor the 20th anniversary of the first graduating class of PAs. Today AAPA celebrates PA Week every October 6-12 to recognize the PA profession and its contributions to the nation’s health.
1992: PAs are commissioned in every branch of the U.S. military.
1997: PAs are recognized as Medicare covered providers in all settings.
2000: All 50 states authorize PA practice when Mississippi passes legislation to recognize PAs
2007: PAs obtain prescriptive authority in all 50 states and the District of Columbia when Indiana passes legislation authorizing prescribing by PAs.
2008: AAPA identifies Six Key Elements of a Modern PA Practice Act. Rhode Island is the first state to adopt all the elements.
2010: PAs named in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) as one of three healthcare professionals, along with physicians and nurse practitioners, who provide primary care in the United States.
2016: First of AAPA’s Six Key Elements of Modern PA Practice is adopted in all 50 states when Ohio adopts use of the term “licensure,” the highest recognized standard for medical providers.
2017: 50th anniversary of the profession: AAPA House of Delegates passes Optimal Team Practice, a new policy that will make a profound difference in expanding access to care and aligning the PA profession to meet modern healthcare needs.