What Is A Physician’s Assistant?

A physician’s assistant or PA is a professional who assists a doctor in the practice of medicine. The PA does this under a doctor’s supervision and is trained in diagnosis, examination, and treatment of common illnesses and injuries. You can look at a physician’s assistant as a tremendous help to a doctor running a busy practice because this person can tend to some of the less serious injuries and illnesses that make up the bulk of the daily patient load in a healthcare facility. Physician’s assistants receive a high level of training and education which equips them to practice medicine on a limited basis.

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At a Glance

Physicians Assistant SchoolsOther Job Titles: PA
Salary Range:
$57,000-$118,000; Median $86,000
Education/Training Required:
Requires a master’s degree
Desired Skills/Aptitude:
Communications skills, attention to detail, emotional stability
Certification/Licensing:
Certification through NCCPA; all states require licensing
Locations with Best Opportunities:
Connecticut, New Jersey, Alaska, Maryland
Employment Outlook:
30% increase (faster than average)
Opportunities for Advancement:
Additional specialization such as in internal medicine

What a Physician’s Assistant Does

As mentioned before, a physician’s assistant is almost like a doctor and can practice medicine under a doctor’s supervision. This means that the physician’s assistant performs a variety of tasks to include:

  • Patient review
  • Physical exams
  • Providing treatment
  • Giving immunizations
  • Counseling
  • Prescribing medications
  • Ordering tests (x-rays, blood tests)
  • Diagnosing
  • Supervise medical technicians and assistants

A physician’s assistant can review a patient’s medical history and evaluate any progress made in dealing with a challenging illness. Part of this is also counseling patients and their families on the current status of the former’s condition and any recommendations as far as further treatment.

The extent to which a physician’s assistant can practice medicine varies among the states. In all cases, they must be supervised by a doctor.

The Workplace

Physician’s assistants mostly work in doctor’s offices. The second-most frequent place where they work is in hospitals. You will find them in outpatient care centers, educational institutions, and in rural locations. In rural locations, they may be there full time with a doctor visiting 1-2 days each week. Physician’s assistant’s even make scheduled visits to nursing homes and the occasional house call. They are very busy as well as mobile.

In addition to being on their feet most of the day, physician’s assistants may have to do shift work taking care of incoming patients while the doctor is away for the evening. No matter where the physician assistant’s work takes him, he is in frequent contact with a doctor to get advice when needed or report the specifics of a patient’s diagnosis and treatment.

Education and Certification

A master’s degree is required to be physician’s assistant and the program usually takes about two years to complete. A candidate for a master’s degree usually has prior work experience in a healthcare-related field such as registered nursing.

The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant accredits programs that offer a master’s degree in this field. The education program is intense and training is received in subjects such as clinical medicine, physical diagnosis, medical ethics, human anatomy, and pathology. Part of the master’s program includes clinical sessions where future physician’s assistants are exposed and get experience in a variety of healthcare areas such as internal medicine, family medicine, and emergency medicine.

A graduate of the master’s program must first take and pass the Physician’s Assistant National Certifying Examination administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician’s Assistants or NCCPA. This will allow them to obtain their state licensing and carry the credential PA-Certified. They must re-certify every 6 years and follow up with continuing education classes in order to maintain their license.