Physician Assistants (PAs) support physicians and are formally trained to perform many of the routine but time-consuming tasks physicians usually do. They take medical histories, examine patients, order and interpret laboratory tests and x-rays, and make preliminary diagnoses. They also treat minor injuries by suturing, splinting, and casting. PAs record progress notes, instruct and counsel patients, and order or carry out therapy. Physician assistants always work under the supervision of a physician.
Most physician assistants have a bachelor’s degree, although certificates, associate’s degrees and master’s degrees are also available. All states now require physician assistants to complete an accredited formal program, usually found in allied health schools and four-year colleges, and to a lesser extent in community colleges and hospitals. They generally last about two years, and require previous college credits and some health care work experience for admission. Students obtain supervised clinical training by rotating through several specialty areas, including emergency medicine, pediatrics, gynecology, geriatrics and surgery. Graduates can achieve licensure by passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination, earning the initials PA-C.