The PA Profession
Physician Assistants (PAs) traditionally have served in areas of need, providing care to those who might otherwise have little or no access to quality medical care. However, PAs work in many settings, from remote rural areas to major urban medical centers, private physicians' offices, hospitals, public health clinics, Health Maintenance Organizations, the Armed Forces and other federal agencies.
The majority of PAs work in family medicine and other primary care areas. Utilization of PAs is increasing to include every field and subspecialty found in medicine because PAs have proven their effectiveness and ability to provide quality care. Other non-clinical fields such as research and administration are also open to physician assistants. National employment trends indicate there are many employment opportunities available for new graduates. With the residency limitations imposed on medical residents in July 2003, the American Association of Physician Assistants is working to promote the use of Physician Assistants as a solution to these residency limitations. Considering this and other changes in the managed care environment, PA graduates can expect a very satisfying career for many years in helping meet the nation’s health needs.
The maldistribution and shortage of health manpower in the 1960s gave rise to the concept of the physician assistant. The concept was addressed in 1961 by Dr. Charles L. Hudson, past president of the American Medical Association, when he called for the establishment of an advanced medical assistant, an intermediate between the technician and the physician. This assistant would be able to handle technical procedures and exercise some degree of medical responsibility. In 1965, Dr. Eugene Stead, Jr. launched the first PA Program at Duke University with the admission of four ex-military corpsman to be educated as assistants to the primary care physician. Since then, under the impetus of the Comprehensive Health Manpower Training Act of 1971, the number of programs has increased. "There were 132 accredited PA programs in 2002. About 10,100 students are enrolled in PA programs at any one time. In 2002, more than 4500 new graduates passed the national certification exam and became eligible to practice." (1)
Our PA graduates may be found throughout the United States in large metropolitan areas as well as in rural communities. With over 1000 graduates, Wake Forest School of Medicine continues to produce outstanding clinicians and future leaders of the PA profession.
A commitment to quality patient care is the foundation of the physician assistant profession. Whether working in a satellite rural health clinic, in the mountains of North Carolina or assisting in cardiothoracic surgery in a major medical center, PAs are making a difference. By assuming some of the duties traditionally performed by a physician, the PA enables the supervising physician to spend time with patients with serious or complicated medical problems.
The AAPA defines "physician assistant" as follows:
Physician Assistants are health professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. Physician assistants are qualified by graduation from an accredited physician assistant educational program and/or certification by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. Within the physician/PA relationship, physician assistants exercise autonomy in medical decision making and provide a broad range of diagnostic and therapeutic services. The clinical role of physician assistants includes primary and specialty care in medical and surgical practice settings in rural and urban areas. Physician assistant practice is centered on patient care and may include educational, research and administrative activities.
House of Delegates
American Academy of Physician Assistants
The specific duties of physician assistants will vary depending upon the setting and specialty in which they practice. Some of the services performed by the physician assistant in primary care may include but are not limited to:
- Assessing a patient of any age by taking a medical history, performing an appropriate physical examination, identifying problems, and recording and presenting the pertinent information.
- Requesting and interpreting diagnostic studies and performing basic laboratory tests and procedures.
- Supporting the physician in inpatient settings by assisting in surgery, conducting medical rounds, developing and implementing patient management plans, writing orders, recording progress notes and dictating discharge summaries.
- Performing routine procedures such as suturing and wound care, casting, managing common conditions, and participating in the management of more complex illnesses.
(1) Hooker R, Cawley J. Physician Assistants in American Medicine. 2nd ed. St. Louis (MO): Chruchill Livingstone; 2003.
More information on Physician Assistance