What is a Physician Assistant?

Monday, March 14, 2016

I wanted to take the time to share with you all what a PA does and what the PA profession is about. Even though we keep hearing that PAs are in great demand and the profession is expected to grow 33% in the next 10 years, there are so many people out there that are unaware of the profession. I'm not passing any judgement on that at all, because at one point I was one of those people too.
I remember taking my mom to a walk in clinic a few years ago and being baffled by the fact that she was not going to be seen by a doctor. I kept trying to wrap my mind around the fact that some lady, who seemed to know what she was talking about, is examining and prescribing meds to my mother, yet she never even went to med school! While the PA that treated my mom that day was a great provider, my only complain was that she didn't take that opportunity to educate us about what a PA is and what they do.

First and foremost, I want to get the most common misconception out of the way. A PA is a Physician Assistant, not a Physician's Assistant. There is a huge difference that an apostrophe s can make. PAs work in collaboration with doctors (MD/DO) and not "for" them. They are not an administrative assistant, but rather a provider themselves. A Physician Assistant has autonomy (how much depends on their state laws) to practice medicine and can see patients on their own without direct supervision, as long their collaborating doctor is available by phone/email for consults. Doctors also sign off on a certain number of patient charts a month, again this depends on the specific state they're working in. Below are the most common questions I usually get asked when I tell someone I'm going to become a Physician Assistant:

1.What is a Physician Assistant?

A Physician Assistant is a nationally certified and licensed medical provider in all 50 states of the United States and also in some other countries of the world.

2. What can a Physician Assistant do?

A PA can perform physical exams, take a history, come up with a differential diagnosis, order and interpret lab studies, develop a treatment plan, write prescriptions, perform minor procedures and assist in surgeries, and make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes. A PA practices medicine on a healthcare team with physicians and other providers.

3. How dose a PA get trained?

A Physician Assistant applicant is required to have a Bachelor's degree before applying to a PA program. All PA programs have to be accredited and most award a Master's Degree. PA programs are usually 27-28 months long, and require the same prerequisites as medical schools. A lot of programs also require applicants to have prior healthcare experience. The first year is usually spent in the classroom taking rigorous courses and getting laboratory training. The second year consists of clinical rotations in several different specialties, depending on the program.

4. How does a PA get licensed?

Upon graduating from a PA Program, the student officially becomes a Physician Assistant and can now apply to take the boards in order to get certification. Programs usually help their students sign up for the  Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE). Once a PA passes the PANCE, he/she is now a PA-C (C stands for certified). Then a PA-C can apply for a license in any state as long as they have a prospective MD/DO they will be working with.

5. Do PAs have to get recertified?

PAs have to take Physician Assistant National Recertifying Exam (PANRE) every 10 years. They also have to complete 100 hours of continual medical education (CME) every 2 years in order to maintain certification.

6. What areas of Medicine can PAs work in?

PAs can work in Family Practice, Internal Medicine, Emergency Medicine, Surgery, Obstetrics/Gynecology, Cardiology, Neurology, Pediatrics, Psychiatry, Hospital Care, Urology, Orthopedics, etc.

7. Why did I chose to become a PA?

Science has always been my strong suit and I wanted a career where I could learn how the human body works & how it can go wrong, and apply that knowledge to aid people live healthier lives. I wanted a profession where I could interact with patients, learn their story, diagnose them, and treat them in order for them to return to their daily life. I could have done this by going to medical school too, but I did not want to spend 7+ years in medical school and have a much bigger student loan debt to repay. I also really like that as a PA, I can switch specialties anytime I want without having to go back to school.

If you guys have any other questions regarding PAs or how to become a PA, please feel free to leave a comment and ask away! If you're thinking about going to PA school and are wondering what the process is you may want to head over to another one of my posts.

Also, if you wouldn't mind, please feel free to share this post not for me, but to make others aware of what a Physician Assistant is and what to expect when they meet one in the future. Thank you and have a wonderful rest of your day!


  1. I just recently stepped back into the healthcare industry after a little break, and I work with two amazing PAs! Congratulations on starting your new journey, look forward to reading about it! xo Jenn

    1. Thank you so much :) I'm glad you stopped by and gave it a read!

  2. How many PA school did you apply and which school did you decide to attend?

    1. I think I applied to 7 (5 of them were in state). And I am currently attending Trevecca’s PA Program in Nashville!