A Physician Assistant, also known as Physician Associate or PA, plays a vital role in the medical practices across America. With the continued decrease in available physicians and increase in retiring physicians, there has been a vital need for the PA. When looking to hire a PA, it is important to understand the PA profession in general before you hire.
How it All Began
During the mid-1960’s, when medically trained soldiers were returning from the war in Vietnam, they brought with them medical experience and knowledge that was more than required for an entry level job in medicine such as the medical assistant. Understanding that there was a shortage of physician care in rural American, it was realized that these medics returning from the war could be trained a little further, or fast-track trained to provide services to those underserved areas and expand the delivery and quality of medical care to those regions. In 1965, Dr. Eugene Stead of Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina had initiated the first class of Physician Assistants. He first selected Navy corpsmen and created a curriculum based upon their prior knowledge and the fast tract training that was used to train physicians during World War II. The resulting training program graduated the first physician assistants in America.
The Modern Physician Assistant
The Physician Assistants of today are health care professionals that practice medicine with physician collaboration in all areas of medicine. The physician assistants have a wide variety of responsibilities including conducting physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counseling on preventive health care, assisting in surgery, and writing prescriptions. Although PAs work in collaboration with Physicians, they also exercise autonomy in medical decision making and provide a range of diagnostic and therapeutic services. PAs also work in education as professors of medicine, perform research, administrative and governmental positions. The PA is trained in an extremely intensive educational programs across the country. Upon passing their certification exam, called the PANCE, PAs are required to log 100 hours of CME every two years in addition to state mandated CME. They must then re-take a similar exam every ten years which encompasses all aspects of medicine and not just their specialty
Physician Assistants practice in all areas of medicine.
First and foremost, Physician Assistants practice in all areas of medicine from primary care, emergency medicine, surgery, pediatrics and many more. A new graduate PA usually has significant medical experience before they even start due to the rigorous application and requirement process of PA Schools. Usually there is a minimum of 2000 hours of direct patient care experience, but many come from other medical areas such as EMT’s, paramedics, nurses, etc.
Physician Assistants Credentials
Physician Assistants must graduate from an accredited PA program and then pass their national certification exam, also known as the PANCE (Physician Assistant National Certification Exam). They must also obtain a license to practice within their state(s). Upon passing the PANCE, they are allowed to place a “-C” after their title (i.e. PA-C). If they do not pass the PANCE, they may still obtain a license in most states, but they will not be allowed to show the “-C” after their name. Certain states and certain insurance companies may refuse to accept billing unless the certification is upheld.
The Physician Assistant may obtain their own liability insurance policy, they may opt to be covered by their employers policy or they may opt for both. Whatever the PA decided to do, most employers do cover this expense. According to the National Practitioner Data Bank, PAs incur an extremely low rate of malpractice claims against them. Much lower than physicians.1 One study has even shown that the Physician-PA team has a lower rate of malpractice litigation than physicians alone.2