Master of Medical Science Physician Assistant

About the Profession


What is a PA?

A physician assistant (PA) is a medical professional who works as part of a team with a physician. A PA is a graduate of an accredited PA educational program who is nationally certified and state-licensed to practice medicine with the supervision of a physician. PAs work in physician-PA teams and are educated in a collaborative approach to healthcare, which improves coordination of care and can improve outcomes.

Because of their general medical background, PAs have flexibility in the types of medicine they can practice. PAs perform physical examinations, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret lab tests, perform procedures, assist in surgery, provide patient education and counseling and make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes. All 50 states and the District of Columbia allow PAs to practice and prescribe medications.


The PA profession was created to improve and expand healthcare. In the mid-1960s, physicians and educators recognized there was a shortage of primary care physicians. To remedy this, Dr. Eugene Stead of the Duke University Medical Center put together the first class of PAs in 1965. He selected Navy corpsmen who had received considerable medical training during their military service.

Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that PAs will be the second-fastest-growing profession in the next decade, increasing from 74,800 in 2008 to 103,900 in 2018. American Academy of PAs (AAPA) projects that in 2020, there will be between 137,000 and 173,000 certified PAs.

In answer to growing physician shortages, there is a push for more PAs to help ensure access to care. Coupled with this are the prospects of an aging population (who will need more healthcare services) and the fact that more people are expected to seek care due to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.