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.
The PA profession is one of the fastest growing professions in the U.S. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the total number of PAs will be 145,900 by 2026, an increase of 37% from 2016 to 2026. The growth of PAs is in part because of the increasing demand for healthcare in the U.S. The growing and aging population, coupled with increasing access to care and advances in medical technology, position PAs to help fill the nation’s healthcare needs.