Physician Assistants

Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C)

PAs are physician assistants, not “physician’s assistants.”

A physician assistant (PA) is a healthcare professional who works with doctors and provides medical treatment. You can find physician assistants in virtually all primary care and specialty medical fields.

Although PAs work alongside a supervising doctor, that doesn’t mean they work under the doctor’s direct supervision. Instead, they work in partnership with the doctor as independent clinicians providing direct patient care which is determined by their supervising physician and state law.

The “C” indicates that a PA is certified. This certification requires 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years, along with passing a national recertification exam every six years to maintain their certification.

PAs usually have a multitude of primary care patients who they care for over many years, and who have never met the supervising physician. However, for more serious and complicated illnesses, a PA can consult a physician or even ask the physician to assume care if it is outside of the PA’s scope of practice and training.

Here are some of the things that a PA-C can do:

  • Patient exams
  • Diagnose illnesses
  • Assist in surgery
  • Order and interpret laboratory tests and X-rays
  • Prescribe medications
  • Develop and manage treatment plans
  • Advise patients on preventative care as well as optional health practices
  • Often, they serve as a patient’s principal healthcare provider


How are PA-Cs Educated and Trained?

The PA-C educational program is modeled after medical school curriculum and completed over the course of about two years and three months. The training structure usually comprises both classroom and clinical instruction. Those who want to become PA-Cs are required to complete at least two years of college courses in basic science and behavioral science. PA-Cs usually undertake more than 2,000 hours of clinical training in services such as family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, general surgery, emergency medicine, and psychiatry.