Physician Assistant

Physician assistants (PAs) perform medical procedures under the supervision of physicians and surgeons. PAs should not be confused with medical assistants, who have routine medical duties. PAs receive enough training to provide diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive health care services, under the supervision of a doctor. PAs interview patients about their medical histories, examine and treat patients, determine when laboratory tests and x-rays are necessary, and make diagnoses. PAs treat minor injuries such as broken bones. 48 States and the District of Columbia permit PAs to prescribe certain medications. At some health care facilities, a PA supervises medical assistants and performs administrative duties.

Doctors supervise physician assistants. In some inner cities and rural areas where doctors are only available a couple days a week, PAs sometimes provide principal care services. If this is the case, the PAs must make sure they abide by all applicable laws since they can only perform certain functions. PAs may also visit clients at their homes.

The supervising doctor and state laws determine physician assistants' duties. Individuals wanting to be PAs should research the laws and regulations in the states they want to work in.

Many PAs specialize in family medicine, pediatrics, general internal medicine, emergency medicine, general and thoracic surgery, geriatrics, and orthopedics. PAs specializing in surgery assist surgeons and are usually responsible for preoperative and postoperative care.

Work environment. PAs usually work in a comfortable, well-lighted environment, but those working with surgeons stand for long periods of time. PAs schedules usually depend on their supervising physicians' hours. PAs working in hospitals might work weekends, nights, or early mornings. PAs are usually on call. PAs working for clinics usually work 40 hour weeks.

Career Training and Education

Nationwide, aspiring PAs are required to complete accredited formal training programs before being licensed. There are more than 100 accredited PA training programs throughout the United States. To be accepted into a PA program, you must hold a bachelor's degree and complete prerequisite courses. Information about accredited PA training programs can be obtained from the Physician Assistant Education Association.

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