Physician Assistant Job Description: Physician assistants (PA's) practice medicine under the supervision of physicians and surgeons. PA's are formally trained to provide diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive health care services, as delegated by a physician. Working as members of the health care team, they take medical histories, examine and treat patients, order and interpret laboratory tests and x rays, and make diagnoses.
They also treat minor injuries, by suturing, splinting, and casting. PAs record progress notes, instruct and counsel patients, and order or carry out therapy. In 48 States and the District of Columbia, physician assistants may prescribe some medications. In some establishments, a PA is responsible for managerial duties, such as ordering medical supplies or equipment and supervising technicians and assistants.
In the physician assistant job description a PA works under the supervision of a physician. However, PAs may be the principal care providers in rural or inner city clinics where a physician is present for only one or two days each week. In such cases, the PA confers with the supervising physician and other medical professionals as needed and as required by law.
PAs also may make house calls or go to hospitals and nursing care facilities to check on patients, after which they report back to the physician. The duties of physician assistants are determined by the supervising physician and by state law. Aspiring PAs should investigate the laws and regulations in the States in which they wish to practice.
Many PA's work in primary care specialties, such as general internal medicine, pediatrics, and family medicine. Other specialty areas include general and thoracic surgery, emergency medicine, orthopedics, and geriatrics. PA's specializing in surgery provide preoperative and postoperative care and may work as first or second assistants during major surgery.
Although PA's usually work in a comfortable, well-lighted environment, those in surgery often stand for long periods. At times, the job requires a considerable amount of walking. Schedules vary according to the practice setting, and often depend on the hours of the supervising physician.
The work week of the hospital-based PA may include weekends, nights, or early morning hospital rounds to visit patients. These workers also may be on call. PA's in clinics usually work a 40 to 50 hour week.
Training and Qualifications to be a Physician Assistant
Admission requirements vary by program, but many require at least 2 years of college and some health care experience. All States require that PAs complete an accredited, formal education program and pass a National exam to obtain a license. Physician assistant education programs usually last at least 2 years and are full time. Most programs are in schools of allied health, academic health centers, medical schools, or 4-year colleges.
Most programs require you to have 2-3 years of experience in the healthcare field as a nurse or other healthcare professional and a bachelors degree prior to being admitted to a PA program.
Licensing and Credentialing
In all 50 states and the U.S. Territories Physician Assistant's are regulated. The usual method to be a credentialed and licensed PA is:
1) Graduate from an accredited Physician Assistant program. This may be from a college or other accredited organization.
2) Pass the national exams. This is called the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination.
3) Apply for licensure in the state you wish to practice in.
Physician assistant programs usually last at least 2 years; admission requirements vary by program, but many require at least 2 years of college and some health care experience.
All States require physician assistants to complete an accredited education program and to pass a national exam in order to obtain a license.
Employment is projected to grow much faster than average as health care establishments increasingly use physician assistants to contain costs and supplement physician shortages.
Job opportunities should be good, particularly in rural and inner-city clinics.
Advancement - chances for promotion
The nature of this job usually precludes advancement in the typical sense as roles for management are limited. Job opportunities are good and income should keep pace with other healthcare professions. Opportunities exist to become an educator or college instructor.