The Physician Assistant (PA) profession was created to improve and expand healthcare with some of the earliest programs underway in the early-to-mid 1960s. PAs are health care professionals licensed to practice medicine in collaboration with and the supervision of a physician. Within the physician/PA relationship, PAs exercise autonomy in medical decision making and provide a broad range of diagnostic and therapeutic services. Today, there are more than 131,000 Physician Assistants practicing in a wide variety of medical and surgical specialty care settings across the United States. The concept is expanding rapidly and providers with similar roles can be found in many international settings.
In the United States, PAs are educated and trained in intensive education programs accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). They are trained in the medical model and work closely with physicians, augmenting and complementing the physician role. Education consists of classroom and laboratory instruction in the basic medical and behavioral sciences (such as anatomy, pharmacology, pathophysiology, clinical medicine, and physical diagnosis), followed by clinical rotations in internal medicine, family medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, emergency medicine, and behavioral health.
Upon graduation, PAs take a national certification examination developed by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) in conjunction with the National Board of Medical Examiners. Graduation from an accredited physician assistant program and passage of the national certifying exam are required for state licensure.