What is a Physician Assistant?

Are you wanting to learn What is a Physician Assistant and what they do? If so you are in the right place and this article will help! Physician assistants (PAs) play an important role in the medical profession as they help treat and diagnose patients. The increasing demand for better healthcare has also put a demand for qualified physician assistants to help physicians see and treat as many patients as possible. Physician assistants can be found at clinics, physician offices, hospitals, outpatient clinics and similar healthcare facilities. Becoming a PA requires education, training and the desire to help care for sick or injured patients.

What is a Physician Assistant?

Physician assistants work as part of a team alongside doctors, surgeons and other medical workers. They examine patients and assist with diagnosing and treating patients. With the exception of a few things, PAs do most of the same things as doctors. It’s not unusual to visit a clinic and see a PA instead of a doctor. Physician assistants perform the following duties:

  • Review patient’s medical histories
  • Order x-rays, blood work and other diagnostic tests
  • Prescribe medication
  • Immunize patients
  • Set broken bones
  • Educate patients and family members on healthcare
  • Diagnose the patient’s illness or injury
  • Participate in programs regarding promoting wellness

Each state has different regulations as to what a PA can do without the presence of a licensed physician, so a PA’s duties will vary from state to state.

Education Required

Physicians are generally required to have a master’s degree from a program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. (ARC-PA). Most students entering this two-year program already have an undergraduate degree in a medical field and experience in patient care. Students in the PA program complete a blended curriculum of classroom assignments, laboratory classes and a supervised clinical internship.

Courses in the PA program include physical diagnosis, pathology, medical ethics, pharmacology, human anatomy and physiology. While completing a clinical internship, the student may be required to work in several areas, such as emergency medicine, family medicine, pediatrics and internal medicine to gain experience in different areas of healthcare.


Physician assistants are required to be licensed in all the states. This requires completing an accredited PA program and passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE), a computer-based, multiple-choice test. This test is authorized by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. Once the individual passes the exam, the candidate has earned the Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C) credential. Certification is good for two years. To maintain certification, the PA must complete 100 continuing education credits, but the PA must retake the certification exam every ten years. There are more than 200 ARC-PA testing sites in the U.S.

Career Outlook

The increasing number of medical treatments now available, the demand for better health care and the increasing number of treatments states are allowing PAs to perform all contribute to the high demand for these valuable medical professionals. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts PAs should see an employment growth of 37% from 2016-2026, which should result in about 39,600 new PA jobs created nationwide by 2026. The bureau reports that PAs earned an average annual wage of $104,760 as of May 2017.

Related Resource: Top 10 Most Affordable Accelerated Master of Health Sciences – Physician Assistant Online

Working as a PA can be an exciting, challenging and very rewarding career for an individual who desires to have an important role in the healthcare industry. With approximately 236 ARC-PA accredited physician assistant programs located throughout the United States, interested candidates can choose the program that best meets their career aspirations and be well on their way to a lifelong career.