FAQ – Physician Assistant

Top Frequently Asked Questions

1. What does it take to become a PA?

To become a PA, a candidate must complete all the educational requirements, including extensive hands-on training in a clinical practice setting. A PA’s educational journey generally begins with a bachelor’s degree, followed by a master’s degree in a post-graduate PA program. Most PA schools require that candidates take the GRE and prefer that applicants have some healthcare or patient care experience. After graduating from an accredited PA school and passing the PANCE, you will become a certified PA (PA-C).

2. What does a PA do?

Once certified, a PA-C works as part of the medical team, where they may collect patient histories, perform physical examinations, order and interpret labs and diagnostics, etc. Some of their duties also include but are not limited to forming working diagnoses, prescribing medications and therapies, and performing various medical procedures. They may choose to work in any medical specialty, including family medicine, internal medicine, general surgery, obstetrics & gynecology, emergency medicine, etc. In most cases, a PA’s scope of practice is broad and uniquely defined in each PA’s and supervising physician’s delegation agreement and commensurate to their education and experience.

3. Can a PA have their own independent practice?

Not quite. Some states allow PAs to own a medical practice under certain conditions. However, PAs are still required to have a collaborative relationship with a physician and an established delegation agreement. For more information, check out this PAs and Practice Ownership brief by the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA).

4. Can a PA see patients without a physician present?

Yes. Most states allow PAs to practice without their supervising physician being on-site, provided the PA has access to the physician as needed. Regulations vary by state, and you should check with your state regulatory board.

5. Can a PA perform surgery? 

The type of functions of a PA depends on the level of responsibility their supervising physician delegates to them. For example, a surgeon may allow the PA to perform certain surgical procedures and complete opening and closing procedures. PAs are frequently seen in surgical first-assistant roles in many operating rooms.

6. How often do PAs have to recertify? 

PAs must recertify every ten years by passing the Physician Assistant Recertification Exam (PANRE). During this 10-year cycle, PAs will have five two-year cycles to complete Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits.

7. How are PAs different from nurse practitioners (NPs)?

Both PAs and nurse practitioners (NPs) have gone through extensive education and hands-on training to become licensed medical providers. The most significant difference is the way PAs are trained. PAs are trained through a physician model, while NPs are trained through the nursing model. Also, NPs choose a specialty while in their program (family, acute care, pediatrics, etc.), while PAs have lateral mobility and the ability to switch specialties. Overall, both are advanced practice providers that perform functions similar to those performed by doctors, including making diagnoses and prescribing medication. Check out these similarities between PAs and NPs

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