Physician assistants are health care professionals trained in intensive programs that mirror the medical model of physician education and that must be accredited by the ARC-PA. Prior to entering clinical practice, a new graduate must take a national certification examination developed by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants in conjunction with the National Board of Medical Examiners.
Once certified by the NCCPA, the new graduate must be licensed to practice medicine with supervision by an appropriate state medical board. To maintain national certification, each PA must log 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years and sit for a recertification every six years.
PAs provide a broad range of diagnostic and therapeutic services. They can be found in the primary care specialties of family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology as well as in other medical and surgical specialties and subspecialties.
As part of their comprehensive responsibilities, PAs conduct interviews and physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery, and in virtually all states can write prescriptions. A PA's practice may also include education and research.
What a PA does varies with training, experience, state law and the scope of the supervising physician's practice. In general, a PA will see many of the same types of patients as the physician. Referral to or consultation with the physician is done for unusual or hard to manage cases. Forty-eight states, the District of Columbia, and Guam have enacted laws that authorize PA to prescribe in the context of the M.D.-PA practice arrangement.