“So, what is a PA?”


As healthcare continues to expand in complexity, the demand for versatile medical professionals has never been greater. One role that has emerged is that of a Physician Assistant (PA). Since the birth of the profession with the first graduating class out of Duke University in 1967, PAs have become indispensable members of healthcare teams. So, what is a PA? As this is a question I often come across in my practice, as do many of my colleagues, this seemed to be a relevant topic for our blog here at Ortho Rhode Island.

Defining the PA Role:
A Certified Physician Assistant (PA-C) is a highly educated and technically skilled licensed healthcare professional who operates under the supervision of a licensed physician. PAs undergo specialized training to offer a comprehensive array of medical services, including diagnosing and treating medical conditions, interpreting tests, performing procedures, prescribing medications, first-assisting in surgery and providing patients with guidance on preventative care. PAs can be found working in diverse healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, primary care practices, surgical units, and specialized departments. Here at Ortho Rhode Island, you will find PAs seeing patients in the clinic as well as Ortho Express, and my personal favorite - assisting in the operating room.

Education and Training:
The journey to becoming a PA begins with a rigorous educational path. PAs complete a bachelor’s degree in which they excel, much like medical doctors, in order to be accepted into an intensive master’s program in Physician Assistant Studies from an accredited institution. In addition, most PA programs require clinical experience before acceptance which is unique when compared to medical school. This can be in the form of pre-hospital emergency care (EMT, advanced EMT, paramedic), respiratory therapist, medical assistant, medical scribe, emergency department technician, surgical technician, x-ray technician etc. Requirements vary, however most programs require 2,000+ hours of clinical experience before an applicant is considered.

PA programs generally last around 27 months and their curriculum covers an array of subjects such as anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, medical ethics, and clinical medicine. PA programs do not just include classroom work. Much like medical school, PA students spend a large part of their program completing hands-on training in the medical field during clinical rotations. Through clinical rotations, PAs gain first-hand experience across various specialties, such as orthopedics, OB/GYN, ENT, radiology, internal medicine, ICU, Emergency Medicine, Pediatrics, Primary Care, etc. enabling them to develop skills in multiple medical domains. Following their education, PAs must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) to obtain their professional licensure in order to practice.

Physician Assistants stand as invaluable components within modern healthcare teams, harmonizing medical proficiency with a patient-focused perspective. Their comprehensive education, hands-on training, and collaborative mindset equip them to undertake diverse responsibilities. PAs contribute profoundly to the overall efficiency, accessibility, and quality of healthcare provision. As healthcare continues to evolve, Physician Assistants will continue to contribute to positive transformations in patient care and healthcare outcomes. We are looking forward to taking excellent care of you at your next visit!