A physician assistant (PA) is a state licensed healthcare professional who practices medicine with physician supervision. PAs are able to perform an extensive range of medical services from entry-level primary care to highly technical specialty procedures in nearly every medical and surgical healthcare setting. In some rural and underserved communities PAs may serve as the primary providers of healthcare.
Because of the close working relationship that PAs have with physicians, PAs are educated in a medical school model. The original concept was to train PAs as primary care providers who could practice under the supervision and direction, but not necessarily in the presence, of a physician. Primary care remains the foundation of physician assistant education and training, while specialty training is obtained on- the-job or with some post graduate clinical programs.
All PAs must graduate from a nationally accredited (ARC – PA) program, pass a national certification exam (NCCPA) and be licensed by a state medical board before being able to practice with physician supervision. Supervision standards are controlled by legislation and medical licensing boards and vary from state to state. Further, to maintain national certification, PAs must log 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years and sit for a recertification exam every ten years.