General Medicine (PA)
A physician assistant (PA) works under the supervision of a
licensed physician or surgeon. The job of a physician assistant is to
practice medicine according to the needs and wishes of a supervising
doctor or surgeon. Therefore, the job duties of a physician assistant
may vary depending on a number of factors, including the type of medical
practice or facility in which the PA chooses to work.
Physician assistants are trained to provide a range of services,
including those that are diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventative in
nature. However, all services provided by a physician assistant must be
under the delegation and supervision of a physician. Under such
supervision, physician assistants take and record medical histories; and
examine, diagnose, and treat patients. They also order diagnostic tests
and x-rays, interpreting the results of such tests as instructed. In the
United States, physician assistants may also prescribe medications in
A physician assistant may perform suturing tasks, as well as
splinting and casting. Physician assistants record progress notes and
counsel patients. They also order therapy for patients, often providing
the ordered therapy, depending on the needs of the physicians for whom
they work. In some cases, they are responsible for ordering medical
supplies and equipment. Often, physician assistants have managerial
duties in medical offices or facilities as well.
Though a physician assistant must work under the supervision of a
physician, he or she may actually act as the primary care provider for a
patient. This typically occurs in rural or inner city clinics in which a
supervising physician may be present only a couple of days per week. In
such cases, physician assistants confer with the supervising physician
concerning the care of the clinic's patients, but provide much of that
The responsibilities of a physician assistant are determined by
both individual state law and the requirements of the supervising
physician. Some states and physicians afford individuals in this field a
wider scope of practice than others. Pay rates vary as well, depending
upon the state and type of practice in which the physician assistant
chooses to work.
In the United States, an individual interested in a career as a
physician assistant must complete an accredited PA education program.
These programs usually require full-time attendance and take a minimum
of two years to complete. After completing an accredited PA program, an
individual must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying
Examination in order to be certified. The National Commission on
Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) administers this exam.
Once certified and practicing, continuing education requirements may
apply as specified by state law.