What is a Physician Assistant?

A physician assistant (PA) practices medicine under the direction of a physician. As members of healthcare teams, PAs take medical histories, examine and treat patients, make diagnoses, and also prescribe medications. PAs counsel patients, perform minor procedures and may even assist in surgery. A PA diagnoses and treats patients, but the supervising physician and state law determine the scope of a PA’s practice.

PAs are trained in accredited programs that typically last about 25 months. The first year is generally devoted to rigorous, intensive classroom and laboratory training. The second year of training is spent in a series of closely supervised clinical rotations in a variety of medical and surgical specialties. Graduates of accredited PA training must then pass a national certification examination in order to practice.

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