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Definition of a Physician Assistant

What is a PA?

A Physician Assistant (PA) is a medical provider that practices medicine under the supervision of a physician. PAs practice very similarly to physicians, because their training is characterized as, “the medical model,” the same way physicians are trained. Most PAs are trained by other Physician Assistants and by physicians at medical schools or at hospitals that have residencies for physician training.

While most PA programs are two years in length versus four years of medical school, most programs boast that PA students receive two-thirds of the material taught in medical schools. The major difference between PAs and physicians is what occurs after the degree/certification process. Physicians must complete residency and tests to practice medicine, whereas PAs must pass a national certifying exam and must find a supervising physician before practicing medicine.         

What does all this mean?

  1. PAs usually have extensive medical experience prior to attending their formal training, versus medical students are usually right out of college with little medical experience.
  2. PAs have less total formal training than medical students.
  3. While there are some optional residency programs for PAs, most PAs begin practicing after graduating, and medical students must attend residency before practicing.
  4. Physicians practice in the specialty of their residency, and PAs are trained in primary care and can practice in any specialty at any point in their career without going back for more training.
  5. PAs are dependent practitioners, meaning they always work with a supervising physician and don’t open their own practices. This means the final decision is usually the supervising physician’s, and the final liability is the supervising physician’s.
  6. PAs make less money than physicians in their same specialty, even though most work similar hours and are just as productive as many physicians.
  7. Most PAs are paid with a base salary and a production bonus.

PAs work in all aspects of medicine. There are many specific organizations for PA specialty groups.