PA's: What is a Physician Assistant?

When you walk into a doctorâ??s office often times you will see a doctor, a nurse, a nurse practitioner and a physician assistant, but do you know the difference between them?

Ella Callison, a physician assistant at Complete Family Medicine in Kirksville breaks it down for us.

Q: What is a physician assistant?

A: A physician assistant is a licensed medical provider who practices medicine under the supervision of an overseeing doctor. By supervision, this means that, while the doctor is almost never directly overseeing a patient encounter, the doctor does review the PAs patient charts on a regular basis, and is always available for consult if needed, whether it be directly on-site or available by phone. In the state of Missouri, it is required for the supervising physician and the PA to discuss a certain percentage of patient encounters on a regular basis.

Q: What are the duties of a physician assistant?

A: A physician assistant has many of the same responsibilities as a physician. A physician assistant must diagnose and treat common illnesses, prescribe medicine, order and interpret lab testing and diagnostic studies, and provide education to patients on their diagnoses. These duties vary greatly depending on the setting the PA works in (hospital or clinic) and if the PA chooses to specialize in a particular area (ie. Cardiology, neurology, OB/GYN, surgery).

Q: What education is required to become a physician assistant?

A: In order to become a physician assistant, one must first obtain a bachelorâ??s degree, usually in a science such as biology or chemistry. Following a bachelorâ??s degree, two additional years of graduate school is required to obtain your MSPAS (masters of science in physician assistant studies). In addition to this, most PAs will also complete a board examination in order to become a PA-C, or board-certified physician assistant. Once in practice, a physician assistant must also complete 100 hours of continuing education every two years to maintain their certification.

Q: What is the difference between a physician assistant and a nurse practitioner?

A: PAs and NPs are similar in many ways. We are classified in a larger group called â??mid-level providersâ??, meaning on the hierarchy of healthcare providers, we sit between an RN and a physician. Both NPs and PAs diagnose and treat, prescribe medicine, etc. Both may work in either a clinic or hospital setting. The biggest difference between the two is the training. NPs begin as an RN and then complete an advanced nursing degree. During the NP program, the nurse chooses a specialty, whether it be family practice, pediatric care, womenâ??s health, surgery, etc. Once their training is complete, the NP practices in the specialty in which they were trained. PAs begin training with obtaining an undergraduate degree in a science (biology, chemistry, etc), then go on to a Physician assistant program, where the PA is trained in various specialties, but

with a focus on primary care. Once training is complete, the PA may practice in primary care or any medical specialty and may switch from one specialty to another if they choose. Another difference between PAs and NPs is, depending on state regulations, some NPs have the autonomy to work independent of a physician, whereas PAs always practice under the supervision of a physician.

Complete Family Medicine

1611 S. Baltimore

Kirksville, MO 63501