Health Career Center

Physician Assistants

Physician assistants (PAs) administer medical treatments under the direction of licensed doctors. PAs and medical assistants are not the same; medical assistants perform clerical and routine medical tasks.

PAs are trained to diagnose certain illnesses, examine patients, and review medical charts and x-rays. They also maintain records, teach patients about preventive healthcare, and administer certain therapies.

In certain states, PAs are licensed to prescribe some medications. Some PAs are assigned to supervise medical assistants and laboratory technicians.

Although PAs work under the direction of licensed doctors, many assigned to medical clinics where doctors are only available a couple days a week, such as inner city and rural clinics, are the sole care providers when doctors are absent. PAs in these roles are required to consult with physicians when certain medical procedures are administered. PAs often assist patients at personal residences and assisted living facilities.

Working Conditions
PAs typically work in brightly-lit, sterile, and comfortable settings. Those assisting surgeons frequently stand for hours at a time. Depending on where they work and the doctor supervising them, shifts vary for PAs. They also frequently work early morning, evening, and weekend hours. Many PAs are assigned to remain on call for designated periods of time, but PAs employed at medical clinics typically work 40 hours every week.

Career Training and Education
Nationwide, aspiring PAs are required to complete accredited formal training programs before being licensed. There are more than 100 accredited PA training programs throughout the United States. To be accepted into a PA program, you must hold a bachelor's degree and complete prerequisite courses. Information about accredited PA training programs can be obtained from the Physician Assistant Education Association.
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