What is a physician assistant? Physician assistants are health care professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision.
The Physician Assistant (PA) concept originally developed from the U.S. Army Combat Medic Program in the late 1960s. Since then, PAs have grown and are found in all areas of medicine from primary care medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics to surgery or the surgical subspecialties.
Typically, PAs can provide approximately 80 percent of the services provided by a family physician. They perform physical exams, diagnose illnesses, develop and carry out treatment plans, order and interpret lab tests, suture wounds, assist in surgery, provide preventive health care counseling, write prescriptions, counsel patients, and perform administrative functions.
The physician/PA team relationship is fundamental to the delivery of high quality health care. While PAs will see many of the same types of patients as the physician, PAs recognize their limitations and refers to the supervising physician when necessary or appropriate.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, employment of PAs is expected to grow 39 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. Projected rapid job growth reflects the expansion of health care industries with an emphasis on cost containment while providing quality care. This results in an increasing utilization of PAs by health care institutions and physicians.