The medical profession is diverse, with many different types of healthcare professionals. Among these professionals are physician assistants, commonly known as PAs. They are perhaps the most misunderstood of healthcare professionals, yet these men and women are a vital part of the medical care team. PAs perform unique roles in healthcare delivery, supporting the work of physicians, nurse practitioners, and specialists with dedication and outstanding patient care.
Karl Anthony Simon, a Physician Assistant living and working in the Houston, Texas area, knows that PAs are called upon to perform a wide range of tasks, including diagnostics, treatment delivery, and health support services. In some medical facilities, PAs are often the first point of medical contact for a patient; PAs perform the diagnostic and treatment services typically reserved for medical doctors.
Here is a more in-depth look into what PAs are and what they do to manage the wellbeing of millions of people in the United States.
What is a Physician Assistant?
A physician assistant (PA) is a category of healthcare providers responsible for delivering primary medical care to patients across the medical spectrum. PAs have extensive training and certification, and many undergo specialized training in disciplines like family medicine, orthopedics, general surgery, or pediatrics.
One common point of confusion is the title “physician assistant”; these medical professionals are often incorrectly referred to as “physician assistants”, suggesting that they merely support the work of a doctor.
While a licensed physician must supervise them in person or remotely, PAs perform their healthcare virtually autonomously, much in the same way a physician or nurse practitioner would. In the United States military, PAs are an integral part of healthcare delivery for active-duty members and their families. These medical professionals have many or most of the same responsibilities and rights as physicians, but are only limited in the prescription writing authority they have for patients.
Standard Duties for a PA
Just like other healthcare professionals, PAs are responsible for a broad array of patient care protocols and services. Among the many tasks PAs handle are:
- Performing examinations on primary care and referral patients.
- Diagnosing illnesses and injuries.
- Administering treatments, including medications and injections.
- Monitoring patient progress.
- Providing wellness and health education to patients.
- Ordering laboratory and diagnostic imaging tests.
- Prescribing medications.
PAs may work in clinical or hospital settings, although they may be found in rural doctors’ offices, the military, and specialty medical facilities. In some facilities, PAs operate fairly autonomously, serving as a direct care provider. In other healthcare settings, PAs work closely with others as part of a team which may consist of health technicians, nurses and nurse practitioners, and physicians.
How Do I Become a Physician Assistant?
Physician assistants (PAs) such as Karl Anthony Simon, MBAS PA-C are required to complete an undergraduate degree, then complete a master’s level degree from an accredited PA training program. These programs are accredited by an organization called the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). These rigorous programs are designed with similar coursework and experiences as nursing school or medical school, giving students a broad exposure to the principles and practices of healthcare delivery.
Training in a PA program typically takes two years, although specialization in a particular medical field may require additional training. Specialty training, such as in orthopedics, general medicine, surgery, or sports medicine, typically takes one to two years and may require extensive hands-on clinical experience in addition to classroom work.
To achieve certification and licensure as a PA-C, all 50 states and the District of Columbia require PA candidates to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination, known as PANCE.
This exam is administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). A PA must renew his or her certification every 10 years, and must complete a minimum of 100 continuing education hours every two years in order to maintain licensure and to qualify for recertification. In other words, PAs like Anthony Simon are continually exposed to new medical information and practices, ultimately making them a critical and important part of the healthcare delivery model. Continuing education is an important part of medical care across disciplines, allowing participants to gain exposure to emerging diagnostic and treatment methods designed to improve patient lives.
Many PAs also complete advanced lifesaving certification programs. In fact, many healthcare facilities require PAs to hold the same certifications as nurses, nurse practitioners, and physicians. These programs typically include certifications like:
- Basic Life Support
- Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support
- Pediatric Advanced Life Support
- Advanced Trauma Life Support
How Much Does a PA Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, PAs earn an average median salary of just over $104,000 as of 2017, the most recent year for which statistics are available. In the United States, close to 110,000 people like Houston, TX resident Anthony Simon hold PA-C certification from the NCCPA. PAs working full-time in specialty clinics may make more per year, while part-time PAs (about 20% of the PA workforce) will earn less.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the PA career path has a bright outlook, with employment in this crucial aspect of healthcare to grow faster than average for all occupations for the next 5-10 years. Becoming a PA can take individuals on a journey of discovery, giving them the tools and the techniques they need to become direct caregivers to patients across all walks of life.
More great content from Physician Assistant Karl Simon coming soon.