What Is a PA?

Student listening to another student's pulse

A physician assistant (PA) is a nationally certified and state-licensed medical professional who provides healthcare services typically performed by a physician under the supervision of physicians and surgeons. PAs are concerned with preventing and treating human illness and injury by providing a broad range of healthcare as part of a healthcare team.   PA’s practice in a wide variety of specialties and settings.

To perform at this level of responsibility, much of the education of Physician Assistants is provided by physicians in order to assure that the patient-care functions provided by the Physician Assistant are equivalent in quality to those of the physician who delegates them.


▼   Physician Assistant's Scope of Practice
  • Review/take patients’ medical histories
  • Conduct physical exams
  • Order and interpret diagnostic tests, such as x rays or blood tests
  • Make diagnoses concerning a patient’s injury or illness
  • Give treatment, such as setting broken bones and immunizing patients
  • Educate and counsel patients and their families regarding preventive healthcare, management of health risk behaviors, patient medical issues
  • Prescribe medications
  • Research the latest treatments to ensure the quality of patient care
  • Assist in surgery
  • Perform therapeutic procedures such as suturing, removal of minor lesions and casting
▼   PA’s Practice in Many Work Settings
  • Hospitals
  • Physician Offices
  • Urgent Care Centers
  • Rural and urban community health centers
  • Nursing homes
  • Retail clinics
  • Schools and university-based facilities
  • Industrial Settings
  • Correctional institutions
  • The uniformed services and other federal government agencies
▼   PA's Practice Medicine in Many Specialties
  • Primary Care
  • Surgical Subspecialties
  • Internal Medicine Subspecialties
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Pediatric Subspecialties
▼   Comparison Between PAs and NPs

The American Academy of Physician Assistants state that there are two key differences between a Physician Assistant (PA) and a Nurse Practitioner (NP).

  • PAs are educated in general medicine, which offers a comprehensive view of all aspects of medicine. NPs must choose a “population focus,” e.g., pediatric nurse practitioner or women’s health nurse practitioner.
  • PAs are trained to practice medicine using a curriculum modeled on medical school education. NPs are trained in the advanced practice of nursing.
▼   PA Occupational Employment and Wages

PA Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2019 (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
The median annual salary for physician assistants was $112,260. Employment of physician assistants is projected to grow 31 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. Increased demand for healthcare services from the growing and aging population and widespread chronic disease, combined with a shortage of physicians, will result in increased demand for healthcare providers, such as physician assistants.