assistants (PAs) practice medicine under the supervision of physicians
and surgeons. They should not be confused with medical assistants, who
perform routine clinical and clerical tasks. PAs are formally trained to
provide diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive health care services, as
delegated by a physician. Working as members of the health care team,
they take medical histories, examine and treat patients, order and
interpret laboratory tests and x-rays, and make diagnoses. They also
treat minor injuries, by suturing, splinting, and casting.
progress notes, instruct and counsel patients, and order or carry out
therapy. In 48 States and the District of Columbia, physician assistants
may prescribe medications. PAs also may have managerial duties. Some
order medical supplies or equipment and supervise technicians and
Physician assistants work under the supervision of a physician. However,
PAs may be the principal care providers in rural or inner city clinics,
where a physician is present for only 1 or 2 days each week. In such
cases, the PA confers with the supervising physician and other medical
professionals as needed and as required by law. PAs also may make house
calls or go to hospitals and nursing care facilities to check on
patients, after which they report back to the physician.
The duties of
physician assistants are determined by the supervising physician and by
State law. Aspiring PAs should investigate the laws and regulations in
the States in which they wish to practice.
Many PAs work in
primary care specialties, such as general internal medicine, pediatrics,
and family medicine. Other specialty areas include general and thoracic
surgery, emergency medicine, orthopedics, and geriatrics. PAs
specializing in surgery provide preoperative and postoperative care and
may work as first or second assistants during major surgery.
Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the US Department
of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.