Lauren B. Grossman, MD answers your questions about physician assistants, also known as PAs.
What is a PA?
A PA is a physician assistant, a health care professional who is credentialed to practice medicine with physician supervision. There are more than 123,000 PAs who practice in every medical setting in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
What does it take to become a PA?
PAs have an advanced degree and attend a specialized graduate school program after finishing a bachelor’s degree. Most programs are approximately 26 months long and award master’s degrees. They include classroom instruction and clinical time spent in clinical settings. Many PA programs require prior healthcare experience with hands-on care.
After graduation from an accredited PA program, the graduate is eligible to take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE). The title Physician Assistant-Certified, or PA-C, is used once the test has been passed.
What does a PA do?
PAs work as an extension of the physician and are often the physician’s “right hand person.” Even though they are supervised, they are able to exercise significant autonomy in medical decision making. They conduct physical examinations, diagnose conditions, and treat problems. They are able to order tests, counsel patients, place casts, give injections, and can do many other things that a physician would do as well. PAs are also able to write prescriptions and assist in surgery.
When will I come in contact with a PA?
PAs work in hospitals, medical offices, community health centers, nursing homes, retail clinics, educational facilities, workplace clinics and correctional institutions.
Medical practice styles vary depending on the situation, but PAs may help with an initial assessment of the patient prior to seeing the surgeon and often help with follow up care and making sure the plan gets followed through. Depending upon how the practice is structured, you may see the PA prior to seeing the hand surgeon, you may see the PA after seeing your surgeon, or you may see the PA without seeing the surgeon at all if your problem does not require the surgeon’s assessment and treatment.
Can I trust a PA to treat my medical problem?
Yes! PAs are considered dependent practitioners because they work under the supervision of a physician. If they ever are not clear on what to do, there is always a physician with whom they can consult. PAs are committed to team practice with physicians and other healthcare providers.
Dr. Grossman is a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon in New York, NY who specializes in the hand and upper extremity. She is also an Active Member of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand.