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Saturday, May 25, 2024

The role of physician assistants in the medical field

Learn about this rapidly expanding profession and how it compares to other jobs in healthcare


By KATIE HELLMAN — science@theaggie.org 

Physician assistants, also known as physician associates or PAs, are not as well-known as other healthcare workers like physicians, nurses and pharmacists. The profession, however, is rapidly expanding.

“​​Physician assistant (PA) and similar health-care professions are increasingly used in response to physician shortages,” an article in PubMed states. “What these various professions have in common is that they are trained under the medical model (or advanced nursing model in the case of nurse practitioners and nurse clinicians) in an accelerated, efficient, and cost-effective time frame to deliver quality, team-based health care tailored to need.”

PAs practice medicine in similar ways as doctors do in the sense that they are able to diagnose and treat conditions, give physical exams, order tests and prescribe medications. 

Most PA programs take around three years to complete post-grad, require more than 2,000 clinical hours and conclude with passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination. Although PAs are supervised by a physician during their work, they hold advanced degrees and get to provide direct patient care.

There are over 168,000 PAs practicing in the United States and their jobs have been invaluable to the healthcare field amidst the current physician shortage. The implementation of PAs in hospitals and doctors’ offices has allowed more people to get access to the medical care they need.

The PA profession may be of interest to anyone considering a career in healthcare. While the training is still rigorous, it is not as in-depth as medical school and therefore takes less time to become licensed compared to a physician. PAs can also change their specialties throughout their career.

Maria Delfino, a second-year PA student at UC Davis’ Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, commented on why she decided to pursue this career path.

 “The work-life balance as a PA was attractive as well as the idea you can switch specialties,” Delfino said.

The PA profession is ranked second in the Best Health Care Jobs list in the nation and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of PAs will grow by 27% by 2032.

Christi DeLemos, chief of advanced practice at UC Davis Health, commented on the importance of this job in an interview with UC Davis Health.

“In many health care settings, physician shortages make it more difficult to recruit doctors,” DeLemos said. “PAs can bridge that gap by supporting access to care for our community.”

Written by: Katie Hellman — science@theaggie.org