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The definition of a Physician’s Assistant or
PA, is a health care professional who
provides patient services ranging from
physical examinations to surgical
procedures, under the supervision of a
Educators at Duke University recognized a
shortage in the area of Primary Care. In
1965, the first PA program was designed,
it’s first four students were ex-military
corpsmen who gained medical experience as
paramedics during the Vietnam conflict.
Dr. Eugene Stead was the one who first
initiated the first class and based the classes
of the PA program on the fast-track training
of doctors during the World War II. There
were 2 principles governing the PA
1. The time to teach PAs will be
significantly less than medical school.
2. Practicing PA’s will always be under the
supervision of a practicing doctor.
There, currently, are 116 programs in
operation. Most of the programs require
students to have at least 2 years of college
experience and some experience within the
health care setting.
The PA is prepared, both academically and
clinically, to provide health care with the
direction and responsible supervision of a
Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Osteopathy
(DO). PA functions include performing
diagnostic, therapeutic, preventive, and
health maintenance services. PAs take
medical histories, examine patients, order
and interpret laboratory tests and x-rays and
make diagnoses. They also treat minor
injuries by suturing, splinting, and casting.
PAs record progress notes, instruct and
counsel patients, and order or carry out
Most PAs can prescribe medications. PAs
also may make house calls, or got to the
hospital and nursing homes to check on
Remember PAs always work under the
supervision of a physician. The extent of
supervision, depends on State law.
PAs are regulated at two different levels.
Licensure is a process that takes place at the
state level in accordance with specific state
laws. In contrast, certification is established
through a national organization, with
requirements for minimal practice standards
being consistent across all states.
All states law require PAs to have a
supervising physician. This physician does
not necessarily have to be on site at the
same location as the PA. Most states allow
physician supervision to occur per telephone
communications with periodic site visits.
Supervising physicians review and sign all
visits recorded in the patient’s file by the
In 1975, and independent organization, the
National Commission on Certification of
Physician Assistants, was established to
administer a certification program inclusive
of an entry-level examination and
continuing medical education and periodic
re-examination for rectification. Only PAs
who graduates of approved programs and
have completed and maintained such
certification may use the credentials PA-C
When you go to see a PA, what do you call
them, they aren’t doctors, so most would
prefer to be called by their names, but to be
sure, ask either the nurse or the PA himself.
I hope this has cleared up the mystery of
what a PA is.