What is Physician Assistant?

Physician Assistants (PAs, also called RPAs for Registered, or PA-Cs for Certified, or RPA-Cs) are licensed health professionals who practice medicine as members of a team under the supervision of a physician. PAs see many of the same types of patients as physicians and deliver a broad range of medical and surgical services. PAs conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel patients on preventive care, assist in surgery, and (in all states except Indiana) prescribe medication.

The scope of a PA’s practice is determined by training, experience, state law, and the supervising physician’s practice. Essentially, PAs work wherever physicians work, whether in family practice, surgery, a specialty area, or research. A PA’s duties and autonomy depend upon the PA’s clinical experience and his/her relationship with the supervising physician. For more information, click here.

Field Description

Work Setting

Although PAs work under supervision, the supervision can be remote, which means the physician is not necessarily present. PAs may be the principal healthcare providers in rural or inner city clinics, where the physician is present for limited times or only for consultation via telephone or other media. PAs may also make house calls, check on patients at nursing care facilities, and conduct hospital rounds on their own.

The PA profession began in the 1960s and remains one of the fastest-growing occupations. Like physicians, PAs serve in all types of communities, from rural to urban, and in a variety of settings, from private practice to clinics and hospitals. PAs also work in specialized settings such as nursing homes, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), and the armed forces.

Related Careers

Nursing (RN or APRN) and medicine (MD or DO).

Please see below for more information on comparisons between similar fields:

Physician Assistant Programs
PA Schools and Licensure