Physician Assistants (PAs) are health-care professionals licensed or, in the case of those employed by the federal government, credentialed to practice medicine in association with designated collaborating physicians. PAs are qualified by graduation from an accredited PA educational program and/or certification by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. Within the physician-PA relationship, PAs provide patient-centered medical care services as a member of a health care team. PAs practice with defined levels of autonomy and exercise independent medical decision making within their scope of practice. PAs practice medicine providing diagnostic and therapeutic services in all practice settings. They are autonomous members of the healthcare team, collaborating with physicians and partnering with other Health Care Professionals. PAs may also be involved in medical research, medical education and health care administration at various levels. All 50 states have enacted legislation granting prescriptive privileges to PAs. The physician-PA team enhances both access to and delivery of high-quality health care. PAs must possess strong cognitive and skill-based attributes and must function with the highest ethical standards in the delivery of health care to their patients.
The PA role demands intelligence, sound judgment, intellectual honesty, appropriate interpersonal skills, and the capacity to react to emergencies in a calm and reasoned manner. An attitude of respect for self and others, adherence to the concepts of privilege and confidentiality in communicating with patients, and a commitment to patient welfare are essential attributes.
Specific tasks performed by PAs cannot be delineated precisely because of the variations in practice requirements mandated by geographic, political, economic and social factors. At a minimum, however, physician assistants are educated in areas of basic medical science, clinical disciplines, and discipline-specific problem solving. PA practice is characterized by clinical knowledge and skills in areas traditionally defined by family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, etc., and practice in ambulatory, emergency, inpatient, and long-term care settings. PAs deliver health care services to diverse patient populations of all ages with a range of acute and chronic medical and surgical conditions, requiring the knowledge and skills to allow them to function effectively in a dynamic health care environment.
Services performed by Physician Assistants include, but, are not limited to, the following:
- EVALUATION: Elicit a detailed and accurate history, perform an appropriate physical examination, order appropriate diagnostic studies, delineate problems, develop management plans and record and present data.
- DIAGNOSTIC(S): Order, perform and/or interpret diagnostic studies used to identify pathophysiologic processes.
- MONITORING: Implement patient management plans, record progress notes, and participate in the provision of continuity of care.
- THERAPEUTIC(S): Perform therapeutic procedures and manage or assist in the management of medical and surgical conditions, which may include assisting surgeons in the conduct of operations and taking initiative in performing evaluations and therapeutic procedures in response to life threatening situations.
- PATIENT EDUCATION: Counsel patients regarding issues of health care management to include compliance with prescribed therapeutic regimens, normal growth and development, family planning and emotional problems of daily living.
- REFERRAL: Facilitate the referral of patients to other health care providers or agencies.