The Role of a Physicians Assistant

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August 21st, 2008

Physician assistants, also known as PAs, practice medicine under the supervision of surgeons and physicians.  Physician assistants are concerned with preventing, maintaining, and treating a number of illnesses by providing care and advice under a physician.  PAs also record medical histories, examine and treat patients, order tests and analyze results, and call diagnoses.  They are also responsible for helping with minor injuries that may include sutures or casts, and recommending therapy and rehabilitation efforts for patients.

Physician assistants should not be confused with medical secretaries, in that they perform administrative and clerical tasks relating to the medical field.  PAs may work in specialized areas such as primary care, general medicine, pediatric, emergency care, orthopedics, family medicine, and surgery.  PAs that also specialize in surgery assist with before and after care with the patient, and may work as an assistant during a lengthy or major surgery.  In some cases, PAs may also serve as principle providers in clinics and medical buildings where a physician is only present a few times a week.  Those PAs are required by law, to discuss treatments and issues with the supervising physician or medical professionals, before they make recommendations or orders for patients.

PAs can work in a number of different settings including hospitals, clinics, medical offices, home health care, and schools.  According to a 2008 AAPA census, 56% of PAs worked in physicians’ offices or clinics, while 24% worked in hospitals.  Many PAs working in hospitals work nights and weekends, and may also be on call when not working.  A PAs work schedule may also depend heavily on the work schedule of their supervising physician.

Employment opportunities for physician assistants are expected to grow much faster than the average.  Employment projection by the Bureau of Labor Statistics expect to see a 39% job growth in PAs by 2018, bringing in at least 29,000 new jobs.  Additionally, PAs earned median annual wages of $81,230 in 2008.

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