Why Become a Physician Assistant?

Training and Education Jobs and Salaries

Physician assistants practice medicine under the supervision of physicians and surgeons. They should not be confused with medical assistants, who perform routine clinical and clerical tasks. Medical assistants are discussed elsewhere on this website. Physician assistants are formally trained to provide diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive health care services, as delegated by a physician.

Working as members of the health care team, they take medical histories, examine and treat patients, order and interpret laboratory tests and x rays, and make diagnoses. They also treat minor injuries, by suturing, splinting, and casting. Physician assistants record progress notes, instruct and counsel patients, and order or carry out therapy. In 48 States and the District of Columbia, physician assistants may prescribe some medications. In some establishments, a physician assistant is responsible for managerial duties, such as ordering medical supplies or equipment and supervising technicians and assistants.

Physician assistants work under the supervision of a physician however, physician assistants may be the principal care providers in rural or inner city clinics where a physician is present for only one or two days each week. In such cases, the physician assistant confers with the supervising physician and other medical professionals as needed and as required by law. Physician assistants also may make house calls or go to hospitals and nursing care facilities to check on patients, after which they report back to the physician. The duties of physician assistants are determined by the supervising physician and by

Aspiring physician assistants should investigate the laws and regulations in the States in which they wish to practice. Many physician assistants work in primary care specialties, such as general internal medicine, pediatrics, and family medicine. Other specialty areas include general and thoracic surgery, emergency medicine, orthopedics, and geriatrics. Physician assistants specializing in surgery provide preoperative and postoperative care and may work as first or second assistants during major surgery.

Although physician assistants usually work in a comfortable, well-lighted environment, those in surgery often stand for long periods. At times, the job requires a considerable amount of walking. Schedules vary according to the practice setting, and often depend on the hours of the supervising physician. The workweek of hospital-based physician assistants may include weekends, nights, or early morning hospital rounds to visit patients. These workers also may be on call. Physician assistants in clinics usually work a forty-hour week.