Information obtained from American Academy of Physician Assistants
The physician assistant profession was started over 30 years ago as an opportunity for physicians to extend their practices and service more patients by using assistants trained in medicine and working in conjunction with MDs. The MD-PA team is effective because of the similarities in physician and PA training, the PA profession's commitment to practice with supervision, and the efficiencies created by utilizing the strengths of each professional in the clinical practice setting.
PA schools are modeled after and usually affiliated with medical schools. PA students often share classes, facilities, and clinical rotations with medical students. Depending on the requirements of the individual programs, applicants to the program must have completed at least two years of "pre-med" college coursework. Some schools require a bachelor degree upon admission. The PA program ranges from 25-27 months in length, and includes one year of basic science and medical science courses followed by a second year of clinical rotations. PA students complete 2,000 hours of supervised clinical practice prior to graduation.
Because of similarities in training, PAs and physicians develop a similarity in medical reasoning during their schooling that eventually leads to a homogeneity of thought in the clinical workplace.
Physician assistants are health professional licensed to practice medicine under physician supervision. They perform history and physical exams, order and interpret diagnostic tests, write prescriptions (in most states), perform in-office medical procedures, and assist in surgery.
PAs can perform most of the routine functions in a general medical practice and are widely accepted and sometimes preferred by patients. PAs are able to handle common patient complaints, follow-up visits, and patient education and counseling. PAs are responsible for the day-to-day care of patients, turning to their supervising physicians when faced with cases requiring more advanced medical knowledge.
The supervising physician remains available to the PA for consultation and review, in the event that the PA needs guidance for more complicated patients. In many primary-care settings, the presence of a PA allows patients to be seen promptly, knowing that their routine problems will be handled effectively and that the expertise of the physician is available if needed.