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About PAs
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About PAs

Physician assistants (PAs) are nationally certified and state-licensed medical professionals. PAs practice medicine on healthcare teams with physicians and other providers. They practice and prescribe medication in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and all U.S. territories, with the exception of Puerto Rico.


PAs are medically trained and qualified to:

  • Take your medical history
  • Conduct physical exams
  • Diagnose and treat illnesses
  • Order and interpret tests
  • Develop treatment plans
  • Counsel on preventive care
  • Assist in surgery
  • Write prescriptions
  • Make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes

PAs’ specific duties depend on:

  • The setting in which they work
  • Their level of experience
  • Their specialty
  • State laws 

PA medical and surgical services are covered by:

  • Nearly all private payers
  • Medicare
  • Medicaid

PAs work in all specialties and settings. They treat patients in:

  • Hospitals
  • Physician offices
  • Rural and urban community health centers
  • Nursing homes
  • Retail clinics
  • Schools and university-based facilities
  • Industrial settings
  • Correctional institutions
  • The uniformed services and other federal government agencies

How are PAs educated and trained?

  • Most PA programs are 26-month programs (approximately 3 academic years) and require the same prerequisite courses as medical schools. Most programs also require students to have about three years of healthcare training and experience.
  • Students take courses in basic sciences, behavioral sciences and clinical medicine across subjects such as anatomy, pharmacology, microbiology, physiology and more.
  • They then complete a total of more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations in:
    • Family medicine
    • Internal medicine
    • Obstetrics and gynecology
    • Pediatrics
    • General surgery
    • Emergency medicine
    • Psychiatry

How are PAs certified and licensed? Before they can practice, PAs must:

  • Graduate from an accredited program
  • Pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (a "PA-C" designation after one's name indicates the PA is certified)
  • Get licensed by the state in which they wish to practice

In order to maintain certification, PAs must:

  • Complete a recertification exam every 10 years
  • Complete 100 hours of continuing medical education (CME) every 2 years