How do PAs differ from other providers?

Antonia Hudson
“I always recognized that there was a gap in receiving primary care by patients in rural areas and the importance of having affordable health care.”
-Antonia Hudson, Kileen, TX

There is a list of definitions of many health care providers in the PA Profession Section of the website.

Doctors and PAs

Physician assistants are licensed to practice medicine.  Their training is very similar to a doctor but the length of training is shortened.  A good way to explain the training is that it is like taking 4 years of medical school and decreasing it to 2 to 2 ½ years.  After medical school, doctors then have to pass a national board exam, complete residency training and possibly fellowship training which could be an additional 2 to 8 years of training.  After 2 ½ years of PA school, physician assistants sit for a national board exam and after passing, can apply to a state to practice medicine with the supervision of a doctor.

PAs do not practice medicine by themselves, they practice with the supervision or oversight by a doctor.  Together the doctor and PA works as a team.  The doctor does not have to see every patient that the PA sees.  PAs can work at a different medical clinic than their supervising doctor.  The doctor is available to talk to the PA when needed.  This increases quality of care for the patients while increasing accessibility or ability of a patient to see a medical provider more quickly. PAs can also assist a doctor in surgery but cannot perform surgery themselves.

Medical Assistants and PAs

Medical Assistants (MAs) cannot practice medicine.  MAs assist the doctors and PAs with the care of the patient.  MAs will take height, weight, pulse, and blood pressure of the patient, ask the patient why they need to be seen by a clinician, and then take the patient to the exam room.  MAs may also draw blood, give injections, or hook a patient to an EKG.  The doctor or PA conducts a medical history and physical exam, orders and interprets labs, diagnose medical conditions and writes prescriptions for the patient.

Nurse Practitioners and PAs

Nurse Practitioners (NPs) may also be called Advanced Practice Nurses in some states or areas.  Depending on the type of medicine, NPs and PAs may have the same roles or duties or they may be different.  The NPs must be a Registered Nurse (RN) before they can go to school to become a NP.  The training has focus on nursing theory along with patient care.  PAs have to take science classes and have to work at a job in health care first before going to PA school. The training for a PA is a shorter version of medical school but PA students learn many of the same things as a medical student.  Overall, NPs and PAs are trained differently but may have the same duties when caring for patients. 

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