What are PAs?

Veronica Sumner
“If patients cannot get in to see a physician, now they will have the opportunity to see a PA.”
-Veronica Sumner, Little Rock, AR

A PA is a medical provider who is licensed by the state to practice medicine and who is supervised by a doctor. Seeing a PA is similar to seeing a doctor at a medical clinic but the training is much shorter.  PAs talk to their supervising doctor often if they have questions about the care of a patient.  Patients generally enjoy seeing and talking to a PA.   Many patients feel that sometimes PAs have more time to spend with them.  PAs are trained in talking to patients and really enjoy visiting with patients.  One of the benefits of a doctor hiring a PA is that it decreases the time that patients have to wait to see to be seen by the doctor or the PA.

PAs can take a patient history, perform a physical exam, order labs and tests, diagnose and treat, prescribe medication, and perform procedures like suturing, casting, joint injections or lumbar puncture depending on the setting of medicine.  PAs can work in medical clinics, specialist offices, emergency rooms, hospitals, nursing homes and urgent care centers.

What will an office visit be like with a PA?

The physician assistant will ask the patient a lot of questions to figure out how to best help the patient and determine what is happening.  The PA will then perform a physical exam on the patient to figure out the diagnosis or cause of the illness or injury.  PAs may order labs or other tests.  They may also prescribe medicine to help the patient feel better.

If I like the PA, can I see him/her again?

In most medical clinics a patient will be able to see the doctor or PA who the patient is most comfortable with.  The medical office may have a rule that a patient needs to see a doctor at a set time or for a specific medical condition.  Being able to see one provider on a regular basis helps to improve the care of the patient.

What do I call the PA by?

PAs are not addressed as “Dr. or Doctor” because they have not gone to medical school.  Patients usually call the PA by his/her last name like Mr. Smith or Ms. Jones.  PAs are generally not called PA Jones, but this may be used in the military.

When are PAs going to become doctors?

Physician Assistants go to school to become a PA, work as a team with a doctor, and practice medicine.  PAs generally do not want to become doctors.  PAs want to continue to work as PAs and care for patients.

Will I see a PA if referred to a specialist?

Many specialty medical practices like orthopedics, cardiology or dermatology hire PAs.  Patients may see a PA just like they would see a doctor.  PAs in these specialty areas are trained to examine patients who have medical conditions in these areas.  Some specialty PAs may also perform special procedures specific to that area of medicine.  PAs cannot perform surgery by themselves but can assist a surgeon in the operating room.

Will I see a PA in the hospital?

PAs can work in the hospital with a doctor.  They will round on patients, write orders, and assist with treatment of the patient.  PAs who work in internal medicine or family medicine are known as hospitalist PAs.  PAs may also work in specialty medicine like cardiology or dermatology and perform consults on a patient in the hospital.

What happens if the supervising physician of the PA is on vacation?  Can I still see the PA?

PAs generally work with one supervising doctor who is known as their primary supervising physician.  Most PAs have alternate supervising doctors who they may work with in the same medical clinic or who are available when the supervising physician is not available.

UAMS PA Program
UAMS PA Program
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