What are Physician Assistants?

Matt Reynolds
“There are a lot of opportunities that come with a new program - new traditions, setting the standards, and establishing a foothold at the school.”
-Matthew Reynolds, Bentonville, AR

Medical providers who are nationally certified and state- licensed to practice medicine with the supervision of a physician.

They are trained in the medical model and educated similarly to physicians, so they share similar diagnostic and therapeutic reasoning.

PAs graduate from nationally accredited programs generally with a master’s degree.  Upon graduation they sit for a national board certification examination and then must obtain state licensure with the supervision of a physician to practice.

PAs contribute to the physician/PA team and ensure the highest quality standards of patient care. They

are not independent clinicians but can work autonomously in the same clinic or institution as their supervising physician.

They may also work at a satellite clinic separate from their supervising physician if telecommunication is available.  The distance the PA can practice away from their supervising physician varies from state to state.

PAs can deliver a broad range of medical and surgical services to diverse urban and rural populations.

Physician assistants can also practice in any discipline of medicine and can change medical or surgical disciplines without additional formal training like a residency program. This makes a PA more versatile and decreases burn-out in the profession.


What Can Physician Assistants Do?

PAs are trained in the medical model and educated similarly to physicians.

General roles or functions include:

Prescribing medication.
Performing physical exams and medical histories.
Ordering and interpreting labs and diagnostic tests.
Diagnosing and managing chronic disease and acute illness.
Making referrals to specialists.
Writing patient orders.
Making rounds on patients in hospitals, long-term care facilities, and nursing homes.
Performing specific procedures.
Assisting in surgery. PAs cannot perform surgery on their own.
Performing patient education and counseling

Most PAs are trained in a wide variety of clinical and surgical procedures while in school. PAs will utilize only the procedures specific to the area of medicine in which they are practicing after graduation.

General procedures include:

  • Venipuncture
  • IV Access
  • Arterial Puncture
  • Intradermal, Subcutaneous, Intramuscular injections
  • Suturing and stapling wounds
  • Shave and punch Biopsies
  • Incision and drainage of cysts or wounds
  • Lumbar puncture
  • Nasogastric tube placement
  • Splinting of sprains, strains and fractures
  • Casting of fractures
  • Urinalysis and  urine microscopy
  • Wet prep analysis
  • Urinary catheter placement
  • Surgical drain placement and removal
  • Bursal and joint Injections
  • EKG lead placement and interpretation
  • Additional procedures 

Higher level procedures PAs may be trained in include:

  • Central line placement
  • Chest tube insertion
  • Thoracentesis or paracentesis
  • Colonoscopy/ Endoscopy
  • Additional procedures according to medical or surgical discipline

Where can PAs work? 

Physician offices Clinical Research
Hospitals Medical Sales
Community Health Centers Industrial Work Sites
Surgical Centers Dept. of Veteran Affairs (VA)
Nursing Homes Indian Health Service
Long Term Care Facilities Public Health (health departments, CDC, etc.)
Home Health Agencies Federal Government (FBI, CIA, Foreign Embassies, etc.)
Hospice Medical Staffing Agencies
Correctional Facilities Health Care Management/ Administration
International Medicine Medical Education


According to the 2010 American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) Annual PA Census Report:

32% of PAs work in primary care

68% of PAs work in specialty areas of medicine

Primary care encompasses family practice, internal medicine, general hospital medicine, pediatrics and women’s health.

Specialty areas of medicine involve medical specialties like cardiology, dermatology, emergency medicine, palliative care, occupational medicine or interventional radiology, and surgical disciplines like general surgery, orthopedic surgery, cardiothoracic surgery, or transplant surgery.

In which disciplines of medicine and surgery can PAs work?

Family Practice
Internal Medicine
Pediatric Medicine
Women’s Health
Emergency Medicine
Orthopedic Medicine
Behavioral Medicine
General Surgery
Hyperbaric Medicine
Infectious Disease
Transplant Services
CT Surgery & Vascular
Critical Care
Hematology/ Oncology
Pain Management
Sleep Medicine
Interventional Radiology
Academic Medicine
Plastic Surgery
Occupational Medicine
Urgent Care

UAMS PA Program
UAMS PA Program
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