What Does a Physician Assistant Do?

What Does a Physician Assistant Do?

If you’ve ever been to a hospital, chances are high that you have encountered physician assistants. They are the men and women who make a physician’s job easier and faster. Working as a physician’s assistant is challenging and exciting at the same time.

So, if you want to learn more about this profession or want to know more before deciding to become one, then this article is meant for you.

What is a Physician Assistant?

A physician assistant, a PA, is a certified and licensed medical professional who practices medicine on teams with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers.

They are essential parts of health service teams and work in collaboration with doctors and other advanced healthcare professionals. Nearly 160,000 physician assistants are licensed to practice in the United States. Every medical setting you go to has PAs in their various specialties.

In essence, physician assistants work with patients of all ages. They provide primary care, diagnostic services, treatment, and assistance in minor surgical operations.

There is reportedly a shortage of frontline healthcare workers in the US.

Physician assistants tend to play an important role in providing effective healthcare treatment, thanks to the term-based approach prominently practiced today. There is an increasing demand for certified and licensed physician assistants all over the country.

What is the career scope for a Physician Assistant?

The supervising physician and state law determine the specific duties of a physician assistant. However, you can be sure that many PAs will provide the same level of services that you get through a primary care physician.

There is immense scope for physician assistants as they are required in every medical and healthcare services specialty. Usually, the role of a physician assistant would involve:

  • Performing examinations
  • Making patient rounds
  • Assisting in surgical procedures
  • Diagnosing a disorder or ailment
  • Prescribing and interpreting pathology and imaging laboratory tests and results
  • Prescribing medication
  • Developing and managing plans for treatment
  • Consulting patients on preventive care and best health practices

Although PAs collaborate with physicians, they can practice with a certain degree of autonomy under the supervision of a physician, depending on state laws. Physician assistants work with a degree of independence that varies by state law but always within a team environment under the overall supervision of a physician.

For instance, every state in the US has certain regulations and laws in place relating to the types of medicines that a physician’s assistant can prescribe in that particular state. PAs can prescribe medications, including controlled substances, in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories, with the level of physician consultation varying by state regulations.

What is the difference between a Physician Assistant and a Nurse Practitioner?

Most people perceive physician assistants and nurse practitioners as the same, which is entirely wrong. Although they both serve similar roles, the similarities end there. The training and specialization required to become a physician assistant and nurse practitioner vary immensely.

On the one hand, a physician assistant needs to have an education in general medicine and be trained using a disease-centered curriculum model, which is quite similar to that of a medical student.

Once physician assistants get their degree, they can choose to specialize in one of the various areas of medicine.

On the other hand, nurse practitioners are trained in advanced nursing practice using a model that emphasizes patient-centered care and disease prevention, management, and treatment.

In addition, nurse practitioners often select a population focus area, such as family, pediatric, or geriatric care, before or during their graduate education and then work with the relevant patient population to become certified.

What are the Specializations for Physician Assistants?

Physician assistants can choose to excel in almost any medical specialty, and they can handle a wide range of roles in the numerous subspecialties.

They can choose to specialize in one or more areas even when employed. The immense versatility is one of the most exciting things about becoming a physician assistant.

Some of the most popular specialties for physician assistants include:

  • Surgery
  • Pediatrics
  • Radiology
  • Ob/Gyn (Obstetrics and Gynecologist)
  • Neurology
  • Internal Medicine
  • General Medicine
  • Family Medicine
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Otolaryngology/ENT
  • Dermatology
  • Cardiology
  • Anesthesia

You will need to choose your specialty or subspecialty in a particular field of medicine and go through an advanced training course. While residencies and fellowships are available for physician assistants seeking advanced training, they are not typically required to practice in a specialty.

The specific advanced training, roles, certifications, responsibilities, etc. may change according to the state.

What are the responsibilities of a Physician Assistant?

Physician assistants are normally employed at hospitals, doctor’s clinics, outpatient centers and in homes for the elderly. Most of their time is spent making patient rounds and interacting with patients directly.

In addition, physician assistants may also be responsible for handling administrative responsibilities in healthcare settings, such as taking notes for physicians, updating patient records, communicating with patients, etc.

Typically, a physician assistant works full time, that is, 40 hours a week. This job may frequently call for you to put in additional hours, apart from involving rotating shifts. In addition, physician assistants are often required to be on call occasionally.


You can become a physician assistant with effective communication skills, empathy, compassion, and focus on patient care. You should also be able to work well under pressure and show impressive problem-solving skills when the situation requires.

If you want to become a PA, you need a master’s degree from a certified PA program and previous experience working directly in patient care. This job has immense potential for career growth.

See Also

Difference Between Medical Assistant and Physician Assistant

How to Stay Sane as a Health Worker

How to Become a Telehealth Nurse

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