What is a Physician Assistant?
A physician assistant (PA) is a licensed professional who provides medical care as part of a patient-centered health care team. PAs work in a wide variety of medical and surgical disciplines in various practice settings. PAs are involved in all aspects of care, including taking medical histories, performing physical exams, ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, prescribing medications, performing procedures such as suturing and casting, assisting in the OR, and providing education to patients and their families.
In the state of New York, PAs can provide any of these medical services (and more) when they are delegated by and within the scope of practice of the supervising physician.
Education, Exam & License
PA education is typically provided in intense 2-3 year graduate-level programs. Prior to entering, students must complete rigorous pre-medical type undergraduate coursework. In addition, students who enter PA programs typically have just over 2 years of healthcare experience and are 26 years old on average.
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Classroom courses include basic sciences such as anatomy, pathology, physiology and pharmacology, and are followed by clinical and behavioral medicine instruction covering health and illness of various body systems in diverse patient populations. The clinical education of PAs is broad, and typically includes approximately 2000 hours in multiple settings across key disciplines such as internal and family medicine, pediatrics, general surgery, orthopedics, psychiatry, women's health, emergency medicine and geriatrics. In order to be accredited, physician assistant programs must meet rigorous standards and are reviewed on a regular basis by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. (ARC-PA).
After graduation, PAs take a national certifying exam, must participate in 100 hours of Continuing Medical Education (CME) every two years and pass a re-certifying exam every ten years. This process is overseen by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).
In New York, PAs are licensed through a process overseen by the New York State Education Department (SED). In NY you must have initial certification to practice. There is no current state law requirement to maintain certification, however many employers and insurance companies require maintenance.
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