What is a PA?

PAs are medical providers, most with graduate-level educations. They are licensed to diagnose and treat illness and disease and to prescribe medication for patients.

PAs work in physician offices, hospitals, and clinics in collaboration with a licensed physician. Because of their advanced education in general medicine, modeled after physician education, PAs can treat patients with significant autonomy within the physician/PA relationship.

In the primary care setting, PAs can provide almost all the clinical services that physicians provide, including performing physical exams, diagnosing and treating illnesses and prescribing medications.

PAs are qualified to practice by graduation from an accredited PA educational program and certification by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).

Why PAs?

A Profession Growing in Popularity and Relevance

As our health care system looks for new and cost-effective ways to manage the demand for health care services, PAs will be an important medical provider for the growing numbers of Americans needing health care services.


Making an Impact

As patient advocates and educators, PAs help people use the health care system more efficiently and effectively. If you want to make a difference — and have a positive influence on health care in this country — the PA profession is waiting for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Every day, thousands of people have access to quality health care because there are PAs in their communities. PAs are critical to increasing access to care for rural and other underserved patients as they are often the only health providers in these areas.

PAs also work in specialties outside of primary care. The PA profession is designed to be adaptable, preparing PAs to work with physicians in primary care or medical and surgical specialties and sub-specialties, as the need arises.

PAs are focused on patient care and may undertake educational, research, and administrative work. Studies show that in a primary care setting, PAs can provide nearly all the clinical services a physician does, including:

  • Take medical histories
  • Perform physical exams
  • Order and interpret laboratory tests
  • Diagnose and treat illnesses
  • Counsel patients
  • Assist in surgery
  • Set fractures

  • All 50 states
  • District of Columbia
  • U.S. Territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the United States Virgin Islands

PAs work in virtually all health care settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Physicians’ offices
  • Health management organizations (HMOs)
  • Correctional institutions
  • Military installations
  • Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers
  • Nursing homes
  • Public health agencies
  • Community clinics
  • Research centers
  • Urban/rural health clinics
  • Health care education
  • Industrial medicine clinics

The role of a PA requires the following traits:

  • Intelligence, sound judgment, and intellectual honesty
  • Excellent interpersonal skills
  • The ability to respond to emergencies in a calm and reasoned manner
  • Respect for yourself and others
  • Adherence to confidentiality in communicating with patients
  • Commitment to the patient’s welfare

The physician/PA relationship

PAs work together with doctors as part of an integrated medical team. PAs have their own patients, and, under a written agreement with a licensed physician, make clinical decisions and provide a broad range of diagnostic, therapeutic, preventive, and health maintenance services.

The physician-PA team relationship is fundamental to the PA profession and enhances the delivery of high-quality health care.

Brief history of the PA profession

The PA profession began in the 1960s during a period of primary care shortages. The profession’s roots are in the military — the first PA class in 1965 was composed of Navy corpsmen who had served during the Vietnam War who wanted to use their medical knowledge and experience in civilian life.

Job Outlook for PAs

> 168,300 practicing PAs

The growth of the profession has been substantial since its origin in 1965.

#2 Job

According to the U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Healthcare Jobs” list, with a projected 28% growth rate over the next 7 years.


Average pay for a PA.

With an ever-increasing shortage of primary care physicians, an aging population, and increased numbers of Americans receiving health care under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), PAs will continue to be in demand.

The development of HMOs and other prepaid plans and the growing acceptance of PAs by other health care professionals have combined to strengthen the job market for PAs. The team-based PA practice model fits well into the patient-centered medical home (PCMH) concept outlined in the ACA and expected to dominate our health care system in the future.

PA education

There are 300 accredited PA programs in the United States. The average length of a PA program is 27 months.

PA programs consist of intensive classroom and laboratory study, as well as clinical practice. PAs are trained in the same medical model as doctors. Of all the health professionals, only doctors receive more clinical education than PAs. The PA curriculum is based on a primary care foundation and PAs are educated as generalists in medicine.