What is a PA?

PAs are medical professionals who diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications, and often serve as a patient’s principal healthcare provider. With thousands of hours of medical training, PAs are versatile and collaborative. PAs practice in every state and in every medical setting and specialty, improving healthcare access and quality.

PAs are educated at the master’s degree level. There are more than 250 PA programs in the country and admission is highly competitive, requiring a bachelor’s degree and completion of courses in basic and behavioral sciences as prerequisites. Incoming PA students bring with them an average of more than 3,000 hours of direct patient contact experience, having worked as paramedics, athletic trainers, or medical assistants, for example. PA programs are approximately 27 months (three academic years), and include classroom instruction and more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations.

PAs’ specific duties depend on the setting in which they work, their level of experience, their specialty, and state laws.

Generally, PAs can:
• Take medical histories
• Conduct physical exams
• Diagnose and treat illness
• Order and interpret tests
• Develop treatment plans
• Prescribe medication
• Counsel on preventive care
• Perform procedures
• Assist in surgery
• Make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes
• Do clinical research

At the practice level, there are likely more similarities than differences between PAs and NPs. However, there are two key differences:

• PAs are educated in general medicine, which offers a comprehensive view of all aspects of medicine. NPs must choose a “population focus,” e.g., pediatric nurse practitioner or women’s health nurse practitioner.

• PAs are trained to practice medicine using a curriculum modeled on medical school education. NPs are trained in the advanced practice of nursing.

**This adorable shirt is from Medthusiast.