The function of a PA varies with training, experience, state law and the scope of the supervising physician's practice. In general, a PA will see many of the same types of patients as the physician. PAs can evaluate, diagnose, order and interpret diagnostic studies as well as implement treatment plans. All fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Guam have enacted laws that authorize PA to prescribe in the context of the MD-PA practice arrangement.
PAs provide a broad range of diagnostic and therapeutic services. They provide healthcare in the primary care specialties of family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology. PAs are practicing in many medical or surgical subspecialties including oncology, endocrinology, rheumatology, plastic and reconstructive surgery, orthopedics, cardiology, dermatology, and interventional radiology.
As part of their comprehensive responsibilities, PAs conduct interviews and physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, counsel on preventive health measures, and assist in surgery. Physician assistants are also found in higher education and clinical research.
"Physician assistants are not independent practitioners but practice-focused autonomous professionals delivering care in partnership with physicians. This relationship allows them to staff satellite clinic offices, provide on-call services in the practice, and deliver care in rural areas, as in most states the physician partner need not be physically present for the physician assistant to practice. They serve as commissioned officers in all branches of the American armed forces. They have demonstrated social responsiveness by focusing on primary care practice, thus fulfilling the original intent of the profession's founders to improve access to health care for populations in rural, inner city, and other medically underserved areas." (adapted from Mittman, DE, Fenn, WH, Cawley, JF, 2012)
"Numerous studies have shown that the quality of care given by physician assistants is at the level of that given by physicians in comparable situations, with high levels of patient satisfaction. Actuarial data do not show any increased liability resulting from the use of physician assistants. A growing body of research and extensive clinical experience shows that they are accepted by both patients and doctors and that their performance in terms of quality of care, expanded access, and cost effectiveness is satisfactory." (adapted from Mittman, DE, Fenn, WH, Cawley, JF, 2012)
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