The title "physician assistant" or "PA" refers to health care providers who are licensed to practice medicine with the supervision of a licensed physician. The concept of the profession originated in the 1960s as a way to enhance provision of health care to medically underserved communities. The founding of the physician assistant profession was based on the acceptance of the premise that other health professionals with special training and education could perform with equal competence many of the functions normally carried out by physicians.
Physician assistants by nature of their education are prepared to perform many of those duties that in the past were most commonly the responsibilities of the physician. PAs are allowed to practice in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Guam, and are employed in a broad range of medical facilities including private physician’s offices, hospitals, nursing homes, managed care facilities, occupational health centers, emergency departments, the military and correctional institutions.
Working as part of the medical team, physician assistants practice medicine by performing patient histories and physical examination, ordering or performing laboratory tests, and analyzing medical data to formulate diagnoses and develop care management plans. Additionally, PAs perform many diagnostic and therapeutic procedures including casting, splinting, and minor surgery procedures such as suturing and biopsies. At least 46 states, including Maryland, allow physician assistants to prescribe medications.
The physician assistant profession is a rapidly growing field and employment opportunities are expected to grow through the next decade. Currently, there are more than 125 physician assistant programs in the US and over 50,000 practicing physician assistants.