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Frequently Asked Questions

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What areas of medicine can Physician Assistants work in?

    Physician assistants (PAs) are found in all areas of medicine. They practice in the areas of primary care medicine - that is family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology -- as well in surgery and the surgical subspecialties.

    Physician assistants receive a broad education in medicine. Their education is ongoing after graduation through continuing medical education requirements and continual interaction with physicians and other health care providers.

Where do PAs "draw the line" as far as what they can treat and what a physician can treat?

    What a physician assistant does varies with training, experience, and state law. In addition, the scope of the PA's practice corresponds to the supervising physician's practice. In general, a physician assistant will see many of the same types of patients as the physician. The cases handled by physicians are generally the more complicated medical cases or those cases which require care that is not a routine part of the PA's scope of work. Referral to the physician, or close consultation between the patient-PA-physician, is done for unusual or hard to manage cases. Physician assistants are taught to "know our limits" and refer to physicians appropriately. It is an important part of PA training.

Can PAs prescribe medications?

    All fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Guam have enacted laws that authorize PA prescribing. In California, PA prescriptions are referred to as written prescription transmittal orders.

Physicians and PAs

What do physicians think about Physician Assistants?

    Most physicians who have worked with physician assistants like having PAs on staff. The American Medical Association, the American College of Surgeons, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Physicians, and other national medical organizations support the physician assistant profession by actively supporting the PA certifying commission and the PA program accrediting agency.

    Studies done by the Federal Government have shown that PAs, working with the supervision of physicians, provide care that is comparable to physician care. The Eighth Report to the President and Congress on the Status of Health Personnel in the United States (released in 1992) states, "Physician assistants have demonstrated their clinical effectiveness both in terms of quality of care and patient acceptance."

What is the working relationship between a physician and a physician assistant?

    The relationship between a PA and the supervising physician is one of mutual trust and respect. The physician assistant is a representative of the physician, treating the patient in the style and manner developed and directed by the supervising physician. The physician and PA practice as members of a medical team. In 1995, the American Medical Association developed suggested guidelines for how physicians and PAs should work as a team in the delivery of medical care.

    This information is taken directly from the website for the American Academy of Physician Assistants. For additional information about the PA profession go to www.aapa.org.

Becoming a PA

Do I have to be a science major to go to apply to PA schooll?

    No. Your major is not important as long as you complete the pre-requisite course work to satisfy the admissions requirements and prepare for the standardized admissions test in your field of interest.

Will majoring in science give me an advantage in applying to PA school?

    Not necessarily. Most schools are looking for well rounded students who have an aptitude for science. They do not give preference to science majors. Taking additional science courses may be beneficial in preparing for standardized exams, but the questions in standardized exams are based on knowledge found in introductory level science courses. The additional science background may also be especially helpful for preparation for the first two years of classes in medical school.

Can I get into PA school in less than 4 years?

    Yes, however, this is not the norm and is not recommended for most students. The only PA program in South Carolina located at the Medical University of South Carolina requires a minimum of three years of undergraduate work or 90 hours to matriculate into their programs. However, PA school is highly competitive and the majority of applicants already have completed at least a bachelor's degree. Four years of undergraduate preparation allows time for students to explore, grow, mature, and have experiences that enrich their lives and make them better medical school candidate