The physician assistant, or PA, is a state-licensed and nationally certified medical professional who works in collaboration with a physician to manage patient care, and can take on many of the same tasks normally undertaken by physicians. In all 50 states, PAs can practice medicine and prescribe medication, according to the American Academy of Physician Assistants, or AAPA.
Programs to train PAs generally require the same prerequisite coursework that is required by students entering medical school; PA programs last around three academic years, with students taking courses in clinical medicine, behavioral sciences and basic sciences, including courses in physiology, microbiology, pharmacology and anatomy. Following the completion of a PA program, students complete clinical rotations for 2,000 hours in internal medicine, family medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, general surgery, psychiatry and emergency medicine, according to the AAPA.
PAs can take medical histories, give physical exams, diagnose and treat diseases and disorders, order and then interpret tests, counsel patients, develop plans for treatment, write prescriptions and assist in surgeries. PAs can also make rounds in nursing homes and hospitals.
PAs can treat patients in a range of medical settings, including physician's offices, hospitals, health centers, retail clinics, nursing homes, industrial settings, schools and correctional institutes. Some may also find employment with government agencies and military institutions.