About Physician Assistants
The National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) was founded in 1975 and is the only organization in the United States that offers credentialing for physician assistants. The goal of the commission is to assure the public that certified physician assistants meet established knowledge and clinical skills when entering the medical practice as well as throughout their medical careers. Certified physician assistants (PAs) are licensed and certified by both the NCCPA and the state in which he / she practices.
What does a physician assistant do?
Physician assistants offer a wide range of medical and surgical services to a variety of populations in communities of all sizes. The PA-C's at SpineNevada perform physical exams, diagnose and treat spine conditions, order and examine diagnostics, offer patient's preventive health care advice, assist in spine surgery, and prescribe medications. The physician assistants, Joseph L. Olivarez, PA-C, Josh Pfeifle, PA-C, Ken Schaefer, PA-C and Racheal Tappen, PA-C, partner with Dr. James Lynch and Dr. Jonathan Burns at SpineNevada in the Reno and Sparks office as part of the team approach to spine care.
Supervising physicians determine which patients and what kinds of medical conditions they want PAs to treat. Close consultation between the patient, PA and physician is done for complex or serious illnesses. An important part of PA training is understanding when it is appropriate to have the patient seen by the physician.
What education is needed to be a physician assistant?
According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) there are approximately 75,000 people in clinical practice as PAs at the beginning of May 2010. In the United States, there are approximately 140 Physician Assistant programs. The PA programs are accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). The ARC-PA is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The physician assistant program takes about two years to complete. Most PA programs require at least four years of college and some health care experience prior to admission. Most students have a BA/BS degree and previous health care experience before admission to a PA program. While all programs recognize the professional component of PA education with a document of completion for the professional credential (PA), about 80 percent of the programs also award a masterís degree.
Only after graduating from an accredited PA program are PAs eligible to take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE). After becoming certified, the physician assistant must complete a continuous six-year cycle to keep the physician assistant certificate current. Every two years, a PA must earn and log 100 CME hours and reregister her/his certificate with the NCCPA (second and fourth years), and by the end of the sixth year, recertify by successfully completing either the Physician Assistant National Recertifying Examination (PANRE) or Pathway II.
All states require passage of the PANCE for state licensure. Forty-three states have provisions for new graduates to practice prior to passage of PANCE.
Where do Physician Assistants practice?
According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) study completed in 2008, about 43 percent of PAs work in group practices or solo physician offices, and more than one-third were employed by hospitals. The remaining PAs were located in rural clinics, community health centers, freestanding surgical facilities, nursing homes, school- or college-based facilities, industrial settings, and correctional systems.
Do physician assistants practice in specialty centers?
According to the same study completed by AAPA in 2008, one quarter of PAs practice in the family / general medicine specialty, one quarter of PAs practice in general surgery and surgical subspecialties (including spine), about 15 percent practice in general internal medicine and 10 percent practice in emergency room medicine. The remaining PAs practice in pediatrics, occupational medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, dermatology or other areas of medicine.
The National Commission on the Certification of Physician Assistants offers continuing education and Certificates of Added Qualifications (CAQs) in the following specialties:
As physician assistants gain more health care knowledge and clinical experience, PAs can earn new responsibilities and higher wages. It is important to note that PAs that practice in clinics always are supervised by physicians.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Physician Assistants, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos081.htm (visited August 26, 2011).
National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, Inc., 12000 Findley Rd., Suite 200, Duluth, GA 30097. Internet: http://www.nccpa.net
American Academy of Physician Assistants Information Center, 950 North Washington St., Alexandria, VA 22314. Internet: http://www.aapa.org
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