What is a Physician Assistant?
An Overview of the PA Profession
A Physician Assistant (PA) is an academically prepared, health care professional who practices medicine.
- PAs are physician extenders, and work with and under the supervision of physicians and surgeons.
- PAs assist in surgery
- PAs obtain histories, perform physical examinations
- PAs order and interpret investigations (e.g. x-rays, imaging, blood work, diagnostic tests)
- PAs perform diagnostic and therapeutic interventions
- PAs diagnose and treat illnesses
- PAs also educate patients on treatment options, and counsel on preventative health
- You can find physician assistants working in various areas of medicine – from your family doctor’s office, in the Emergency Department, on the hospital ward and assisting in surgeries.
- PAs assess for many of the conditions you’d see a doctor or specialist physician for. For example:
- You may see a PA to help you diagnose & treat the cause of your sore throat
- If you are looking to make lifestyle changes, PAs can counsel you on smoking cessation, and making positive changes to your diet and activity level.
- PAs in family medicine can perform a well baby exam on your newborn, as well as schedule and administer vaccinations
- PAs help you manage chronic conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, and Diabetes, and work with you on a treatment plan on the prevention and treatment of those conditions.
- If you injure yourself and/or break a bone, and go to the Emergency Department, you may be treated by a PA who will see and assess you, take x-rays, and help set the fracture and put you in a cast. They would then arrange for you to see an Orthopaedic Surgeon in the next fracture clinic availability at a hospital.
- PAs may see you before your surgery, explaining risks & benefits, they may assist in the surgery, and be involved in your recovery in hospital afterwards. This would include tracking your progress.
- They are health care professionals, educated in the medical model (like physicians) and work in collaboration and with support of their supervising physicians.
- PAs are true physician extenders who expand your ability to treat and spend more time with patients, without an increase to your workload.
- PAs are like residents that never leave your practice, operating with a degree of autonomy based on your relationship and established expectations.
- It expands a practice’s ability to service more patients, without compromising on quality and timeliness of care.
How are Physician Assistants Educated?
PAs are trained in the same medical model as doctors. Programs consist of intensive classroom study focusing on establishing the medical foundations across different areas (e.g. cardiorespiratory, GI, anatomy/physiology, etc.), clinical and communication skills, clinical reasoning, while gaining clinical exposure with concurrent placements in clinical settings.
PAs are trained as generalists, and are able to practice in any area of medicine upon completion of their studies.
There are 4 schools where PAs can be trained in Canada
Where Physician Assistants Work
ER & Urgent Care Centres
International Humanitarian Missions
Retail Health Clinics
Long term care facilities
Areas of Medicine
Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgery