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What is a Physician Assistant?


Physician Assistants (PAs) are health care professionals licensed to practice medicine with their collaborating physician supervision.The physician-PA team enhances medicine because PAs are trained as clinical partners to provide physician-directed medical care. PAs are found in virtually every type of practice setting, are employed by solo physicians and major corporations, and work in nearly every medical and surgical specialty and sub-specialty area. 


PAs Routinely:

  • Perform physical exams and obtain patient histories 
  • Order and interpret tests 
  • Diagnose and treat illnesses 
  • Assist in surgery and provide preoperative and postoperative procedural care
  • Prescribe medications
  • Provide health education, patient counseling, promote preventative health strategies  


How are PAs educated?



PAs are trained in intensive medical education programs accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant. Admission to PA school is highly competitive, pre-requisites analogous to premedical study requirements for medical students. The average length of a PA education master’s program is 27 months, a combination of classroom and clinical rotations.  Classroom education encompasses the core sciences: anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, physical diagnosis, pathophysiology, behavioral science, and medical ethics.  During clinical rotations more than 2000 hours are completed with family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, general surgery, emergency medicine, psychiatry, and elective specialties.  


Arkansas PA Programs



How and when did the PA profession begin?



In the mid-1960s, there was a shortage of primary care physicians. To expand the delivery of quality medical care, Dr. Eugene Stead of the Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina put together the first class of PAs in 1965. He selected Navy corpsmen who received considerable medical training during their military service and during the war in Vietnam but who had no comparable civilian employment. He based the curriculum of the PA program in part on his knowledge of the fast-track training of doctors during World War II. The goal of the creation of the PA profession was to increase the number of primary care providers available to patients in order to improve access to healthcare for all Americans.



What does the title PA-C mean?



This abbreviation is the legal title of physician assistants who are licensed to practice in Arkansas. PA-C stands for licensed physician assistant-certified. This title may be used only by PAs who have successfully completed the national certifying examination and possess a valid certificate of certification. PAs take a recertification exam every ten years and must complete 100 hours of CME every two years.



To learn more about the PA profession in Arkansas, please visit About Arkansas PA Quick Facts page or AAPA's Quick Facts resource.

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