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What is a Physician Assistant?
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What is a Physician Assistant?


Physician Assistants (PAs) are health care professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision.The physician-PA team enhances medicine because PAs are trained as clinical partners to provide physician-directed medical care. Physician assistants 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.  


What credentials are PAs required to have?



After graduation, PAs are required to pass a national certifying examination in order to practice. South Carolina does provide temporary approval until the new PA graduate takes the next available exam and receives his or her scores. The exam is administered by the NCCPA and is provided at testing centers throughout the nation. To maintain current certification—required for renewal in South Carolina—PAs must complete 100 hours of CME every two years and take a recertification exam every ten years.


How do doctors and PAs work together? If there’s a PA in my practice group, can I request to be seen by the PA?


Physicians and PAs work together as a team to deliver quality healthcare to patients, and all PAs practice medicine with physician supervision. Supervision does not mean, though, that a supervising physician must always be present with the PA or direct every aspect of PA-provided care.


Physicians delegate duties to PAs, and within those range of duties, PAs use autonomous decision-making for patient care. This team model is an efficient way to provide high-quality medical care. In rural areas, the PA may be the only healthcare provider on-site, collaborating with a physician elsewhere through telecommunication.


If there is a PA in your group practice, you can certainly request to be seen by him or her. PAs deliver high-quality care, and research shows that patients are just as satisfied with PA-provided care as they are with physician care.


In what fields of medicine do PAs care for patients?



Like doctors, PAs can specialize in different areas of medicine such as pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, dermatology, and surgery. Therefore, you may come across a PA practicing in just about any field of medicine you can think of.


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 South Carolina. 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.


Is there a PA school in South Carolina?


Yes! There are five PA Programs in South Carolina. They are located at: Charleston Southern University, Francis Marion University, Medical University of South Carolina, North Greenville University, and University of South Carolina School of Medicine.


To learn more about the PA profession, please visit




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