Physician assistants (PAs) are nationally certified and state licensed to practice medicine. PAs perform a comprehensive range of medical duties, from primary care to assisting in major surgery.

Like physicians, the exact duties of PAs depend on the type of medical setting in which they work, their level of experience, their specialty and state laws.

PAs can: Obtain patient medical histories • Conduct physical exams • Diagnose and treat illnesses • Order and interpret tests • Develop treatment plans • Counsel on preventive healthcare • Assist in surgery • Write prescriptions

PAs are educated at the graduate level and practice in every medical and surgical setting and specialty. 

You will find that PAs are patient-focused and may have more time with you during your visit.


Often educated side by side with physicians, PAs provide a broad range of medical services.

PAs are educated to diagnose, treat and prescribe in an intense graduate program similar to medical school.

Studies identify high-quality care with physician-PA teams and have shown that the quality of care provided by PAs is comparable to that of physicians

Meeting patients’ needs in a changing healthcare system is a big job.

America’s PAs should know. They’re doing it every day.


What do PAs do?  

  • PAs practice medicine.  
  • PAs practice in every medical and surgical specialty and setting.  
  • PAs manage the full scope of patient care, often handling patients with comorbidities.  
  • PAs conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, assist in surgery, coordinate care, counsel on preventive healthcare, prescribe medications and more. 

Why are PAs unique?  

  • PAs increase access to healthcare.  
  • PAs provide quality care and have been shown to positively impact patient outcomes.  
  • PAs are educated, by design, to seamlessly work in a team-based model of care.  
  • PAs are educated as medical generalists and recertify as medical generalists.  
  • PAs are one of the most versatile healthcare providers; during the course of their career, most PAs will have worked in two to three specialties.  
  • PAs manage patient care coordination and provide clinical preventive services.  
  • Four out of five PAs report high job satisfaction. 

PAs practice in every specialty and medical setting

Roughly one-third of PAs practice in primary care, and all other PAs practice in specialty medicine. More than one-third of all PAs practice in hospital settings and more than one-third work in a group practice or solo physician office. Thirty-seven percent of PAs work in medically underserved counties, which helps increase access to quality care. 


The remaining PAs work in a variety of settings, including community health centers, freestanding surgical facilities, nursing homes, school- or college-based facilities, industrial settings and correctional institutions. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is the largest single employer of PAs. 

PAs are educated in the medical model

Like physicians, PAs are trained in the medical model in educational programs that are located at medical schools, teaching hospitals, academic medical centers and in military medical centers. Practicing in physician-directed teams, PAs work in all medical and surgical specialties, in a variety of practice, educational and research settings.

PAs are often educated alongside physicians in medical schools, academic medical centers and residencies because their education is modeled on the medical school curriculum, with a combination of classroom instruction and clinical rotations. That means PAs share diagnostic and therapeutic reasoning with physicians. After a year of rigorous classroom study, PAs complete a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical rotations with an emphasis on primary care clinics, physicians’ offices and acute/long-term care facilities.


History of the Profession

PAs have been practicing medicine for nearly 50 years. The PA profession was created to address a shortage of quality medical providers in the 1960s. The chair of the Department of Medicine at the Duke University Medical Center established a program in 1965 that educated military corpsmen to practice medicine. The first PAs graduated from Duke University in 1967.

Licensure and Oversight

After graduation, PAs are required to pass a national PA certification exam administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants and obtain a state license. In order to maintain certification, PAs must complete a comprehensive recertification exam every 10 years as well as earn 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years. In Mississippi, PA licenses are issued through the Mississippi Board of Medical Licensure.