I recently graduated the University of Washington School of Medicine MEDEX Northwest Physician Assistant Program. Physician assistant training is a generalist medical education and provides a solid foundation to provide the diverse aspects of ENT/ otolaryngology practice.
PA-Cs in otolaryngology are diverse and highly skilled clinicians with training in general otolaryngology and head and neck surgery. Patients often ask about the role of a PA is and how it is different or similar to an MD. Below are some frequently asked questions and answers about my work and training as a PA-C.
What is a certified Physician Assistant (PA-C)?
A PA is a highly trained medical provider who is nationally certified and state licensed to practice medicine. Today, there are more than 100,000 certified PAs in the United States. PAs practice medicine as part of the health care team supervised by a physician. A PA has the authority to diagnose and treat patients.
What does a PA-C do?
- Obtain medical histories
- Conduct physical exams
- Diagnose and treat illnesses
- Order and interpret tests
- Perform medical procedures like joint injections
- Counsel patients on preventive healthcare
- Assist in surgery
- Write prescriptions
- Make rounds in nursing homes and hospitals
PA-Cs in otolaryngology often perform mastoid cavity cleaning, nasal cautery, foreign body removals, anterior nasal packing, preoperative history and physical, excision/biopsy of lesions, fiberoptic laryngoscopy and nasal endoscopy.
Where does a PA-C work?
- One-third of PAs practice in primary care, and all other PA-Cs practice in specialty medicine.
- More than one-third of all PAs practice in hospital settings and more than one-third work in a clinic.
- 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.
Did you know? The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is the largest single employer of PA-Cs. Thirty-seven percent of PA-Cs work in medically underserved counties, which helps increase access to quality care.
When did the PA-C profession begin?
PA-Cs have been practicing medicine for nearly 50 years. The PA-C profession was created to address a shortage of quality medical providers in the 1960s. The chair of the Department of Medicine at Duke University Medical Center established a program in 1965 that educated military corpsmen to practice medicine. The first PA-Cs graduated from Duke University in 1967.
How are PA-Cs educated and trained?
PA-Cs are educated to diagnose, treat and prescribe in an intense graduate program similar to medical school. More than 7,000 PA-Cs graduate from 191 accredited PA-C programs each year. PA-Cs 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 PA-Cs share diagnostic and therapeutic reasoning with physicians. After a year of classroom study, PA-Cs 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.
PA-C Practice Requirements:
- Graduate from an accredited program
- Pass the national PA-C certifying exam administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants
- Physician Assistants
- Obtain a state license
- Complete 100 hours of continuing medical education (CME) every two years
- Recertify every 10 years through an exam that evaluates generalist medical knowledge. PAs recertify as generalists, not specialists