What is a physician assistant? Looking for the right answer by ProQuest


The profession used to be dominated be men, for instance, but now more than 50% of PAs in practice are women.1 The percentage of PAs working in primary care fields has declined, and the number and proportion of PAs in specialties has grown rapidly.2 Educational opportunities for PAs have also evolved. A strong, coordinated effort will be needed to educate lawmakers, citizens, and other stakeholders about PAs and how we are an integral part of the solution to this country's health care crisis.

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									editorial1208.qxp     11/21/08     3:22 PM     Page 14

                                    Sarah Zarbock, PA-C, is the editor in chief of JAAPA.

                                    What is a physician assistant?
                                    Looking for the right answer
           will soon celebrate my 30th year as a certified physician         exam for PAs recertifying will cover the same content as

      I    assistant. I hope that by then, or not long thereafter, peo-
           ple will know what that means. I look forward to the
      time when someone asks what I do for a living; I say, “I’m a
                                                                             always, but the remaining 40% can be directed in one of three
                                                                             areas: adult medicine, surgery, or primary care.
                                                                               The debate over what to call ourselves continues, and this
      PA”; and the person doesn’t look at me, somewhat slack-                discussion has been going on for years! Midlevel practitioner
      jawed, with a quizzical expression, and reply, “What’s a PA?”          makes us sound as though we haven’t yet quite become
         I’m embarrassed to admit that, over the years, I’ve an-             high-level practitioners. Physician extender reminds me of the
      swered this question in less-than-accurate ways. In my early           mechanical hand used to retrieve items from the top of tall
      postgraduate years, I was often asked, “Is that somewhere              grocery store shelves. And I flinched just the other day when
      between a nurse and a doctor?” The path of least resistance            a physician author of a book of fiction referred to a PA as a
      was to say “yes,” and then go on and make the distinctions,            physician’s assistant—a punctuation gaffe that still rankles me.
      all the while hoping that a PA, a physician, or a nurse was              PAs seem to be growing further apart, at least in terms of
      not listening in on my lame explanation. Or I would ask,               their education and practice setting. We are abandoning our
      “Do you know what a nurse practitioner is?” Most people                common ground, taking a tug-of-war approach to defining
      would say they did, and I would continue, “Well, PAs are               who we are, what we do, and what we call ourselves. What
      very similar to NPs in terms of how and where they practice.           happened to the level playing field where we all began? How
      They often function just the same.”                                    can we expect the public to know what a PA is when the pro-
         The AAPA provides the most centralized source of infor-             fession is having its own difficulties determining who we are
      mation about PAs, their education, scope of practice, and              and where we go from here?
      working relationship with physicians. But even the Academy               As part of an effort to respond to these questions, the
                                                                             AAPA Board of Directors and senior staff, under the leader-
                                                                             ship of the Academy’s new executive vic
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