Positions in the Medical Field
There are lots of titles that bounce around in the medical world. There are CNAs, medical assistants, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and doctors, among others. Each title indicates a certain level of responsibility.
Physician assistants are allowed to do more than nurse practitioners or medical assistants. Many PAs see patients, prescribe medication, and provide medical counsel, just like doctors. Physician assistants work under the authority of a licensed medical doctor or osteopathic doctor. That doctor supervises their work and ensures that everything goes according to plan. The main difference between doctors and PAs is the amount of training they’ve gone through.
At the very least, physician assistants hold a master’s degree. That degree includes over two years of class work and at least 2,000 hours of clinical rotations. PAs are allowed to diagnose and treat patients, order and interpret tests, create a treatment plan for patients, prescribe medication, conduct procedures and help with surgeries.
Instead of assisting a physician as the title suggests, they treat patients on their own. A physician simply supervises their work because their license limits everything they can do on their own. The extensive training that doctors go through in residency and fellowship sets doctors apart from PAs and gives them the expertise to supervise.
From Assistant to Associate
The American Association of Physician Assistants (AAPA) recently voted to change the title of Physician Assistant to Physician Associate. The change comes after a lot of deliberation over many months. The reason behind the change is accurate representation. A PA’s scope of practice may be wider than the title “assistant” suggests. The title of Physician Associate suggests a larger role than that of a Physician Assistant. The AAPA hopes that their decision will allow PAs to be more competitive in their profession.
Implementing the Change
Changing the name from Physician Assistant to Physician Associate won’t happen overnight. The AAPA anticipates the change to take up to five years, meaning that PAs can officially change their titles around 2025. Foley and Lardner LLP, the attorneys who represent the AAPA, highly recommend sticking to the Physician Assistant title for now. Until the change has been officially implemented, a PA might be in danger of overstepping their credentials.
What It Means For The Future
The job functions that a PA performs won’t change. Their ability to diagnose, treat, order labs, read results, prescribe meds, perform procedures and help with surgeries will stay the same. The main change will be the recognition they receive and the general public’s perception.
So, why can’t PAs immediately adopt this change?
Because there are legal precedents that must be followed. It will cost over $20 million to implement this change for all PAs. It’s important for PAs to respect the red tape, or they could be jeopardizing themselves.
A patient who is unfamiliar with the title change could think they’re being treated by a doctor instead of a PA. This could potentially violate informed consent for treatment and cause the PA to receive disciplinary action from their state board or attorney general.
There is no guarantee that malpractice insurance would cover a PA in this circumstance. The insurance company could risk losing their own credentials if they covered a physician assistant who made this change prematurely and overstepped their professional boundaries.
So, while some PAs might be frustrated from having to wait, it’s important to follow legal precedent. When the time comes, titles can be changed without risking negative consequences.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Why is the name Physician Assistant changing to Physician Associate?
The American Association of Physician Assistants decided to change the name from Assistant to Associate after careful review. The AAPA hopes that this name change will more accurately reflect the role that PAs have in the medical world.
- When will PAs officially change their title from Assistant to Associate?
The legal process of changing the name will take time. For now, PAs will still be Physician Assistants. It’s anticipated that the official change will take place somewhere around 2025.
- Can PAs starting call themselves Physician Associates before the name is officially changed?
It’s important to keep your current title to Physician Assistant, even if you’re really excited about this change. Until it’s legally official, you could run into red tape.
For example, say you’re treating a patient who isn’t aware of the name change. They could think that Physician Associate means you’re a doctor. If they find out that you’re a PA, it potentially violates informed consent. Ultimately, you could jeopardize your license.
- So, what is the difference between a PA and an MD/DO?
The primary difference is the amount of education. PAs go through 2,000 hours of clinical rotations before being licensed to treat patients. They don’t go through residency or fellowship, two of the key elements to being crowned with an MD degree.
- Are PAs supervised?
Yes. While PAs have the necessary credentials to treat patients, they don’t have the credentials to practice on their own. They usually work in a clinical setting with an MD or DO who supervises their work.
- How does this affect healthcare for patients?
It doesn’t affect patients at all. The primary reason for this change is for the PAs themselves. The AAPA wants them to be recognized for the full range of services they can provide. It will hopefully make them more competitive in the job market.
Patients will keep their primary care providers and will be informed of the name change at the appropriate time. This way, informed consent is protected and PAs won’t be in any danger of violating the rules associated with their license.
If you have any further questions about the transition from Physician Assistant to Physician Associate, go here.