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ith the printing of the 13th edition of The Physician Assistant, we at CAPA can
look back and see the progress that our profession has made over the years. All those
who came before us should be recognized, for it is because of their hard work we have
matured to the great profession we are today. The Physician Assistant booklet is an
excellent educational tool for those who want to learn about physician assistants and
the critical role we play in the health care team. CAPA is here to fulfll our mission as
stated below.
The Mission of the California Academy of Physician Assistants is to
represent and serve PAs statewide. As an advocate of its members
for quality health care and for their valued, unique alliance with
supervising physicians, CAPA will enhance, educate and empower
physician assistants for the ultimate beneft of their patients.
The Physician Assistant
History and Concept
hysician assistants provide medical,
diagnostic and therapeutic services
under the supervision of licensed
The supervising physician may delegate
to the PA most medical services and
duties that are routinely performed
within the normal scope of the
physicians practice and which the PA is
competent to perform. The supervising
physician has ultimate responsibility for
the patient and supervision of the PA.
The physician assistant concept was
born during an era when primary
care physicians were in short supply,
particularly in rural and inner city
areas. In 1965, in an effort to augment
scarce medical care, Dr. Eugene Stead
of Duke University established the frst
PA training program. He believed that,
under the supervision of a physician,
PAs could safely and effectively provide
services previously provided solely by
physicians. He was accurate in his vision.
Today, there are 135 accredited PA
programs and over 58,000 physician
assistants nationwide. PAs perform a
wide variety of medical and surgical
functions, depending on their training,
practice setting, and the needs of their
supervising physician.
In practice, most PAs routinely elicit
complete medical histories and perform
comprehensive physical examinations.
They see patients with common acute
problems such as infections and injuries.
They do minor surgical procedures
and provide ongoing care for common
chronic problems such as arthritis,
low back complaints, hypertension and
diabetes. Physician assistant practice
is centered on patient care and may
include education, research and
administrative activities.
Physicians of any specialty may employ
a PA. Just as there are many kinds of
physician specialists, there are many
kinds of PAs.
The Supervising Physician
very physician assistant must have
a supervising physician. A PA may have
multiple supervising physicians and a
supervising physician may supervise more
than one PA.
In California, supervision means
reviewing with the PA, as needed, either
directly or by electronic means, the
fndings of the history and physical
examination and the tasks performed by
the PA. Supervision need not be given
prior to treatment, nor must supervising
physicians be on the premises as long
as they are available by phone or
other electronic means.
The physician-PA
team must establish,
in writing, guidelines
for timely supervision.
They may be general
or specifc and may
include standing orders,
protocols, drug order
guidelines, individual
patient orders,
emergency consultation
guidelines, and chart
review mechanisms.
The physician has
the responsibility of
following the patients
progress to ensure
that the PA does not
function autonomously.
Very often physicians
serve as preceptors
for students in a
physician assistant
training program prior
to employing a PA.
As preceptors they
become involved in
the teaching process
and can assess frst hand the ability
and potential of a PA. Many preceptors
go on to hire PAs for their practice.
Physicians wishing to become preceptors
or to locate qualifed physician assistants
for their practice should contact
the individual training programs or
the California Academy of Physician
Services PAs May Perform
As may perform tasks or services
delegated to them by their supervising
physician. The scope of practice of the
supervising physician determines the type
of services rendered by the PA.
Medical procedures and tasks PAs may
perform in California include, but are not
limited to, the following:
1. Take a thorough history, perform an
appropriate physical examination and
make an assessment and diagnosis
therefrom, and record and present
pertinent data in a manner meaningful to
the physician.
2. Order or perform routine laboratory
and screening procedures including, but
not limited to, these examples:
The drawing of blood and routine
examination of the blood
Radiological studies
Catheterization and routine
Nasogastric intubation and gastric
Pelvic examinations, including
bimanual examinations and
Papanicolaou smears.
3. Order or perform routine therapeutic
procedures including, but not limited to,
these examples:
Debridement, suturing and care of
superfcial wounds
Strapping, casting and splinting of
Incision and drainage of superfcial
skin infections
4. Order or perform many specialized
therapeutic and diagnostic procedures
following appropriate training and
demonstrated competency. Including
but not limited to:
Lumbar punctures
Vein harvesting
And many others depending
on specialty
5. Recognize and evaluate situations which
call for immediate attention of the primary
care physician and institute, when necessary,
emergency treatment procedures essential
for the life of the patient.
6. Instruct and counsel patients regarding
matters pertaining to their physical and
mental health, such as diets, social habits,
family planning, normal growth and
development, and the aging process.
7. Assist the physician in the institutional
setting by arranging hospital and nursing
home admissions, providing services
to patients requiring continuing care,
including the review of treatment and
therapy plans, and by evaluating patients
and performing the procedures and tasks
specifed in subsections 1, 2 and 3 above.
8. Serve as frst or second assistant in surgery.
9. Initiate and facilitate the referral of
patients to the appropriate health
facilities, agencies and resources of the
10. Administer or furnish medication, write
a drug order or transmit an oral or
written prescription for medication,
subject to certain limitations.
PAs are subject to the limitations set forth
by their supervising physicians and to
the policies of the employing institutions,
in addition to the laws and regulations
governing utilization of PAs in California.
There are 10 accredited primary care
physician assistant programs in California
and 135 accredited programs throughout
the country, most of which require 24-
48 months to complete. Many programs
require applicants to have completed two
years of college prior to admission and to
have previous health care experience.
Programs are accredited by the
Accreditation Review Commission on
Education for the Physician Assistant
(ARC-PA) based on quality standards
deemed essential for PA education.
Most physician assistants nationwide
are trained in broad based primary care,
although there are PA specialists as well.
Other California programs additionally
offer postgraduate training in orthopedic
and cardiothoracic surgery.
The education of PA students is similar
to that of medical students in that a
didactic phase of intense academic course
work is followed by supervised clinical
experiences or rotations.
In the frst year, students usually complete
courses in such topics as anatomy
and physiology, microbiology, physical
diagnosis, pharmacology, common
laboratory and screening techniques,
common medical and surgical procedures,
medical ethics, and a course in clinical
medicine, among others.
In the clinical phase, students apply the
skills they learned during the didactic
phase of training through rotations
in primary care and specialty settings
under the supervision of a physician.
Training emphasizes eliciting complete
patient histories, performing physical
examinations, ordering and interpreting
diagnostic tests, instituting therapeutic
plans, and patient education focusing on
preventive medicine.
Every new PA in California must pass the
Physician Assistant National Certifying
Examination (PANCE) administered
by the National Commission on
Certifcation of Physician Assistants
(NCCPA). The examination is
comprehensive in scope and assesses
academic and patient management
PAs may maintain national certifcation by
earning 100 hours of continuing medical
education every two years, and are
retested every six years by the NCCPA.
To practice in California, each PA must
be licensed by the Physician Assistant
Committee of the Medical Board of
California. This requires submitting an
offcial application and fees, proof of
graduation from an approved program
and successful completion of the National
Certifying Examination.
Education and Certification
Practice Settings
hysician assistants are employed in many
specialties. A partial listing includes general
and family practice; emergency medicine;
pediatrics; obstetrics and gynecology;
surgery; orthopedics; geriatrics; womens
health; occupational medicine; psychiatry
and mental health; cardiology and internal
medicine; oncology; and administrative
research and educational felds.
California PAs practice in a variety of
rural and urban settings, always under the
supervision of a licensed physician. Typical
practice settings include:
Solo and group practices
Health maintenance organizations
County facilities
Student health services
Teaching institutions
Research facilities
Military facilities
Veterans Administration facilities
Federal and State correctional
Nursing homes
House calls/Home care
PAs may work in any medical setting in
which their supervising physician(s) practice,
including private offces, general acute care
hospitals, acute psychiatric hospitals, special
hospitals, nursing facilities, intermediate care
facilities, and private homes.
The granting of hospital privileges to
PAs is at the discretion of the individual
facility. A booklet entitled, Physician
Assistants and Hospital Practice is
produced by the American Academy of
Physician Assistants and can be ordered
from API at (703) 787-8044.
Patient Acceptance:
Patient acceptance of PAs is excellent.
Surveys repeatedly indicate patients are
highly satisfed with the job competence
and professional manner of PAs. The
utilization of physician assistants has
resulted in improved access to health
care and enhanced patient satisfaction.
Quality of Care:
Results of studies comparing the primary
care services of physician assistants with
those of general or family physicians
and general internists have consistently
shown no discernible difference in the
quality of their diagnostic or therapeutic
care. Most fndings indicate that PAs
spend more time per patient visit,
provide more thorough medical record
documentation, and devote more time
to patient education.
Physician assistants contribute
positively and signifcantly to health
care delivery, particularly in rural and
underserved areas. Depending on the
setting, PAs may provide 65-90% of the
procedures routinely performed by
physicians in general or family practice,
with a comparable level of skill to that
of physicians.
Acceptance and Quality of Care
Cost Effectiveness:
PAs have been found to be highly cost
effective when fully utilized. Research has
shown that patient visit costs are less
when PAs are employed in physicians
practices. At the same time, practice
productivity measured in patient visits
increased and practice income rises
accordingly. Most physicians who hire PAs
do so less for the added proft than for
the added freedom, time, and fexibility
employing a PA affords them.
There is no fxed salary scale for physician
assistants. Salaries today vary widely and
refect the type of practice, the practice
location, the experience of the PA, and
the beneft of the PA to the practice. The
American Academy of Physician Assistants
(AAPA) maintain information on practice
profles, salaries and benefts which are
updated annually.
Professional benefts such as continuing
medical education time and alternative
payment arrangements such as proft
sharing can all be negotiated on an
individual basis and formalized by written
or verbal agreement.
Professional Liability
Liability insurance covering the PA is
generally paid by the employing physician
and can be arranged in one of two ways. In
the frst, the PA is covered by the umbrella
policy or rider of the physician. Many
carriers do not increase the premium
when a PA is employed; some increase it
only slightly, while others may increase it
signifcantly. Physicians should consult their
carrier about their particular policy. In the
second method, the PA may take out a
separate individual policy .
Physician assistants have proven to be an
asset in reducing malpractice exposure in
private practice settings. This is attributed
to the extra time PAs devote to patient
education and counseling, improved
patient compliance, and the close
teamwork between the physician and PA.
Physician assistants usually dont charge
directly for their services. Reimbursement
is made commonly through the
supervising physician or the employing
Medicare currently reimburses for
physician services provided by PAs,
including surgical assists, under Parts
A and B at 85% of the physician fee
schedule. In certain outpatient situations,
it may be at 100%.
In California, the Medi-Cal program
reimburses for services provided by PAs
at 100% of the supervising physicians
reimbursement rate. Medi-Cal has some
specifc requirements for physicians
utilizing PAs.
The private insurer reimburses at varying
rates up to 100% of that of the physician.
Economic Factors
A Scenario
erhaps the best way to understand what
a PA does is to visualize one in practice.
Here is a possible scenario involving one
physician who has fully incorporated a
PA into his practice. They have worked
together for two years.
Dr. Q, a physician in private general practice,
arrives at his offce at 8:00 a.m. His PA,
Mr. J has just walked in. They look at their
patient schedules for the day and discuss
any potential problems. Mr. J inquires about
changing the insulin regimen of a diabetic
patient he has been following, and together
they work out a better dose schedule.
At 9:00 a.m., they start seeing patients in
separate exam rooms, with the nursing
staff assisting both. The PA handles
uncomplicated new cases, does physical
exams required for school or employment,
and sees patients with chronic problems
returning for maintenance care. He orders
and evaluates appropriate lab work, x-rays,
EKGs and writes drug orders working
within protocols and formularies developed
together with his supervising physician.
At 11:30 a.m., Mr. J consults with Dr. Q
about a patient he has just seen who
appears to be in heart failure. They review
the case and decide to admit the patient
to the hospital. Mr. J makes the admission
arrangements, and since he had planned
to make hospital rounds for Dr. Q this
afternoon, accompanies the patient to the
hospital. While there, he reviews the charts
of Dr. Qs post-op patients, makes progress
notes and written orders under conditions
agreed on by Dr. Q, the hospital and the PA.
Later he visits some of Dr. Qs nursing
home patients, and returns to the offce at
the end of the afternoon to discuss patients
who he feels should see the physician at
their next visit. He also asks for advice
about two in-patient problem cases. Dr. Q
asks the PA to spend some extra time with
two of his own patients; a new mother who
desires to learn the various methods of
contraception, and an obese man wanting
to start a diet and exercise program.
Dr. Q will attend a local continuing
education seminar the next day; they have
scheduled patients for Mr. J for that time.
In the past Dr. Q was forced to close the
offce on such occasions. He will carry a
beeper so that the PA can contact him
immediately should any problems arise.
Tonight Mr. J will be on call, as he is two
nights every week. At weeks end, Dr. Q
will review the PAs charts and countersign
them. This process has become easy as his
assistants knowledge and experience have
grown. Dr. Q feels pleasure in having taught
the PA much during their work together,
and realizes that both of them stay mentally
sharp as a result.
For these services, Dr. Q pays his PA a
competitive salary plus a percentage of the
offce income. At frst, during an adjustment
period, that salary was lower and there
was no percentage while the two learned
to work together as a team. But as Dr. Q
saw his offce income and productivity rise,
he increased the compensation accordingly.
Still, it is much less than a physician-partner
would require, as his practice would not
accommodate a full partner. His malpractice
premium is only slightly higher than it
was before he employed the PA. Both Dr.
Q and Mr. J are well satisfed with their
At frst, patients had questions about the
PA, but after a short time they accepted
him without question and many now
specifcally request to be seen by him
when making their appointments. And,
many patients comment to Dr. Q that they
appreciate the extra time the PA takes to
explain his instructions and answer their
questions. Some were frankly amazed when
the PA made a house call.
1. Up-to-date information on California
PAs, and employment information:
California Academy of Physician Assistants
3100 W. Warner Ave., Suite 3
Santa Ana, CA 92704-5331
(714) 427-0321 FAX: (714) 427-0324
2. Hational information on programs,
legislation, and certification/
American Academy of Physician Assistants, or
Association of Physician Assistant Programs
950 N. Washington St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
(703) 836-2272 FAX: (703) 684-1924
National Commission on Certifcation of
Physician Assistants
12000 Findley Rd., Suite 200
Duluth, GA 30097
(678) 417-8100 FAX: (678) 417-8135
S. California regulations, applications
for licensure, and information for MD
supervising physicians and PAs:
Physician Assistant Committee
Medical Board of California
1424 Howe Ave., Suite 35
Sacramento, CA 95825-3237
(916) 561-8780 (800) 555-8038 (CA Only)
4. Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine who
wish to supervise PAs should contact:
Osteopathic Medical Board of California
2720 Gateway Oaks Dr., Suite 350
Sacramento, CA 95833
(916) 263-3100
5. California PA training programs,
preceptorships, and general
USC School of Medicine
Physician Assistant Program
1000 S. Fremont Ave.
Unit 7, Bldg A-6, 4th Fl, Rm 6429
Alhambra, CA 91803
(626) 457-4240
Charles R. Drew University
Physician Associate Program
1731 E. 120th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90059
(323) 563-5950
Stanford University
Physician Associate Program
1215 Welch Rd., Module G
Palo Alto, CA 94305
(650) 725-6959
UC Davis Medical Center
Physician Assistant Program
2516 Stockton Blvd., Suite 254
Sacramento, CA 95817
(916) 734-3551
Western University
Physician Assistant Program
309 E. Second St.
Pomona, CA 91766
(909) 623-6116
Samuel Merritt College
Physician Assistant Program
450 30th St.
Oakland, CA 94609
(510) 869-6623
RCRMC/RCC Primary Care
Physician Assistant Program
16130 Lasselle St.
Moreno Valley, CA 92551
(909) 571-6166
Loma Linda University
School of Allied Health Professions
Physician Assistant Program
Nichol Hall, Room 2033
Loma Linda, CA 92350
(909) 558-4599
Touro University - California
Physician Assistant Program
1310 Johnson Ln.
Vallejo, CA 94592
(888) 652-7580
San Joaquin Valley College
Primary Care Physician Assistant Program
8400 W. Mineral King Ave.
Visalia, CA 93291
(559) 651-2500 x351
For More nformation About PAs
Copyright 1979, The California Academy of Physician Assistants
3100 W. Warner Ave., Suite 3 Santa Ana, California 92704-5331