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National Physician Assistant Week is celebrated every year from October 6-12. Treating patients in today’s complex healthcare settings takes a whole team of professionals. Among these medical workers are physician assistants, broadly trained in a wide spectrum of conditions and tasks. Their education focuses on patient education, preventive care, and chronic care management. They can help patients improve their quality of life and manage chronic conditions. Physician Assistants are unsung heroes and deserve their moment in the limelight, so this week is to celebrate them and be thankful for their efforts.
History of National Physician Assistant Week
Physician assistants are medical professionals with thousands of hours of training. Their skills enable them to diagnose illnesses, prescribe medications, and perform many medical tasks.
As their name implies, PAs work closely with doctors and other healthcare providers. In most states, a PA has an agreement with a specific physician and practices alongside them. Physicians can oversee up to 4 PAs. The supervising physician doesn’t have to be present when a PA is practicing, letting them take care of other tasks while the PA continues patient care. Physician Assistants can prescribe and administer medication, acting on behalf of their supervising physician. In some cases, PAs can even perform surgical procedures that use local anesthesia without the supervision of the physician.
In contrast with Nurse Practitioners, who specialize in one area of medicine, PAs have a strong background in general medicine. This enables them to notice things that specialists might miss, making them a crucial component of a complete healthcare team. By relieving some of the duties of physicians, PAs help alleviate the pressure faced by overworked doctors and strained hospitals and clinics.
Established in 1968 as the American Association of Physician Assistants, the American Academy of Physician Assistants was instrumental in the development of nationwide standards and PA certification. Today, they promote the profession and lobby for benefits for its members. Its first members were graduates of Duke University’s Physician Assistant program, the first in the country. Today, there are over 140,000 PAs practicing in the U.S., making 400 million patient interactions each year.
National Physician Assistant Week timeline
Mississippi becomes the last state to authorize PA practice, making it legal in all 50 U.S. states.
Duke University awards the first Master's Degree for Physician Assistant education.
The National Board of Medical Examiners administers the first PA certification exam.
The American Association of Physician Assistants(now known as the American Academy of Physician Assistants) is incorporated in North Carolina.
Duke University's Medical Center graduates the first class of Physician Assistants in the country. The program was started to alleviate shortages of primary care doctors.
National Physician Assistant Week FAQs
How do you train to be a PA?
To become a Physician Assistant, you must graduate from an accredited Physician Assistant program. This is usually a two-year Master’s Degree program following your 4-year undergraduate degree. You must also pass a licensing exam to practice.
What's the difference between a PA and a nurse?
Unlike a nurse, a PA has the authority to diagnose conditions and prescribe treatment.
What are some related careers?
If you’re not sure if Physician Assistant is the right path for you, you can also consider becoming a medical assistant, pharmacy assistant, registered nurse, or nurse practitioner.
How to Observe National Physician Assistant Week
Thank a PA
If you know a Physician Assistant or have been helped by one at your doctor's office, drop them a note to let them know you appreciate what they do.
Raise awareness about the profession
Share a social media post using #PAweek to highlight the important role of Physician Assistants in the medical system.
Send a PA lunch
Have lunch delivered to your doctor's office. The staff will appreciate knowing you're thinking about them.
5 Interesting Facts About Physician Assistants
A PA's generalized education means they understand your whole body
Unlike specialized nurses or physicians, PAs are trained to understand the body and a variety of conditions holistically.
PAs can conduct research
One of the roles PAs fulfill is performing clinical research.
PAs are in high demand
The PA profession is one of the fastest-growing in the country. Between 2011 and 2014, the demand for PAs increased by more than 300%.
You must continue your education
To maintain their certification, PAs must complete 100 hours of continuing medical education every 2 years.
PAs improve the quality of healthcare
The PA profession supports other medical professionals to provide a deeper level of patient care.
Why National Physician Assistant Week is Important
It highlights a little-known profession
Few people know what Physician Assistants do (or even that they exist), but they help patients more than we know.
It reminds us to thank medical professionals
Physician assistants, doctors, nurses, and other medical staff take care of us when we’re sick and help us make healthy decisions.
It promotes an essential job
Physician Assistants are a crucial part of the continuum of care. We always need more people to go into this important profession.
National Physician Assistant Week dates