This Code was adapted from the Canadian Medical Association’s Code of Ethics. Due to the nature of working relationship between physician assistants (PAs) and physicians it was only appropriate that PAs ethical standards would be modelled after their physician partners. As an ethical guide for Canadian PAs and students its focus is the core activities of medicine – such as health promotion, advocacy, disease prevention, diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, palliation, education and research. It is based on the fundamental principles and values of medical ethics, especially compassion, beneficence, non-maleficence, respect for persons, justice and accountability. The Code of Ethics constitutes a compilation of guidelines that can provide a common ethical framework for Canadian PAs.
PAs should be aware of the legal and regulatory requirements that govern medical practice in their jurisdictions.
PA may experience tension between different ethical principles, between ethical and legal or regulatory requirements, or between their own ethical convictions and the demands of other parties. Training in ethical analysis and decision-making during their academic studies and continuing medical education is recommended for PAs to develop their knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to deal with these conflicts. Consultation with colleagues, regulatory authorities where applicable, ethicists, ethics committees or others who have relevant expertise is also recommended.
1. Consider first the well-being of the patient.
2. Practice the profession of medicine in a manner that treats the patient with dignity and as a person worthy of respect.
3. Provide for appropriate care for your patient, even when cure is no longer possible, including physical comfort and spiritual and psychosocial support.
4. Consider the well-being of society in matters affecting health.
5. Practice the art and science of medicine competently, with integrity and without impairment.
6. Engage in lifelong learning to maintain and improve your professional knowledge, skills and attitudes.
7. Resist any influence or interference that could undermine your professional integrity.
8. Contribute to the development of the medical profession, whether through clinical practice, research, teaching, administration or advocating on behalf of the profession or the public.
9. Refuse to participate in or support practices that violate basic human rights.
10. Promote and maintain your own health and well-being.
Responsibilities to the Patient
11. Recognize and disclose conflicts of interest that arise in the course of your professional duties and activities, and resolve them in the best interest of patients.
12. Inform patients and supervising physician when your personal values would influence the recommendation or practice of any medical procedure that the patient needs or wants.
13. Do not exploit patients for personal advantage.
14. Take all reasonable steps to prevent harm to patients; should harm occur, disclose it to the patient.
15. Recognize your limitations and, when indicated, recommend or seek additional opinions and services.
16. In determining professional fees to patients for non-insured services, consider both the nature of the service provided and the ability of the patient to pay, and be prepared to discuss the fee with the patient.
Initiating and Dissolving a Patient-PA Relationship
17. In providing medical service, do not discriminate against any patient on such grounds as age, gender, marital status, medical condition, national or ethnic origin, physical or mental disability, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. This does not abrogate the PA’s right to refuse to accept a patient for legitimate reasons.
18. Provide whatever appropriate assistance you can to any person with an urgent need for medical care.
19. Limit treatment of yourself or members of your immediate family to minor or emergency services and only when another health provider is not readily available; there should be no fee for such treatment.
Communication, Decision Making and Consent
20. Provide your patients with the information they need to make informed decisions about their medical care, and answer their questions to the best of your ability.
21. Make every reasonable effort to communicate with your patients in such a way that information exchanged is understood.
22. Recommend only those diagnostic and therapeutic services that you consider to be beneficial to your patient or to others. If a service is recommended for the benefit of others, as for example in matters of public health, inform your patient of this fact and proceed only with explicit informed consent or where required by law.
23. Respect the right of a competent patient to accept or reject any medical care recommended.
24. Recognize the need to balance the developing competency of minors and the role of families in medical decision-making. Respect the autonomy of those minors who are authorized to consent to treatment.
25. Respect your patient’s reasonable request for a second opinion from another health provider of the patient’s choice.
26. Ascertain wherever possible and recognize your patient’s wishes about the initiation, continuation or cessation of life-sustaining treatment.
27. Respect the intentions of an incompetent patient as they were expressed (e.g., through a valid advance directive or proxy designation) before the patient became incompetent.
28. When the intentions of an incompetent patient are unknown and when no formal mechanism for making treatment decisions is in place, render such treatment as you believe to be in accordance with the patient’s values or, if these are unknown, the patient’s best interests.
29. Be considerate of the patient’s family and significant others and cooperate with them in the patient’s interest.
Privacy and Confidentiality
30. Protect the personal health information of your patients.
31. Provide information reasonable in the circumstances to patients about the reasons for the collection, use and disclosure of their personal health information.
32. Be aware of your patient’s rights with respect to the collection, use, disclosure and access to their personal health information; ensure that such information is recorded accurately.
33. Avoid public discussions or comments about patients that could reasonably be seen as revealing confidential or identifying information.
34. Disclose your patients’ personal health information to third parties only with their consent, or as provided for by law, such as when the maintenance of confidentiality would result in a significant risk of substantial harm to others or, in the case of incompetent patients, to the patients themselves. In such cases take all reasonable steps to inform the patients that the usual requirements for confidentiality will be breached.
35. When acting on behalf of a third party, take reasonable steps to ensure that the patient understands the nature and extent of your responsibility to the third party.
36. Upon a patient’s request, provide the patient or a third party with a copy of his or her medical record, unless there is a compelling reason to believe that information contained in the record will result in substantial harm to the patient or others.
37. Ensure that any research in which you participate is evaluated both scientifically and ethically and is approved by a research ethics board that meets current standards of practice.
38. Inform the potential research subject, or proxy, about the purpose of the study, its source of funding, the nature and relative probability of harms and benefits, and the nature of your participation including any compensation.
39. Before proceeding with the study, obtain the informed consent of the subject, or proxy, and advise prospective subjects that they have the right to decline or withdraw from the study at any time, without prejudice to their ongoing care.
Responsibilities to Society
40. Recognize that community, society and the environment are important factors in the health of individual patients.
41. Recognize the profession’s responsibility to society in matters relating to public health, health education, environmental protection, legislation affecting the health or well-being of the community and the need for testimony at judicial proceedings.
42. Recognize the responsibility of PAs to promote equitable access to health care resources.
43. Use health care resources prudently.
44. Recognize a responsibility to give generally held opinions of the profession when interpreting scientific knowledge to the public; when presenting an opinion that is contrary to the generally held opinion of the profession, so indicate.
Responsibilities to the Profession
45. Recognize that the self-regulation of the profession is a privilege and that each PA has a continuing responsibility to merit this privilege and to support its institutions.
46. Be willing to teach and learn from physicians, medical students, residents, other colleagues and other health professionals.
47. Avoid impugning the reputation of colleagues for personal motives; however, report to the appropriate authority any unprofessional conduct by colleagues.
48. Be willing to participate in peer review of other PAs and to undergo review by your peers. Enter into associations, contracts and agreements only if you can maintain your professional integrity and safeguard the interests of your patients.
49. Avoid promoting, as a member of the medical profession, any service (except your own) or product for personal gain.
50. Do not keep secret from colleagues the diagnostic or therapeutic agents and procedures that you employ.
51. Collaborate with physicians and other health professionals in the care of patients and the functioning and improvement of health services. Treat your colleagues with dignity and as persons worthy of respect.
Responsibilities to Oneself
52. Seek help from colleagues and appropriately qualified professionals for personal problems that might adversely affect your service to patients, society or the profession.
53. Protect and enhance your own health and well-being by identifying those stress factors in your professional and personal lives that can be managed by developing and practicing appropriate coping strategies.
To download the PA code of ethics in a pdf format, click here.