Who are Physician Assistants and what do they do?

Physician Assistants (PA) are highly skilled health professionals who support physicians in all health care settings. In Canada, the PA role was developed within the Canadian Forces Health Services to provide a full spectrum of medical care. Within a formal Physician/Physician Assistant relationship, a PA has the skills and experience to deal with medical emergencies, specialty practice environments, as well as everyday health care needs. Depending on the agreement between the physician and the PA, activities may include conducting patient interviews, histories, physical examinations; performing selected diagnostic and therapeutic interventions; and counseling on preventive health care. The PA is a physician extender and not an independent practitioner; they work under the direction of supervising physicians within the client/patient-centered care team. As part of their comprehensive responsibilities, PAs conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery, and write prescriptions. Within the physician-PA relationship, physician assistants exercise autonomy in medical decision making and provide a broad range of diagnostic and therapeutic services. A PA’s practice may also include education, research, and administrative services.

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