Not everyone knows what a physician assistant is, but almost everyone has benefited form the work that these professionals do. There are about seventy-five thousand of them in the United States at any given time. A physician assistant, in short, carries out all sorts of tasks to help a surgeon or a doctor do his or her work.
To become a physician assistant, you need a license, and to get a license you need to complete a PA training course, one that's been accredited by an appropriate agency. Then, you have to have some practical experience in the medical world before you are likely to get hired by a doctor.
And what sorts of things do physician assistants do? They can help diagnose diseases and medical conditions-although a doctor always has the final say in a diagnosis, of course. In fact, any diagnosis that a physician assistant makes is usually referred to as a "provisional diagnosis." A PA will also work with patients to teach them methods of disease prevention. He or she can also administer injections, including vaccines and immunization shots. A physician assistant even has the authority to request an X-ray, an EKG (electrocardiogram), and other diagnostic tests that will help a physician assess a patient's health and locate the cause of any medical problem. If a doctor is meeting with a patient, he or she might ask a PA to review that person's medical history to see if there are any outstanding issues or problems that need to be addressed. A PA can even prescribe medicine to a patient, so long as the physician signs off on that prescription afterwards.
A physician assistant can also offer more detailed help to a patient than a doctor has time to do. For example, let's say a physician prescribes a certain kind of physical therapy to help an injured patient recover. A PA might meet privately with that patient to explain this course of therapy in detail. The PA might also check up on the patient from time to time-sometimes PA's even visit people in their homes-to see how that person is progressing, and to make sure that she or he doesn't have any additional questions or concerns. Sometimes a PA can even offer counseling to a patient who's struggling with depression or other emotional issues related to a physical condition. These are the kinds of things that many physicians used to do, but given the severe constraints on many doctors' schedules, it's rare for a physician to be able to do these things herself or himself anymore.
A PA might also carry out certain administrative duties, including keeping track of medical supplies and ordering new supplies when they're needed, updating and archiving medical files, and supervising the employees who work in a doctor's office or hospital.
This is a great position for anyone who wants to work with patients and improve people's lives, but who doesn't want to go to medical school.