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The next time you visit a health care provider you may see one of California’s nearly 14,000 physician assistants (P.A.).
P.A.s provide high-quality health services to patients and to the community. These professionals are regulated by the Department of Consumer Affairs’ (DCA) Physician Assistant Board (PAB), which offers five frequently asked questions about these vital members of the health care team:
- What is a physician assistant? A P.A. is a licensed and highly skilled health care professional trained to provide patient evaluation, education, and health care services. A P.A. works with a physician to provide medical care and guidance needed by a patient.
- What are the training requirements to become a P.A.? A P.A. must attend a specialized medical training program associated with a medical school that includes classroom studies and clinical experience. An academic degree and/or certificate is awarded upon graduation. Many P.A.s already have two- or four-year academic degrees before entering a P.A. training program. Most P.A. training programs require prior health care experience.
- Is a P.A. licensed by the state? P.A.s have been licensed in California since 1970. To practice in California, each P.A. must pass a rigorous national examination before being licensed by PAB. Before your medical visit, check the P.A.’s license status online with DCA’s license search tool to ensure the professional is in good standing: https://search.dca.ca.gov. If you have concerns about a P.A., file a complaint online or by calling DCA’s Consumer Information Center toll-free at (800) 952-5210 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., so your concerns can be investigated.
- How does a P.A. work with a supervising physician? Each P.A. must be supervised by at least one physician. The physician supervises the P.A. either when both are at the same location or by phone. The supervising physician must always be available to the P.A. should the need arise, and is responsible for following each patient’s progress.
- What types of services does a P.A. provide? A P.A. performs many of the same diagnostic, preventative, and health maintenance services as a physician. These services include:
- Taking health histories.
- Performing physical examinations.
- Ordering X-rays and laboratory tests.
- Ordering respiratory, occupational, or physical therapy treatments.
- Performing routine diagnostic tests.
- Making diagnoses.
- Treating and managing patient health problems.
- Administering immunizations and injections.
- Instructing and counseling patients.
- Providing continuing care to patients in the home, hospital, or in an extended care facility.
- Providing referrals within the health care system.
- Performing minor surgery.
- Providing preventative health care services.
- Acting as first or second assistants during surgery.
- Responding to life-threatening emergencies.
- Ordering medications that are authorized by a physician.
For information about California physician assistants, their licensing and educational requirements, their profession, and more, visit PAB’s website or call the Board at (916) 561-8780.