Health Guide USA
America's Online Health Resource Guide

Physician Assistants | What Do They Do?

Physician assistants typically do the following:

  • Work under the supervision of a physician or surgeon
  • Review patientsí medical histories
  • Do physical exams to check patientsí health
  • Order and interpret diagnostic tests, such as x rays or blood tests
  • Make preliminary diagnoses concerning a patientís injury or illness
  • Provide treatment, such as setting broken bones and giving immunizations
  • Counsel patients and their families; for example, answering questions about how to care for a child with asthma
  • Prescribe medicine, when needed
  • Record a patientís progress
  • Complete insurance paperwork

Physician assistants are different from medical assistants. Medical assistants do routine clinical and clerical tasks; they do not practice medicine. For more information, see the profile on medical assistants.

A physician assistantís specific duties and the extent to which he or she must be supervised by physicians and surgeons differ from state to state.

Physician assistants work in all areas of medicine, including primary care and family medicine, emergency medicine, and psychiatry. The work of physician assistants depends in large part on their specialty and what their supervising physician needs them to do. For more information, see the profile on physicians and surgeons.

For example, a physician assistant working in surgery may close incisions and provide care before and after the operation. A physician assistant working in pediatrics may examine a child or give routine vaccinations.

In rural areas and inner cities, physician assistants may be the primary care providers at clinics where a physician is present only 1 or 2 days per week. In these locations, physician assistants confer with the physician and other healthcare workers as needed and as required by law.

Some physician assistants make house calls or visit nursing homes to treat patients, reporting back to the physician afterward.

Some physician assistants supervise medical technicians and medical assistants.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition

for State specific information, visit  JOB OUTLOOK BY STATE

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