The Physician Assistant (PA) profession originated at Duke in the mid 1960s. Dr. Eugene A. Stead Jr., then Chairman of the Department of Medicine, believed that mid-level practitioners could increase consumer access to health services by extending the time and skills of the physician. Today, physician assistants are well-recognized and highly sought-after members of the health care team. Working interdependently with physicians, PAs provide diagnostic and therapeutic patient care in virtually all medical specialties and settings. They take patient histories, perform physical examinations, order laboratory and diagnostic studies and develop patient treatment plans. In all states, including North Carolina, PAs have the authority to write prescriptions. Their job descriptions are as diverse as those of their supervising physicians, and include patient education, team leadership, medical education, health administration and research.
One-third of graduate PAs provide primary health care services, especially in family and general internal medicine. About 40% of graduate PAs work in hospital settings. About one-fourth of all clinically active PAs work in surgery and its subspecialities.
PAs are interdependent members of the health care team. Many tasks have been integrated into the PA role, particularly in the institutional and larger clinic setting. While not always clinical in nature, these tasks are essential to the practice of the PA’s supervising physician. For example, PAs in the tertiary care setting are often involved in the acquisition, recording and analysis of research data, the development of patient and public education programs, and the administration of their departments’ clinical and educational services. Involvement in these other services has provided job advancement for PAs in these settings.
Additional nonclinical positions are developing for PAs. While these positions do not involve patient care, they depend on a strong clinical knowledge base.
The MHS curriculum provides PAs with depth of knowledge in the basic medical sciences and clinical medicine, as well as skills in administration and research. With these expanded skills, graduates can take advantage of the wide diversity of positions available to PAs.