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What Does a Physician Assistant Do?

The answer to the question, “What does a Physician Assistant do?” can be simple, complex and vast depending upon the physician assistant’s specialization. A physician assistant needs extensive training to provide diagnostic, therapeutic, preventive, and other healthcare services and ever since the physician assistant profession was created in 1960, the demand for these professionals has been on a consistent upswing.

Even though a physician assistant works under the supervision of a licensed doctor, he is considered as important as the doctor. Many states are now allocating a few more critical duties and responsibilities to physician assistants and these professionals are highly in demand.

What does a physician assistant do exactly?

Here is a list of duties and responsibilities of a physician assistant:

  1. Physician assistants work in many settings depending upon their specialization (or non-specialization).
  2. They may work in surgery rooms, clinics, outpatient centers, plastic surgery centers, HIV section in a hospital, and more, depending on their career choice.
  3. They have to deal with a variety of people who can be celebrities, hot-headed folks, physically incapacitated people, masochists, the ultra-sensitive, the cynical, the depressed and the average Joes.
  4. They must deal with every patient with the same calm and cool, and maintain confidentiality.


What does a physician assistant do in office?

  1. He handles reimbursement issues. This means that he must keep up-to-date with reimbursement-related updates.
  2. He knows about the patient’s insurance and writes to the patient’s insurance company, if required. So, he must know all about health insurance and also have excellent writing skills.
  3. Depending on his specialty, he must attend one specialty continuing education session every year.
  4. He consults and interacts with pharmaceutical and medical product representatives whenever there’s a need.
  5. He checks incoming patients’ problems – he knows how to perform minor surgical procedures without any supervision. he also calmly communicates with the patient.
  6. If he’s involved in a specialty, then he knows how to perform complex specialty-related procedures. For example, a physician assistant who specializes in plastic surgery is able to administer Botox fillers or laser treatment without any supervision.
  7. He performs consultations even when the doctor’s not around. He checks a patient’s medical history, makes a diagnosis, takes calls, and prescribes medicines.
  8. He also dictates treatment, operative, specialty-related and discharge summaries.


What does a physician assistant do in a hospital or if he specializes in a particular branch of medicine?

  1. He first-assists the doctor or the surgeon in all cases.
  2. He performs complex specialty-related procedures. For example, a physician assistant who specializes in general surgery must possess suturing skills that are equal to the surgeon’s.
  3. He knows the inside-out of all the cases he is involved in.
  4. He keeps up-to-speed with the latest specialty changes. For example, a physician assistant who specializes in general surgery must know the latest surgical procedures and also know how to work on new equipment.
  5. A physician assistant who is involved in a specialty contributes intelligently to the specialty-related procedure. Every doctor or surgeon values his physician assistant’s inputs.
  6. He keeps or checks inventory of supplies and prostheses.
  7. A physician assistant who is employed in a hospital can write orders in the Recovery Room, floor and Intensive Care Unit.
  8. He is expected to communicate clearly and succinctly with doctors, surgeons, attending surgeons, consultants, patients and/or their friends or relations.
  9. He must be able to follow patients and write daily reports on their progress.
  10. He is expected to know pre and post discharge statuses of his patients.


Well, this is the general answer to the question, “What does a physician assistant do?” Remember, this is a general answer. Every medical specialty has different procedures and processes of its own and these have to be included in the list of duties and responsibilities. A physician assistant spends the day juggling between primary assessment and intraoperative techniques and office work. Most of his time is spent working with doctors, patients, and in handling office work and attending to lab tests.

50% of physician assistant in America are attached to family medicine, internal medicine, gynecology, obstetrics and pediatrics (all of these represent primary healthcare). Family and emergency medicine are preferred by most American physician assistants. Just 20% of physician assistants are involved in surgical subspecialties. It’s a tough and demanding job and physician assistants on call are known to put in 80 hours of work in an “emergency” week. However, the pay is satisfying and the job is steady. The physician assistant’s job is not impacted by the recession and assistants who specialize in complex medical conditions can write their own paychecks.

Before wrapping up, here’s how a case is typically handled by a physician assistant:

A 70-year old patient walks into a doctor’s clinic. He has severe stomach ache. The physician assistant checks his medical history, physically examines him, and orders certain tests. If the physician assistant feels that the patient must see the doctor, then he refers the patient to a supervising doctor or to a hospital. If not, he prescribes medicines.

As a doctor’s clinic is always full of patients, the physician assistant is kept busy throughout the working hours. This is what a physician assistant does.