What Does It Mean to Be A Physician Assistant?

Physician Assistants (PAs) are Advanced Practice Providers (APPs) who work under the supervision of a physician to treat patients in a wide variety of healthcare settings – including hospitals and doctors' offices, urgent care and rehabilitation facilities, and more. Premier Health appreciates PAs for being passionate, collaborative members of our healthcare teams.

Daniel Johnstone, PA-C, a neurosurgery provider with Premier Health’s Clinical Neuroscience Institute, explains more about what it means to be a Physician Assistant:


What is the role of a Physician Assistant (PA)?

A Physician Assistant is a medical provider who treats patients and their medical conditions by listening to their story and seeking to understand their issues. From there, they are able to make a diagnosis, develop and adjust treatment plans, prescribe medications, order and interpret necessary tests, and perform procedures. Throughout the whole process, the PA is informing and educating the patient, managing their expectations, and making recommendations for their overall well-being. The care we provide involves completely understanding our patients, much more than just knowing their current medical problems. A Physician Assistant can be found in nearly any healthcare setting, including surgery, doctors' offices, hospitals, urgent care, rehabilitation facilities, and more.  

How do Physician Assistants work with doctors to provide care?

A Physician Assistant is trained to be adaptable and collaborative. Because of this, we are usually found working in teams with physicians. A physician might also choose to work with a PA to extend or expand their ability to treat patients. This partnership is a mutually beneficial relationship that gives stability and confidence to the practice of each provider. Unique to the profession, a Physician Assistant will always have a supervising physician with whom to collaborate.  The PA model is focused on delivering excellent patient care by making the most of our relationships in the workplace. 

How do Premier Health patients benefit from care provided by a Physician Assistant?

Given the shortage of doctors, especially primary care doctors, Physician Assistants often make it easier for patients to access to care. A Premier Health patient might report that it is easier to get an appointment with a PA to address an illness or health problem. They are also likely to report shorter wait times to see a provider. A patient with our health system is also likely to say that we are able to improve the quality of their healthcare. The background of generalist training gives PAs a special ability to treat the whole patient.

What makes a great Physician Assistant?

It has been said that a great Physician Assistant is a skilled listener, a dedicated hard worker, and a solid communicator. All of this is true. However, above all else, for a PA to be truly great, they must have a deep-seated love of people and their profession. To cure people of their diseases and illnesses, one must find their source of motivation: a love of their fellow man. It is impossible to do this job well without such a passion. No amount of intelligence or clinical knowledge is able to overcome this. 

What training does it take to become a Physician Assistant?

To become a Physician Assistant, one must graduate from a master’s level accredited program. Entry is very competitive. It requires a bachelor’s degree and demonstration of qualities that would be helpful to your future patients. The program involves approximately three years of rigorous training with at least 2,000 hours of clinical rotations. At the end of their training, they must also pass a national certifying examination. To maintain active certification, a PA must complete 100 hours of continuing medical education and pass a certifying examination every 10 years. Additionally, clinical training and continuing education is a lifelong commitment. A PA must be curious to learn and frequently seek educational opportunities. Although the training and requirements are arduous, the satisfaction that this career provides is well worth the cost.