Physician Assistants Overview

Physician assistants are nationally certified and state-licensed medical professionals, and practice on health care teams with physicians and other providers. They are formally trained to examine patients, diagnose injuries and illnesses and provide treatment.

The professional association for physician assistants is the American Academy of Physician Assistants. According to the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, in 2015, there were approximately 108,000 certified physician assistants practicing in the U.S., working in all areas of medicine. Each individual state determines the scope of practice for physician assistants through state licensing requirements. In rural and underserved areas, physician assistants may be the primary care providers at clinics where a physician is present only a few days a week. Physician assistants collaborate with the physician as needed and as required by law, often relying on a collaborative agreement with a physician which outlines the specific activities for an individual working in a specific medical practice setting.

The information on this site focuses on three areas of scope of practice for physician assistants: supervision requirements, prescriptive authority for physician assistants, and scope of practice determination.

Supervision requirements focus on the need for a written collaborative agreement with a physician that can outline the procedures a physician assistant is allowed to perform. State policy specifies whether the supervisory relationship between the physician assistant and the physician is determined at the practice level (within the medical practice where the physician assistant will be practicing) or determined by the state medical board or in state law.

Prescriptive authority refers to whether a physician assistant can prescribe certain medications (such as controlled substances). Prescriptive authority can be determined either at the practice level, the state medical board or state law.

Scope of practice determination refers to whether a physician assistant’s scope of practice is determined at the practice level by the supervising physician. In some states, the state medical board or state law determines a physician assistant’s scope of practice.

The map on the right shows a comparison of all states and territories for these three areas. Choose a tab to explore different options. For more detailed information, please click on a state or territory.

For information on nurse practitioners and oral health providers, please use the practitioner links below the map.

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