Skip to main content

What is a Physician Assistant (PA)?

Chances are at some point in your life you have received care from a physician assistant (PA). PAs practice in all areas of health care, from hospitals and nursing homes to clinics and correctional institutions.

The PA profession was first established at Duke University in 1967 to expand and improve access to health care. There are now more than 168,000 PAs in the United States, according to the American Academy of Physician Associates/Physician Assistants (AAPA).

PAs are uniquely positioned to provide personal, accessible care to their patients. I was inspired to become a PA because I wanted to work with a collaborative care team and have the flexibility of working in different specialties. I often get questions about my profession, here are a few of the most common:

What type of education or licenses are required to become a PA?
Physician Assistants are nationally certified and state licensed medical professionals. All PAs must hold an advanced degree from an accredited PA program. PA school is three academic years long and requires at least 2,000 hours of clinical residency-type specialty rotations before graduation. In order to provide patient care, PAs must pass a Physician Assistant Medical Certification exam, after which recertification and continuing education requirements must be met to maintain certification.

What can a PA do?
You can find PAs practicing in every medical specialty and setting. PAs can provide many of the same services as a primary care physician. Generally, we can diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, develop treatment plans, conduct physical exams, take medical histories, prescribe medications, round in hospitals and nursing homes and do clinical research. PAs can also perform some procedures and assist in surgeries.

What are the advantages of seeing a PA?
PAs utilize a patient-centered and wellness-focused approach to medicine. Physician Assistants work in collaboration with a supervising physician to provide the best care for patients. They place a priority on patient education and preventive care, as well as chronic care management. Because they are trained under a wide-range of specialties, they can help treat patients from a well-rounded and “whole person” approach.

How should I address a PA? 
I like my patients to feel very comfortable during our visits. I usually introduce myself as Monique Brock, and prefer to be called by my first name or Mrs. Brock. It’s ok to ask your PA how they would like to be addressed during your first visit as well.

Do you plan to go back to medical school to become a doctor?
This is a question that I get asked a lot, as do my PA colleagues. I chose to become a PA, and I am very happy with my career choice. Most PAs have no desire to go back to school to change careers.

Is a PA the same as a Nurse Practitioner (NP)?
Although we perform similar tasks in our practice, one big difference between these two professional titles is our educational paths. PAs are trained in general medicine, and we follow the medical school model–similar to physicians. NPs are nurses who are trained in advanced nursing practices. I have a great relationship with the NP in my office; we both opened this practice together in 2014 and we work well together as a team. We can utilize our varied backgrounds and perspectives to provide excellent care to our patients.

Featured Image
Patient and Provider

A board-certified physician assistant, Monique Brock, PA-C, practices at Chesapeake Regional Primary Care - Grassfield. She received her bachelor's degree from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va and her Master of Physician Assistant from Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Va. Ms. Brock is certified by the National Commission on Certification of Physician assistants. She has experience working in both family medicine and cardiology.

Sign up for our newsletter
We're committed to your privacy. Chesapeake Regional uses the information you provide to contact you about content. You may unsubscribe from these communications at any time.