AAPA Vote Changes Official Definition of “What is a Physician Assistant?”
by SDPA Immediate Past President, John Notabartolo, MPAS, PA-C
Boston was the scene of this year’s AAPA House of Delegates (HoD) meeting. The HoD is the body that considers policy and recommends changes that impact PAs practicing everywhere in the US and in every specialty. Representatives from every state, specialty, and interest group come together to shape the future of our profession. The AAPA also represents PAs in a political sense. They are our united voice to legislators on Capitol Hill and set priorities when lobbying to best affect our future. They are the “keepers of the keys” and maintain policy statements that are used to influence PA legislation across the country.
For as long as I’ve been a PA, nearly 20 years now, this has been the published AAPA definition of “What Is A Physician Assistant?”
Physician assistants are health professionals licensed, or in the case of those employed by the federal government, credentialed to practice medicine with supervision. Physician assistants are qualified by graduation from an accredited physician assistant educational program and/or certification by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants.
Within the physician-PA relationship, physician assistants exercise autonomy in medical decision-making and provide a broad range of diagnostic and therapeutic services.
The 2014 HoD took on the task of updating this definition, and here’s the result:
PAs are health professionals licensed or, in the case of those employed by the federal government, credentialed to practice medicine in association with designated collaborating physicians. PAs are qualified by graduation from an accredited PA educational program and/or certification by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants.
Within the physician-PA relationship, PAs provide patient-centered medical care services as a member of a health care team. PAs practice with defined levels of autonomy and exercise independent medical decision making within their scope of practice.
In an overwhelming vote the HoD changed the words that define who we are. Notice that the word “supervision” is no longer included and has been replaced by “collaboration.” This word better conveys to both physicians and the public what we really do every day.
This is pretty exciting, but dig a little deeper, you’ll notice the phrase “physician assistant” is only used when spelling out the name of the NCCPA. The AAPA decided to limit the use of the word “assistant” to avoid the need to explain the complexity of our professional relationships and inadequacies of our name.
What does this mean for us in clinical practice? Better branding of the term PA, the opportunity to revise legislation within our states to reflect collaboration rather than supervision, and a clear pathway to a future that includes the physician-PA team model of practice for many years to come.