A PAC (physician's assistant, certified) works under the supervision of a medical doctor or surgeon. Her duties may range from treating minor injuries and completing managerial tasks to ordering and interpreting X-rays and assisting in major surgeries. In some clinics, she may be the main care provider, collaborating with a supervising physician and other medical professionals as needed.
The first class of physician assistants graduated from Duke University in North Carolina in 1967. This program was developed after doctors and educators identified a shortage of primary care physicians, according to the American Academy of Physician Assistants. Dr. Eugene Stead of Duke University Medical Center, who shaped the curriculum, based it partly on his knowledge of the "fast-track training" of doctors in World War II.
Education and Training
The many accredited or provisionally accredited PAC programs offered in the United States each have their own admission requirements, according to the American Academy of Physician Assistants. The minimum requirement for most programs is at least 2 years of college and some background in health care. Most students who are admitted to PAC programs already have a bachelor's degree and health care experience. PAC programs typically take 24 to 32 months to complete and include relevant coursework as well as clinical training.
Licensure and advancement
Every state requires that PACs complete an accredited program and pass a national exam in order to be licensed. To maintain their certification, PACs complete 100 hours of continuing education every 2 years. Every 6 years, they either pass a recertification exam or complete "an alternative program combining learning experiences and a take-home examination," according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
As PACs advance in their career, they may pursue extra education in a particular specialty. As they acquire knowledge and gain experience, they can make more money and take on more responsibility, but the nature of the profession dictates that PACs will never practice medicine without the supervision of a physician.
Some PACs work in family and general medicine; others work in general surgery and surgical subspecialties, according to the American Academy of Physician Assistants. The remainder practice in specialties including general internal medicine, pediatrics, emergency medicine, occupational medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, and dermatology.
Many employed PACs work in a doctor's office, some in hospitals, and others are self-employed or work in settings such as rural clinics, community health centers, nursing homes, colleges or correctional facilities. Some PACs hold more than one clinical job at a time.