Second Opinion: What exactly is a physician assistant, how much training is involved, and how is a PA typically involved in patient care?

A physician assistant (PA) is one of the two most common “mid-level health care providers” currently found in clinical practice, the other being a nurse practitioner. A PA candidate must pass a national certifying exam after completing a 28-month MPA (Master of Physician Assistant) program. This degree would typically be pursued after obtaining a four-year undergraduate degree that included the required prerequisite courses.

The first half of the program is devoted to preclinical studies, and the remaining time to clinical experiences in primary care and the medical and surgical specialties. PAs then come to the clinical arena armed with a procedural skill set that prepares them to suture wounds and perform minor surgical procedures.

PAs practice under the supervision of a physician and many times become specialized over time to learn the particulars of the specialty practiced by the physician, with whom they work.

Ralph Robertson, MD
Medical Director of
Lackey Free Clinic