Physician Assistant vs. Physician Associate

by Bianca Belcher, Physician Assistant


In the past few years there has been an increased charge to change the name of our profession from physician assistant to physician associate. There are groups that sit very adamantly on each side. If you are considering applying to PA school, you might want to start to formulate your own opinion based on the pros and cons of each side since there is not a clear right and wrong answer.

Arguments to keep the current name:

  • Regardless of what “PA” stands for, the patient population will still need to be educated on what a PA can do. Whether a patient is asking “what is a physician assistant?” or “what is a physician associate?” – the answer is the same. A name change will not replace patient and co-worker education.
  • The field has grown quickly with the current name, changing it now could lead to confusion.
  • Changing the name is costly.
    • It takes financial and volunteer resources to lobby legislators to open up legislation for change. These are resources that could be used to further the PA profession in tangible way such as eliminating practice barriers.
    • PA programs and other supporting organizations will need to purchase all new materials/branding.
  • Journals and medical literature data retrieval may be difficult given a name change.
  • Opening legislation could potentially lead to the reduction of practice privileges that we have worked so hard to gain. Every state would have to reopen all legislation containing the words “physician assistant” to change it to associate and in doing so opens up that same legislation to change.

Arguments for change:

  • The term “assistant” is a misnomer and down plays the PA role in patient care. PAs work as an integral part of the medical team.
  • Patients confuse physician assistants with medical assistants.
  • “Assistant” denotes a technical job, not a professional one.
  • The role of a PA has evolved since the profession’s inception and our name should match that evolution.
  • With the PA profession expanding internationally, it is important to develop a name that better encompasses our role and is understood beyond our boarders.
  • PAs are held to the same medical and legal standards as physicians. The term assistant projects a lesser standard. 

SEARCH FOR PA GRADUATE PROGRAMS

Find Schools