The physician assistant role developed in the mid 1960's to address the shortage and uneven distribution of primary care physicians in the United States. Duke University graduated the first class of PA's in 1967 — mostly military corpsmen with extensive medical experience gained during the Vietnam war. Physician assistants are health care professionals who are licensed, or in the case of those employed by the federal government, credentialed, to practice medicine with physician supervision. As part of their comprehensive responsibilities, PAs conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery, and write prescriptions. The Physician Assistant profession is always ranked as one of the best jobs in the United States.
PA education was developed on a medical school model, with the first half of the program being didactic and the second half being rotations in hospitals, clinics, and offices. Because PA programs can be completed in two to three years, graduates have the benefit of becoming practicing clinicians quickly. PA education is generalized; PAs can enter any specialization following graduation and can also switch specialties without any additional education, allowing for a vast array of experiences. After graduation, all graduates take the same national certifying exam.
PA schools require extensive clinical experience, typically between 500-2000 hours. This is typically done by working for one-to-two years in a clinical setting following the completion of undergraduate education.
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