Physician assistants (PAs) are valued members of the health care team. PAs are currently licensed in all 50 of the United States by delegation or regulatory authority. Working under the supervision of doctors of allopathic medicine and/or doctors of osteopathic medicine, PAs obtain medical histories, perform physical examinations, establish diagnoses and treat illnesses, provides patient education and medical advice, counsels patients, assists in surgery, dictates proper treatment orders, and interprets laboratory and other diagnostic studies. In 49 of the 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Guam, laws are in place that authorize PAs to prescribe medication or transmit orders for dispensing medication including narcotics Because of the close working relationship PAs have with supervising physicians, PAs are educated in the medical model to expand the capabilities of physicians. As such, PAs see many of the same types of patients and perform many of the same tasks as physicians, leaving the supervising physician to deal with more challenging cases. The responsibilities of the PA depend upon a number of factors, including state laws and regulations, years of experience and training, and the setting in which the PAs practice, which all comprises the PA's scope of practice.
The growth of the physician assistant profession has been exponential over the past several years. The job market remains strong in most areas of the United States, especially in rural and inner city locations. The National Industry-Occupation Employment Outlook published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor predicts an increase in physician assistant employment from 2004 to 2014 and lists the physician assistant currently as the fourth fastest growing profession in the United States. Physician assistants are employed in a wide variety of health care facilities from academic to administrative to hospitals, clinics, and private practice settings. They work in HMOs, clinics, nursing homes, emergency departments, practice offices, industrial and occupational medicine, research, correctional medicine, and Veterans Administration and Public Health Service Centers.