What Does A Physician Assistant Do – (Top 30 Duties and Responsibilities)


Written By: Raymond Aguirre, RN, BSN, PHN, CHPN


Physician assistants are some of the most in-demand healthcare professionals today. But what does a physician assistant do? You may be asking this question as you consider entering this profession. Physician assistants have many responsibilities, and they are an important component of the healthcare team. Without them, many people, especially in remote or rural areas, might not receive essential healthcare services. In this article, we will go over the top 30 duties and responsibilities of a physician assistant. By the end, we hope you will be able to make an informed choice about whether this is the right career path for you.



WHAT IS A PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT?


Physician assistants are medical professionals who provide patient care and perform some medical tasks under the supervision of a licensed physician. PAs are trained in a variety of medical procedures, such as taking medical histories and performing physical exams, and they can also order and interpret diagnostic tests. In many states, PAs are allowed to prescribe medications. The PA profession was established in the 1960s, in response to a shortage of physicians. Today, there are more than 115,000 PAs practicing in the United States. They often specialize in a particular area of medicine, such as pediatrics or surgery.



IS IT HARD TO WORK AS A PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT?


The duties of a physician assistant can be quite demanding. Not only do PAs work in fast-paced environments, but they also have high-level responsibilities that can be stressful. Despite the challenges and difficulties of being a PA, however, the work they do can be rewarding because they get to help a lot of people every day.



WHO DETERMINES THE SCOPE OF PRACTICE FOR PHYSICIAN ASSISTANTS?


A physician assistant’s scope of practice is determined primarily on a state and practice level. What this means is that PAs are bound by state medical or physician assistant boards or by the facilities they work. Although all physician assistants generally have a fairly similar educational path, the details of what they can do vary across the country. In no state are physician assistants allowed to practice independently, however.



DO SCOPE OF PRACTICE LAWS FOR PHYSICIAN ASSISTANTS VARY BY STATE?


The scope of practice laws that govern physician assistant duties varies depending on the state in which they live. Some states, like California, have a separate licensing board for physician assistants. In other states, however, a physician assistant’s scope of practice is determined by the medical board, which also governs doctors.



WHERE DO PHYSICIAN ASSISTANTS MOSTLY WORK? – TOP 5 WORKPLACES


Physician assistants work in many healthcare settings. The five most common ones, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are as follows:

• Outpatient care centers (i.e. Urgent care centers, outpatient surgical centers)
• Hospitals (private, public, or non-profit healthcare institutions)
• Doctors’ offices (general or specialty physician practices)
• Government (Local, state, or federal government)
• Education sector (Universities or community colleges)


In most cases, physician assistants work in patient-facing roles, which means they provide direct care for other people.



WHAT IS THE TYPICAL WORK SCHEDULE FOR A PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT?


The typical work schedule of a physician assistant depends on where they work. If they work in doctors’ offices, they may have a typical 9-to-5 schedule. That means they work Mondays to Fridays with the weekends off. However, in most other settings, they may have to work nights, weekends, and holidays.




WHAT DOES A PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT DO?


If you’re reading this article, you might be wondering, “What does a physician assistant do?” Read on to find out the 30 most common duties performed by physician assistants and the skills required to perform them.

DUTY #1: Physician assistants perform physical examinations.


About the Duty:

Physical examinations are perhaps one of the most typical physician assistant duties. When physicians are not available, physician assistants are the ones who check patients who come in either for routine check-ups or specific medical complaints. In either case, physician assistants use their extensive medical training to determine if there is anything wrong with their patients.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

The most important skills you need to perform this duty include a strong grasp of pathophysiology and a keen eye for observation. Knowing your pathophysiology ensures that you can properly identify any possible medical issues among your patients. In addition, good observational skills are important because certain assessments require you to detect even the most minor abnormal findings. Sometimes, patients may present as perfectly normal but have subtle ailments that wouldn’t have otherwise been detected if it weren’t for a trained medical professional like a physician assistant providing the examination.


DUTY #2: Physician assistants prescribe medications.


About the Duty:

Every state has some regulations on what PAs can and cannot prescribe, but all states practically allow physician assistants to write prescriptions to some extent. After assessing their patients, they decide what medications or treatments are appropriate. Prescribing medications is one of the most common physician assistant duties.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

The most important skills you need, as a physician assistant, to perform this duty are pharmacology knowledge and communication skills. Medications can be potent; therefore, physician assistants must be very familiar with drugs and ensure that they are only prescribing the most appropriate ones. Knowledge alone is not enough, however. Many medications come with special instructions, and it is important that you communicate these well with your patients. Otherwise, patients might make mistakes taking their medications and suffer adverse reactions.


DUTY #3: Physician assistants perform spinal taps.


About the Duty:

Physician assistants can and do perform spinal taps. A spinal tap is a procedure where fluid samples are collected from a person’s spine by injection. The purpose of a spinal tap is to detect any infections in the brain and spinal fluid. Because of the risks of this procedure, only advanced clinicians like physician assistants are allowed to do it.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

The most important skill you need to perform this duty is knowing how to do a spinal tap. This is a specialized skill that you may have to practice under direct supervision until you can get comfortable with it. It is not an easy procedure. Spinal taps are not something you can learn to be good at in school. You need to practice this skill for some time. Besides being clinically competent in spinal taps, you also need to learn how to stay focused. Spinal taps are one of those procedures where the margin of error is small. Therefore, you need to be skilled at keeping yourself focused at all times.


DUTY #4: Physician assistants suture wounds.


About the Duty:

Some wounds may be too deep or too large to just let natural healing take its course. Therefore, one of the job duties of a physician assistant is to close these wounds with sutures (a kind of surgical thread). This is a technical procedure that requires the advanced clinical training of physician assistants. Patients who need wound suturing are those who come in with injuries to the urgent care or emergency room. Or, they may be patients undergoing a planned surgery in the operating room.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

To perform this duty, it’s very important for you to be comfortable with your suturing skills and to have a good grasp of infection control practices. Suturing skills are taught in physician assistant schools, but it may take you some time to perfect this skill. It’s also equally important for you to practice infection control skills at all times. Because you are dealing with open wounds, you must remember that patients are at high risk for infections and other complications.


DUTY #5: Physician assistants order X-rays.


About the Duty:

X-rays are important diagnostic tools, especially for patients who may have fractures. People cannot just walk into a clinic and say they want an x-ray. One of the duties of a physician assistant is to first assess the patient and make sure that an x-ray is appropriate. Depending on the physician assistant’s assessment, an x-ray order may then be sent to an imaging facility.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

To perform this duty, you must have strong assessment skills and an ability to coordinate with other members of the healthcare staff. As a physician assistant, it is your responsibility to order x-rays only when it is needed. Your clinical judgment as a trained professional is important in making this decision. In addition, you need to be good at communicating with the healthcare team. Once you decide to order an x-ray, you need to relay this order in a timely manner to x-ray technicians and their managers so that patients can be treated as soon as possible.


DUTY #6: Physician assistants counsel their patients on disease prevention.


About the Duty:

Being a physician assistant is more than just treating the sick. That is why one of the most important physician assistant duties is to provide counseling to patients on how to prevent disease. This is something all patients need, but the ones who need it most are those who are at high risk, such as the elderly, and other people who have other risk factors, such as immunodeficiency or obesity.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

Two of the most important skills you need to perform this duty includes good communication skills and a strong understanding of preventative care. Disease prevention is a unique set of knowledge that you will learn in school to help patients from becoming sick. In order for you to share this knowledge, you need to be able to explain what you know to patients in a clear and understandable manner. It is for this reason that great communication skills are very important.


DUTY #7: Physician assistants provide referrals to specialists when needed.


About the Duty:

Although some physician assistants work in specialized areas of medicine, many of them are considered primary care providers. That means they only provide similar services as that of a general practitioner. In some cases, a patient’s condition requires more than just generalist care. Sometimes, patients need to be seen by specialists, and physician assistants have the power to order referrals as they see fit.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

To perform this duty, you must have good communication skills and practice good judgment. Having good judgment enables you to decide whether a patient’s case needs more advanced evaluation. That is an underrated skill that requires an understanding of your capabilities and your limits as a clinician. In addition to having good judgment, you need to be adept at communicating with specialty providers. You need to give specialists a good report of your patient’s condition to ensure continuity of care.


DUTY #8: Physician assistants need to write clinical documentation.


About the Duty:

Clinical documentation is one of the most common duties of a physician assistant. This can include clinical assessment forms or reports needed for insurance reimbursement. Although there are still physician assistants who document on paper, healthcare technology has advanced to a point where electronic health records are more commonplace. Therefore, physician assistants nowadays write clinical documentation on the computer.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

As a physician assistant, the most important skills you need to perform this duty include familiarity with electronic health records software (EHR) and attention to detail. Although there are different types of EHR software, a general understanding of how electronic charting works is important in performing this duty. In addition, you must have strong attention to detail as it can be easy to miss documenting small, but important medical information.


DUTY #9: Physician assistants may need to perform chronic care management.


About the Duty:

Chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension are on the rise. One of the top duties of a physician assistant is to help patients manage chronic conditions and live longer and healthier lives. This may include recurrent follow-up visits, medication review and management, and counseling appointments. Chronic care management is a multipronged clinical approach that goes beyond just treating illnesses or prescribing medications. It requires a holistic mindset in caring for others.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

In order to perform this duty, you must have the ability to see trends in patients’ conditions and be able to communicate. Knowing how to spot trends (i.e. a patient’s blood glucose levels over time) will help you in making decisions about whether a patient’s chronic disease is being properly managed. Communication is likewise important both in terms of providing patient education and also in coordinating with members of the healthcare team.


DUTY #10: Physician assistants provide health clearances.


About the Duty:

When people apply for jobs or enter school, they are usually required to furnish a health clearance demonstrating that they are physically fit. Without a clearance, they might not be hired or admitted to a school. Physician assistants are authorized to provide these health clearances after a brief medical examination. Providing health clearances is a fairly easy task, but it is definitely important to those who need it for work or school.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

The main things you need to perform this duty as a physician assistant include assessment skills and documentation skills. Assessment skills will provide you with a clear picture of the physical fitness of a person. You need to be objective and comprehensive in your assessment. After you have done your assessment, you must be able to document your findings, which is why documentation skills are also important.


DUTY #11: Physician assistants provide mental health services.


About the Duty:

Mental health is a specialized field within healthcare for patients with psychiatric conditions. Physician assistants may choose to focus on this specialty area sometime during their careers. As mental health care providers, physician assistants may order medications, coordinate counseling treatments, and perhaps even collaborate with public agencies if their patients are under an involuntary hold.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

Two of the most important skills you’ll need as a mental health physician assistant include problem-solving skills and empathy. Some patients in the mental health system may have complicated cases. Therefore, helping them requires innovative and creative thinking. And because many mental health patients may be undergoing severe stress, you also need to have a non-judgmental attitude. You must be able to identify their pains and help them navigate through their conditions.


DUTY #12: Physician assistants may be asked to do home visits.


About the Duty:

As hospital stays become shorter, more people are now recovering in their homes. These people continue to need medical treatment, and therefore need the help of healthcare providers like physician assistants. Physician assistant responsibilities in home care settings include visiting patients to monitor their condition and making changes to their medication orders as necessary. In some cases, they may also perform medical procedures at a patient’s home.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

To perform this duty, you must be able to work independently and be resourceful. Knowing how to work independently is important because, unlike working in a facility, the home care setting can appear unstructured. You need to know how to organize your time and make sure that you see the patients you need to see. In addition, because you may have limited equipment and supplies when seeing patients, you need to be resourceful. You have to know how to work with the tools you have at the moment because they may be inaccessible to you during your visits.


DUTY #13: Physician assistants may take part in research trials.


About the Duty:

Medicine is a constantly evolving field. Clinical research is vital to the progress of the healthcare industry and physician assistants can play a huge role in making it happen. Physician assistants may perform clinical duties such as monitoring and documenting patients or administering experimental medications and treatments.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

To perform this duty well as a physician assistant, you must have good observation and problem-solving skills. Being a keen observer is important because you must be able to spot any discreet changes in patients’ conditions. These findings are important in determining the effectiveness of new treatments. Likewise, it is also important to have good problem-solving skills. There may be moments when you, as the physician assistant, have to be innovative in your approach when dealing with unexpected situations during clinical research projects. Problem-solving skills will make you an asset to your research facility and a trusted provider for your patients.


DUTY #14: Physician assistants may debride wounds.


About the Duty:

One of the most typical physician assistant duties includes wound debridement, the process of removing infected or dead tissue from a wound. Typically, wounds that need debridement are big, chronic wounds, which are usually found in patients with advanced disease and/or limited mobility. Wound debridement is a specialized type of procedure that only advanced clinicians like physician assistants are allowed to perform. It is typically performed by scraping a wound with a sharp, sterile device, such as a scalpel.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

Two of the most important skills you need to perform this duty include knowing debridement procedures and a good grasp of infection control practices. There is a risk of injuring a patient during a debridement procedure, so you have to make sure you are comfortable with performing this skill before you do it. In addition, you must remember that you are dealing with skin breakdown, which means that patients have increased chances of becoming infected. That means you, as the physician assistant, must ensure you are abiding by the best infection control practices.


DUTY #15: Physician assistants may provide emergency care, such as resuscitation.


About the Duty:

Some physician assistants work in emergency departments. That means they may encounter patients who have acute, critical conditions. These can be people who’ve had a heart attack or have been a victim of gunshot wounds. The job duties of a physician assistant in the emergency setting include performing resuscitative measures, such as using a defibrillator or administering drugs like epinephrine.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

In order to provide emergency care as a physician assistant, the most important skills you need include the ability to stay calm under pressure and work in a team setting. Emergencies are high-stress events; therefore, you need to be able to maintain your composure even if your environment is chaotic. Your patient’s life may depend on your ability to stay calm. Thankfully, you are not alone during emergencies. Resuscitative care is typically performed as a team, but that would mean you need to be good at working with others in order to be a helpful team member.


DUTY #16: Physician assistants may train new colleagues at times.


About the Duty:

Most physician assistant duties revolve around providing patient care. However, PAs, especially the more experienced ones, may be asked to train colleagues who are new to a facility. Because every facility has its nuances, physician assistants who train others must ensure that new fellow PAs have all the knowledge and skills they need to be successful on the job.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

To perform this duty, you need to have the desire to teach and to have good communication skills. Not every physician assistant wants to be a trainer or preceptor because some just don’t have that desire to teach. Wanting to be a trainer, however, is not enough. If you do want to train fellow PAs, you must practice your communication skills to make sure that your colleagues gain a meaningful learning experience from you.


DUTY #17: Physician assistants may provide end-of-life care in hospice agencies.


About the Duty:

Patients who have advanced diseases may no longer respond to conventional medical treatment. For this reason, they seek comfort care, instead of curative care. Physician assistants may sometimes work in settings that deal with these types of patients. In hospice care, common physician assistant duties may have to order medications that provide symptom management for pain, respiratory distress, nausea/vomiting, or even constipation.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

As a physician assistant, you need to have empathy and good communication skills to work in hospice care. Empathy is important because it helps you understand what your patient needs. Hospice care can be depressing, but it can be rewarding as well if you can empathize with your patients. In addition, communication skills are important because terminally ill people are at a very serious moment in their life. You need to not just be able to talk, but also actively listen to your patients.


DUTY #18: Physician assistants may educate students in physician assistant programs.


About the Duty:

Physician assistants may take a job in academia as a professor or clinical instructor. In this capacity, PAs provide instruction to students who want to become physician assistants. Physician assistants may teach in a classroom setting if they are teaching theory, or they may work in a clinical setting if they are supervising students for their practicum. In any case, the goal is the same: to impart knowledge and inspire the future generation of physician assistants.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

To be an effective educator as a physician assistant, you need to have patience and the ability to stay up-to-date on the most recent standards of practice. Patience is important because you need to teach students who are just getting started in a field you’ve probably been in for many years. Without patience, you won’t be able to teach effectively. In addition, you also need to be updated with the latest knowledge for PAs, because you want to make sure that you are teaching students the most relevant information they need to succeed in the field.


DUTY #19: Physician assistants have mandated reporter duties.


About the Duty:

Physician assistant duties include making formal reports to the ombudsman or other government agencies when they suspect that a patient is being neglected or abused. It is not the job of physician assistants to do a formal investigation. They only need to know the process for contacting public agencies that will then launch their investigation. This is a very serious duty for physician assistants and one that can carry hefty fines and penalties if not carried out.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

To practice this duty, you must have good observational skills and a strong grasp of mandated reporting procedures. Observational skills will allow you to detect signs of neglect or abuse, which can sometimes be subtle in nature. It is not enough to be observant though. Because abuse and neglect reporting is a formal procedure, you need to know the protocols to follow to properly file a report.


DUTY #20: Physician assistants may provide telehealth services.


About the Duty:

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought telehealth services to the forefront. However, even as things start to get better, providing remote health services will continue to be part of the healthcare system. There are still patients, especially in distant or rural places, who can’t travel far to see a healthcare provider. Top physician assistant duties in telehealth include conducting remote assessments as well as ordering medications and other treatments that their patients need.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

To become an effective telehealth provider as a physician assistant, you need to be skilled at asking good assessment questions and be comfortable in using technology. Since you cannot physically touch your patients during your assessment, the only way for you to get a good grasp of your patients’ conditions is by asking focused assessment questions. In addition, you need to have a good grasp of telehealth technology. New tools can take some time to get used to, but with time, you can be proficient at telehealth equipment such as video conferences or monitoring software.


DUTY #21: Physician assistants may perform advocacy duties.


About the Duty:

Not all physician assistant duties include direct patient care. That doesn’t mean that those duties are any less important. Some physician assistants may decide to work with non-profit organizations that advocate for policy changes that can improve patient care quality or working conditions for physician assistants. As an advocate, physician assistant duties may include traveling to state or federal government offices to speak with elected leaders. They may also hold public awareness campaigns where they are asked to speak in front of other people about the cause they are advocating.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

To perform this duty, you must have good communication skills and a passion for the cause you are advocating. You will do a lot of talking as an advocate, either one-on-one or with large groups. It’s not enough that you know how to talk to others, however. For you to be an effective advocate, you also need to believe strongly in what you stand for. Advocacy can be a challenging role, and it will be hard to carry it out if you don’t have enough passion for your cause.


DUTY #22: Physician assistants may be asked to work as a provider in mobile health clinics.


About the Duty:

Mobile health clinics are not much different from regular clinics. The only difference is that mobile health clinics move from place to place to provide care for patients in different areas. The job of physician assistants in mobile health clinics is to examine patients, provide medical advice, and prescribe treatments as necessary. In addition, they may have to arrange for follow-up calls or referrals to their patients. Some patients may require further evaluation, but a PA might not be able to see those patients again. Therefore, PAs must help these patients get alternative methods of treatment and follow-up.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

The most important skills you’ll need as a physician assistant in a mobile healthcare setting include care coordination skills and high clinical competence.


DUTY #23: Physician assistants may be asked to participate in quality improvement projects.


About the Duty:

Healthcare is a constantly evolving field. The changes that happen in healthcare are typically driven by the need to enhance the quality of care that patients receive. As healthcare providers, physician assistants may be asked to be members of healthcare quality committees. As part of their role, they may be asked to put forth suggestions for improving patient care or perhaps be assigned to draft new policies and procedures that could affect patient care on a system-wide level.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

The most important skills you’ll need to practice this duty include critical thinking and communication skills. To provide meaningful input, you need to be able to think critically about your work setting and provide creative solutions to the problems you see. In addition, you need to be able to express your ideas in a way that will get the attention of decision-makers in your facility.


DUTY #24: Physician assistants may provide rehabilitative care to injured workers.


About the Duty:

Despite continued improvements in working conditions and labor laws, workers still do get injured at work. For this reason, they may seek medical assistance through occupational health services. Some of the top physician assistant duties in these settings include planning rehabilitation treatments, coordinating with other healthcare personnel such as therapists, and prescribing medications. PAs may also be asked to perform periodic evaluations to see if a patient is ready to go back to work.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

Executing this duty requires that you have deep medical knowledge and good care coordination abilities. Your medical knowledge is vital in ensuring that patients recover as quickly as possible because workplace injuries can be costly, both to employers and employees. Besides having clinical knowledge, you also need to be competent in collaborating with other healthcare providers. PAs can’t possibly restore an injured worker’s health on their own, which is why they need to tap into the skills of other healthcare professionals.


DUTY #25: Physician assistants may supervise others.


About the Duty:

Physician assistants, especially those with years of experience, may find themselves being thrust into leadership roles at work. As advanced practice providers, physician assistants may sometimes be asked to supervise medical assistants, X-ray technicians, therapy aides, or perhaps even other physician assistant duties. As a supervisor, physician assistants may be in charge of creating staff schedules, writing performance evaluations, and making hiring decisions.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

To be an effective supervisor as a physician assistant, the skills you’ll need include leadership skills and organization skills. As a leader, you should understand that you are not just someone’s boss. Your job as a leader is to ensure that your subordinates are treated fairly in a safe and professional environment. In addition, you also be very organized. Physician assistants who work as supervisors have multiple duties, and you will need to learn how to balance them all effectively.


DUTY #26: Physician assistants may write in consumer and trade publications.


About the Duty:

Physician assistants hold a wealth of medical knowledge. That knowledge is valuable to many people who read various types of magazines and trade journals. Although physician assistant job duties don’t always involve publishing, some physician assistants who have an interest in writing can take on freelance work on a per-project basis. They may pitch publications with their ideas or apply for various writing opportunities that are advertised on the internet.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

The most obvious skill you need for this duty is writing. Being able to write well is a powerful skill, and if this is something that interests you, then perhaps you can sharpen your abilities and expose your work by writing on various platforms on the internet. In addition to writing skills, however, you also need some good research skills. Even though your knowledge as a PA is valuable, you may still need to back up your claims with actual data.


DUTY #27: Physician assistants may be asked to serve as legal witnesses.


About the Duty:

Some civil and criminal court cases may involve medical situations that only healthcare providers like physician assistants can speak about. For this reason, physician assistants may be asked to take the witness stand and provide expert testimony on behalf of a patient or fellow healthcare provider. PAs who serve as legal witnesses play an important role in making sure that proper judgment is handed in medically-related legal cases.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

To perform this duty, you must have the ability to stay impartial and be able to communicate well. There are legal cases that may affect you on a personal level, but it is important not to be swayed by emotions. The fairness of the legal system depends on your unbiased expert opinion. It is also important that you can express ideas clearly because what you say plays an important role when a judge or jury hands down a legal decision.


DUTY #28: Physician assistants may provide prenatal care.


About the Duty:

Some physician assistants decide to specialize in the care of pregnant women. In those cases, PAs educate patients on various health matters, such as prenatal nutrition and diabetes prevention. They also monitor the progress of their patients’ pregnancies for any potential complications and make referrals to other specialist providers if needed.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

To provide prenatal care, you need to have good assessment skills and a calm, reassuring way of communicating with others. Many changes happen to women during pregnancy; therefore, you must be very familiar with these changes. In addition, you also need to have to communicate well with your patients. Pregnancy can be a time of great uncertainty for some people, which is why they need physician assistants like you to be their voice of reassurance.


DUTY #29: Physician assistants attend seminars and educational events related to their profession.


About the Duty:

Physician assistants need to stay up-to-date on their knowledge to give the highest quality of care to their patients. For this reason, physician assistant job duties may include attending symposiums and other events that educate them on the latest trends and developments in healthcare and the physician assistant profession. Attending these events are typically paid for by the physician assistant’s employer, though they can certainly attend events at their expense voluntarily.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

To perform this duty, you must have a sense of curiosity and analytical thinking. Having a curious mind will allow you to appreciate educational opportunities that may present themselves during your career. Analytical thinking, on the other hand, will allow you to use whatever raw information you learn at these seminars in your workplace.


DUTY #30: Physician assistants play a role in coordinating a patient’s transfer from one healthcare setting to another.


About the Duty:

One of the duties that physician assistants perform is to help arrange care for patients who are moving to a different healthcare setting. Perhaps a patient from the hospital needs to go to a skilled nursing facility or a home health agency. With the assistance of case managers, physician assistants may be the ones who decide which facility or agency a patient goes to. This role is especially important as patients may not have the information to make the right decision on this matter.

Skills Required to Perform this Duty:

To perform this duty, you need to have good care coordination skills as well as familiarity with facilities and agencies near your workplace. Transferring patients is done by several people. Therefore, you need to be able to work in a team. In addition, you need to know not only which facilities are near you, but which ones are most equipped to help your patients fully recover.



WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON MISTAKES PHYSICIAN ASSISTANTS MAKE AT WORK AND HOW TO FIX THEM?


The healthcare profession won’t be as robust without the help of physician assistants. However, they are humans and may make mistakes, too. Here are seven of the common mistakes physician assistants make at work and how they can be fixed.

MISTAKE #1: Physician assistants may forget to complete their tasks.


About the Mistake:

The list of physician assistant job duties is long. It can be daunting to see many patients, review lab tests, order multiple medications, and do other things at work. This can result in physician assistants feeling overwhelmed. As a result, they may forget to do certain things they’re supposed to do or fall behind on their work. This can lead to not just a decrease in their performance, but also a deterioration in the quality of patient care.

How to Fix it:

To avoid this problem, you need to stay organized. One way you can do this is by keeping a notepad handy so you can keep track of your to-do list. By having a list, you will not have to rely on your memory to stay on track.


MISTAKE #2: Physician assistants may forget to take breaks.


About the Mistake:

Physician assistants can have very stressful jobs at times. That’s why they need to take breaks, no matter how busy they may be that day. In addition, it is also mandated for any workers to take breaks. Therefore, it is not only good practice to take breaks, it’s also a legal requirement.

How to Fix it:

Having good time management skills is a good way to fix this problem. Before starting your day, find a time that you can block out to take at least a 30-minute break. Then, try to find a way to plan your tasks around your break. As a physician assistant, things may happen unexpectedly that could derail your schedule, but having a plan makes it easier for you to get back on track.


MISTAKE #3: Physician assistants may overstep their boundaries


About the Mistake:

Physician assistants may not do this intentionally, but there are times when they might find themselves doing tasks that are beyond their scope of practice. This can be dangerous for patients as well as their standing as licensed providers.

How to Fix it:

When in doubt about a certain task, stop. Take a breath and think about what you are about to do. If you are unsure whether you can perform something within your physician assistant license, make sure to ask questions.


MISTAKE #4: Physician assistants may not be keeping up with the latest standards of practice


About the Mistake:

The duties of a physician assistant extend far beyond clinical work. To maintain their competence, they must also be proactive in staying up-to-date on new developments in their field, such as new treatments and protocols.

How to Fix it:

You can fix this mistake by making learning a routine part of your profession. Instead of waiting for educational opportunities to arise, take the initiative to read journals or attend short courses that are relevant to being a physician assistant. You do not have to spend a lot of time doing this. A few hours each week may be all you need to stay competent as a physician assistant.


MISTAKE #5: Physician assistants may not produce adequate documentation for clinical or legal purposes.


About the Mistake:

Charting is a big part of a physician assistant’s job. Without proper documentation, it may be hard to ensure continuity of care among patients. In addition, patients and healthcare facilities might not receive appropriate reimbursement without a good set of clinical documentation.

How to Fix it:

To produce complete and accurate documentation, you need to double-check your charting before submitting them. That way, you can catch your own mistakes and address them before it’s too late.


MISTAKE #6: Physician assistants might forget to get to know their patients personally.


About the Mistake:

Physician assistants may be too busy at times to even ask their patients’ names. Not developing genuine connections with patients reflects poorly on the physician assistant and can lower the standards of care at a facility.

How to Fix it:

No matter how busy you are, spend at least a minute just to get to know your patients. Ask how they’re doing and assure them that you are there to help. Patients need more than just medical attention. They also need to feel that their physician assistant is a person they can connect with and trust.


MISTAKE #7: Physician assistants may forget to practice proper infection control.


About the Mistake:

Infections harm patients and can lead to unnecessary expenses for healthcare facilities. Physician assistants may sometimes forget to practice simple ways to prevent infection, such as handwashing.

How to Fix it:

To practice infection control consistently, you must be intentional about it. Try to be conscious of your actions and always wash your hands or use hand sanitizer in between patients.




WHAT IS AN EXAMPLE OF A TYPICAL DAY IN THE LIFE OF A PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT?


Terry is a physician assistant at an urgent care center. He is a fictional character, but his experience reflects a typical day in the life of a physician assistant.

09:00 AM to 09:30 AM:

It’s still quiet at the urgent care, but we are a bit short-staffed today, so things may get busy. Right now, I’m just going through new policies and procedures that will be implemented next week.

09:30 AM to 10:30 AM:

Dr. Jones and I begin taking patients. A few have already come in just before I was assigned to a room, but there might be more. My first patient is an old woman who has been having swollen legs for the past several weeks. I prescribe some diuretics, or water pills, to hopefully fix that. After the old woman, I see an eight-year-old who had to miss going to school today because he has a cold. His condition doesn’t seem serious, but I ask the medical assistant to conduct a COVID-19 test, just in case.

10:30 to 11:30 AM:

It’s definitely a busy day! The waiting room is filled, but I need to catch up with some documentation before I move on to the next patient so I can transmit my prescription orders to the pharmacy. After charting and double-checking them for about 30 minutes, I have time to see one patient. She is a 26-year-old female who just needs clearance for work. She seems fine, based on my examination, so I sign her off. The medical assistant tells me that our schoolboy is clear of COVID. I sign him off to return to school tomorrow.

11:30 AM to 12:00 PM:

A patient comes in saying that his hand got caught in the door and thinks it’s broken. He can move it, but just for precaution, I give him a finger immobilizer and send him off for an x-ray. I also prescribe some mild painkillers.

12:00 PM to 12:30 PM:

Lunch time!

12:30 PM to 01:30 PM:

A 95-year-old man comes into the facility, accompanied by his older son. The man has an oddly-colored lump on his forehead that’s been there for weeks. I suspect skin cancer and consider a referral to a dermatologist. Before I do, I call Dr. Jones to tell him what I thought and what I planned to do. He agreed.

1:30 PM to 2:30 PM:

The urgent care seems to be calming down at this point. Because things may happen at any second, I try to take advantage of this lull by finishing some documentation. Afterward, I take about half an hour to complete some continuing education modules from the corporate office.

2:30 to 3:00 PM:

Dr. Jones comes to my office and closes the door behind him. He reveals to me that Dana, the office manager, has to go on leave. He needs help managing and supervising the staff. So far, he said, I was his best bet, so he asks if I can supervise some medical assistants. I briefly hesitate, but I realize that it’s for the good of the urgent care center. I agreed.

3:00 PM to 4:00 PM:

I see a few more patients, most of them with minor illnesses whom I prescribed medications for. There was a man, however, who had extremely high blood pressure that wouldn’t go down even after 30 minutes. He needs to be monitored so I advise him to seek help at the emergency room just behind the urgent care center.

4:00 to 5:00 PM:

The shift is winding down. The lobby is clear by now, and I finish the rest of my documentation. Let’s see what tomorrow brings. When you work at urgent care, you never know what’s going to happen.



USEFUL RESOURCES TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF A PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT


These are a few resources available online if you want to learn more about being a physician assistant.

Blogs/Websites

With Ashley Kay-

The blog is run and hosted by Ashley Kay, a physician assistant specializing in plastic surgery. Her posts are unique because she incorporates fashion and other lifestyle topics. The design of her blog also looks like she put a lot of thought and effort into it.

PA Cents-

PA Cents is a blog that focuses primarily on helping physician assistants with finances. This is a relevant website because becoming a physician assistant can be costly. There is definitely a need for sites like PA Cents to provide education.

YouTube Videos

So You Want to Be a PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT-

This animated video was created by Med School Insiders. For those looking for a quick overview of the PA profession, this is a great video to watch because of its insightful and engaging content.

Urgent Care Physician Assistant Vlog (Day in the Life of A PA)-

This video is hosted by Dani the PA. What’s great about this video is it walks you through the actual day of a PA. It’s a great perspective that helps you decide if this career is for you.

Podcasts

The Audio PANCE and PANRE-

For those who are looking for a test review resource for physician assistants, this podcast is devoted solely to that purpose. Subscribing to this podcast can be very helpful as you go along your journey from student to physician assistant.

MTP Podcast-

This podcast is hosted by two physician assistants, Rachel Thompson and Rebecca Mueller. Both are experienced clinicians who share interviews with other physician assistants. Those who want to listen to deep dives into the PA profession should definitely check this podcast out.



BONUS! WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON CHALLENGES PHYSICIAN ASSISTANTS FACE AT WORK AND HOW TO OVERCOME THEM?


Being a physician assistant comes with unique challenges. Here are five of them.

CHALLENGE #1: Physicians have to deal with difficult patients at times.



About the Challenge:

While some patients may be pleasant to interact with, some may be difficult. This can be frustrating to physician assistants, who are trying their best to carry out their duties.

How to Overcome it:

If you feel overwhelmed or frustrated with a patient, take a few minutes to unwind. If you have to remove yourself from a situation temporarily, do so. Maintaining your welfare and composure is important if you want to provide proper care to your patients.

CHALLENGE #2: Physician assistants may have difficulty keeping up with technological changes at the workplace.



About the Challenge:

The duties of a physician assistant can be difficult to execute with the constant changes in equipment and digital tools at work. Computers carry a learning curve that may prove challenging to physician assistants.

How to Overcome it:

While there are no easy ways to overcome technological difficulties, one way to overcome this problem is by keeping an open mind and a sense of curiosity. See changes as a chance to grow, not unnecessary sources of discomfort.

CHALLENGE #3: Physician assistants may find it hard to keep up with healthcare regulations.



About the Challenge:

Healthcare laws are notoriously complex. Understanding them, let alone complying with all of them consistently, can be an arduous task.

How to Overcome it:

Do your best to study policies in your workplace. And whenever your employer has an in-service session, make sure to attend so you stay informed.

CHALLENGE #4: Physician assistants may have to deal with medically complex patients.



About the Challenge:

Some patients need more care than others. There are patients who are so sick that they require a lot of monitoring, medication orders, and diagnostic tests. For physician assistants, it may be difficult to care for these patients.

How to Overcome it:

The best way to overcome the challenge of caring for medically complex patients is to stay up-to-date on your medical knowledge and enlist the help of your colleagues when needed. It’s important to be competent on your own, but delivering high-quality care is rarely an individual effort. Your peers can help you if you have patients who need a lot of help.

CHALLENGE #5: Physician assistants may find it difficult to stay engaged at work sometimes.



About the Challenge:

For physician assistants who have been in the field for a long time, it’s possible for them to feel that they are not being challenged or fulfilled enough. The result is that they may feel disengaged.

How to Overcome it:

If you’re feeling uninspired as a physician assistant, try to find at least one interesting thing during your day. It’s possible that you may just need to be more intentional about looking at the positive aspects of your job. If, however, you feel like you need a change, don’t be afraid to look for alternative options. As a physician assistant, you have a lot of career mobility. Be willing to find another job if that is what you feel you need. Sometimes, a change of scenery can help renew your interest in a profession you think isn’t working out for you anymore.



MY FINAL THOUGHTS


You’ve clicked on this article because perhaps, you’re asking, “what does a physician assistant do?” As you have read here, physician assistants have multiple responsibilities that are all important. What we have listed are just the top 30 duties and responsibilities of a physician assistant. But don’t think that those are the only things physician assistants do. As the healthcare system continues to evolve, so will the important role of physician assistants. If you are considering this profession, the important thing is to keep an open mind and stay optimistic about the changes that will likely occur in the future.



FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY OUR EXPERT


1. Are Physician Assistant Duties Stressful?

Physician assistants sometimes have difficult jobs. However, the work of helping others can be very rewarding.


2. What Are The 3 Most Common Daily Duties Of A Physician Assistant?

The three most common duties of a physician assistant include:

• Examining patients
• Prescribing medications
• Interpreting laboratory results



3. What Are The 3 Least Common Physician Assistant Duties?

The three least common duties of a physician assistant include:

• Taking part in research trials
• Participating in quality improvement projects
• Serving as legal witnesses



4. What Are The 3 Most Stressful Physician Assistant Duties?

The answer to this question will vary from one physician to the next, but the three most stressful physician assistant duties likely include:

• Providing emergency care
• Performing spinal taps
• Managing patients with chronic conditions



5. What Are The 3 Least Stressful Physician Assistant Duties?

Once again, the answer to this question can be different from one PA to another, but these are arguably three of the least stressful duties of a physician assistant:

• Providing health clearances
• Attending seminars and other educational events
• Participating in quality improvement projects



6. What Are The 3 Most Fun Duties Of A Physician Assistant?

Physician assistants define fun differently, but these three duties sound fun:

• Providing care in a mobile health clinic
• Writing for publications
• Attending seminars and educational events



7. What Are The 3 Most Mundane Duties Of A Physician Assistant?

These are three of the most mundane duties of a physician assistant:

• Writing clinical documentation
• Making reports to government agencies as a mandated reporter
• Providing health clearances



8. What Are The 3 Most Gross Duties Of A Physician Assistant?

These three duties are perhaps three of the grossest duties of a physician assistant:

• Performing wound debridement
• Performing wound sutures
• Performing a spinal tap



9. What Are The 3 Easiest Physician Assistant Job Duties?

The three easiest physician assistant duties likely include:

• Ordering X-Rays
• Providing health clearances
• Making referrals to specialists



10. What Are The 3 Most Challenging Physician Assistant Job Duties?

These are three of the most challenging duties of physician assistants:

• Performing spinal taps
• Providing emergency care and resuscitation
• Prescribing the right medications



11. What Are The 3 Most Time-Consuming Physician Assistant Job Duties?

The following are three of the most time-consuming duties of a physician assistant:

• Writing clinical documentation
• Writing for trade and consumer publications
• Providing emergency care and resuscitation



12. Are Physician Assistants Happy With What They Do?


Physician assistants are unique from one another. It’s hard to tell if physician assistants are happy with their jobs as a whole. However, physician assistants do have many career options. Those who are unhappy with their current job don’t just have the option to find another facility to work for, they also have opportunities to switch specialties throughout their career. Physician assistants are trained to be versatile healthcare professionals, so their skills are relevant to many types of healthcare settings.


Raymond Aguirre RN, BSN, PHN, CHPN
Raymond M.E. Aguirre is a registered nurse with years of experience in the medical field. He currently works as a public health nurse and has years of experience in home health, hospice, and skilled nursing facility settings.