FAQ: Physician Assistants (PAs)

Southern California Orthopedic Institute utilizes physician assistants (PAs) who practice as part of the medical team in all areas of orthopedics. Physician assistants can treat patients and write prescriptions when their supervising doctors are away. This helps to maintain continuity of care when doctors are unavailable. PAs are trained to recognize when patients need the attention of a supervising doctor or another specialist.

How do doctors and physician assistants work together?

The relationship between a physician assistant and his or her supervising doctor is characterized by mutual trust and respect; they function as a team in providing quality medical services. The physician assistant is a representative of the doctor and treats patients in the style and manner developed and directed by the supervising doctor.

Physician assistants are colleagues of doctors. They work together to ensure access to quality healthcare in a cost-effective and timely manner. Their training includes anatomy, pharmacology, pathophysiology, clinical medicine, and physical diagnosis and treatment. This training is followed by clinical rotations. A physician assistant is a graduate of an accredited PA program and is authorized by the state or credentialed by the federal government to practice medicine as delegated by and with the supervision of a doctor. He or she is a highly qualified practitioner who is capable of functioning with autonomy as authorized by his or her supervising doctor.

What is a physician assistant?

Physician assistants are healthcare professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. PAs are trained in the same educational format as physicians, for a shorter period of time. Their training consists of over 100 weeks of general primary care education. Most PAs have obtained a bachelor’s degree prior to entering the PA training program. The program consists of classroom and laboratory instruction in medical and behavioral sciences, followed by clinical rotations in various medical specialties, such as internal medicine, surgery, emergency medicine, etc. Upon graduation, PAs take a national examination from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants and become certified (PA-C).

All PAs work under the supervision of a physician and share the responsibility for patient care with the supervising physician.

More than 7000 PAs work in orthopedics, performing history and physicals, ordering and interpreting diagnostic studies, drafting treatment plans, assisting in surgery, and prescribing medications. At the Southern California Orthopedic Institute, we are proud to have well-trained, highly skilled physician assistants as part of our provider team.

What is a physician assistant’s scope of practice?

Doctors may delegate to PAs those medical duties that are within their scope of practice, training, and experience, which are permitted by state law.

Physician assistants provide a comprehensive range of medical and surgical services, which have traditionally been performed by doctors. PAs are trained to conduct physical examinations, diagnose illnesses, order and interpret X-rays and laboratory studies, write prescriptions, develop treatment plans, and instruct and counsel patients. They also treat injuries by suturing, splinting, and casting. Additionally, PAs may assist in surgery. These providers may see patients independently and/or directly with a doctor.

When might I see a PA at Southern California Orthopedic Institute?

At the time of:

  • Initial visit
  • Follow-up care
  • Pre-operative visit
  • Emergency room visit
  • Cast room visit
  • Hospitalization
  • Surgery, in the Operating room

You may see the doctor and his or her PA at the same visit. However, if you do not see the doctor, please know that the physician assistant discusses and reviews your case with his or her supervising doctor.

Will my insurance pay for me to see a PA?

It is customary for insurance to cover services rendered by physician assistants.