States slow to adopt 'physician associate' term

The American Academy of Physician Associates adopted the title "physician associate" for the PA profession in May 2021. At the time, it acknowledged there would be a significant number of regulatory requirements that needed to be put in place before the new title would be broadly adopted.

It's been almost two years and, to date, no government entity at any level — federal or state — has signed off on the change, which means PAs cannot yet use the title "physician associate."

The AAPA continues to support and provide resources to state PA organizations — who will determine when and how to pursue PA title change through the legislative and regulatory process, Jennifer Orozco, AAPA president and chair of the board, told Becker's.

She said her organization knew the road to widespread adoption of the new title was not going to be smooth. "When the decision to update the profession's title was made, we understood that implementation would be a complex and challenging undertaking involving a variety of stakeholders — not only state PA-led organizations and PA programs but also state and federal governments, regulators and employers." 

She reiterated two statistics that informed the AAPA's original decision to request a formal title change. "PAs do more than assist," she said, noting "71 percent of patients surveyed [by analytics firm Kantar] agreed that the title 'physician associate' matches the job description of a PA. Over 61 percent of physicians surveyed agreed with those patients."

The title change, once adopted, would not alter a PA's job responsibilities, nor would it require more training. What it would do, Ms. Orozco said, is highlight the important work PAs do and would provide assurance to patients that PAs "provide excellent care."

"A more accurate title will improve patients' understanding, which leads to better patient experiences," she said. 

Ms. Orozco said better understanding of the profession will offer options to the "more than 99 million Americans lacking adequate access to primary care and 160 million Americans without adequate access to mental healthcare.

"PAs have a significant role to ensure every patient has access to the care they deserve. And patients deserve to understand how PAs participate in their healthcare and how qualified PAs are to provide high-quality care." 

Editor's note: This article was updated at 5:17 p.m. Eastern on March 3, 2023.





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