Why PAs aren't using the term 'physician associate' yet

The American Academy of Physician Assistants has officially changed its name to the American Academy of Physician Associates as part of a larger rebranding effort for the profession, but the association is not advising PAs to use the new term in a professional capacity yet. 

Last May, the AAPA voted to adopt "physician associate" as the official title for the PA profession. The change came about three years after the academy hired a healthcare marketing research and branding firm to determine the best title and marketing strategy for the profession.

"Changing the title addresses a common misperception that PAs only 'assist' physicians, when in fact PAs are highly educated medical professionals who provide value in delivering high-quality, team-based healthcare," a spokesperson for AAPA told Becker's, noting that 71 percent of patients and 61 percent of physicians agreed the term better matches a PA's job description in a survey conducted by Kantar Research.

News of the rebranding was met with opposition from several medical groups, including the American Medical Association and American Osteopathic Association. The groups argued that the new term would confuse patients, undermine the physician-led care team model and violate state laws regarding truth in advertising. 

While AAPA has officially rebranded, the organization is not recommending PAs use the term in clinical practice yet, per guidance from its legal counsel.  

"PAs should continue to use 'physician assistant' or 'PA' as their official legal title in a professional capacity, particularly in clinical settings and with patients, until the jurisdiction governing their licensure and practice has formally adopted the title of 'physician associate,'" the association said in a frequently asked questions page on its website.

The group said updating the profession's legal title at the state and federal levels will be a long-term process, and that it will continue to use both terms across its website and digital platforms.

"Title change implementation is a complex undertaking that will take time to wholly implement," AAPA said. "Given the number of platforms and assets to be updated, the variety of audiences they reach, as well as legal considerations, it is expected that both terms (physician assistant and physician associate) will be used on the website for years."

Keep up to date with the AAPA's latest rebranding actions here.

Editor's note: This article was updated June 10 at 11:00 a.m. CT.

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