The long road to 'physician associate'

The American Association of Physician Associates is still in the early stages of a sweeping effort to rebrand the PA profession — and sunset the title "physician assistant" — but hopes to make important strides in 2024, AAPA CEO Lisa Gables told Becker's

In 2021, AAPA voted to adopt "physician associate" as the official title for the profession and subsequently launched a major public awareness campaign to educate patients and consumers about the profession. Medical groups such as the American Medical Association and American Osteopathic Association have opposed the effort, arguing that the title change will create confusion for patients about who is providing their care.

Ms. Gables says the goal of the rebranding is to actually provide more clarity for patients — not  change PAs' scope of practice. 

"The No. 1 goal here is to make sure that we're representing the profession correctly. That we're bringing awareness of the education, training and experience to not only the healthcare community, but to patients as well. And the same thing is true with this transition to the title. We don't want to confuse anyone. We're actually trying to make it more clear," she said.

AAPA has officially changed its legal name to reflect the "physician associate" title, as have five state chapters. However, changing the legislative arena at the state and federal level is a more difficult process that could take a decade or more, according to Ms. Gables.

"If you think about how many things have to change — all of the state laws, policies in hospitals, the academic side of the house — it's a big lift," she said. "This is a yearslong process. It's not going to happen overnight." 

Each state PA chapter is a separate entity and must make their own determination about when they may wish to pursue title change in their own state, she added. At present, no state has formally introduced legislation to officially recognize the title change, though several have expressed strong interest, according to Ms. Gables. 

In 2024, AAPA aims to work with three to four states to help introduce title change legislation. 

"When one, two or three states do something, typically other states will follow. We think that might be the case here as well, where we get a little bit of momentum," she said, noting that AAPA's title change and advocacy work on the state level are not related to scope of practice changes. 

In the meantime, AAPA does not recommend PAs refer to themselves as physician associates with patients. 

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