Kansas City,
09:28 AM

What is a Physician Assistant?

Michon Huston, PA, Orthopedics, and Emma Lennon, PA, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

The next time you go to the doctor’s office or visit a specialist you may be seen by a physician assistant (PA). PAs are licensed medical professionals that provide many of the same services as doctors. They can diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, and can prescribe medications for patients.

There are more than 123,000 PAs who practice in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Children’s Mercy has six PAs on staff that work in surgery, plastic and reconstructive surgery, orthopedics and ENT.

History and Training

PAs undergo intensive medical training, are committed to team practice and work under the supervision of the physician, which enables PAs to provide exceptional care to each patient they see.

Although the medical training is shorter, PAs follow a similar path as doctors.

“Don’t get fooled by our title. While we’re the right hand or extension to the physician, we’re also trained along the same pathway as the physician,” said Michon Huston, physician assistant in Orthopedics. “We follow the medical model and are trained alongside interns and residents. We go through 2-3 years of active training, 12-18 months of clinical work with the option to go through with residency and we’re frequently tested to maintain our board certified license.”

The PA profession was established during the Vietnam War era to help get more experienced medical personal practicing medicine.

“The career was actually started in the 1960’s for service members as they came home from the war,” said Emma Lennon, physician assistant in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. “They had all this medical training, but couldn't practice as a physician because they didn't have a doctorate. The masters in medicine program was created to get them through the education and into the field faster.”

How are Physician Assistants different from Nurse Practitioners?

Many times when you go to the doctor you might see a Nurse Practitioner (NP), so how do NPs differ from PAs? While PAs are trained to practice medicine using a curriculum modeled on medical school education, NPs are trained in the advanced practice of nursing.

Nurse Practitioners choose a focus area such as primary care, family nurse practitioner, women’s health or nurse midwifery. PAs are educated in general medicine and offer a comprehensive view of all aspects of medicine.

Improving Patient Access

One of the benefits of having PAs on staff is it helps improve patient access, because patients can be seen sooner.

“Patients are going to get in a lot quicker and we’re fully capable of treating patients,” said Huston. “Our license and education fully prepare us to diagnose, order tests and perform procedures.”

Lennon added, “It's nice to be able to provide better access and spend more time with the families because we have more providers,” said Lennon. “My favorite part of my job is getting to know the patients and their families, and being able to provide support and care during some of the most difficult times in their lives.”


Learn more about surgery, plastic and reconstructive surgery, orthopedics and ENT at Children's Mercy.