SAN ANTONIO—More than 90% of physician assistants (PAs) have provided care for their relatives, researchers reported at the 2016 annual meeting of the American Academy of PAs (AAPA). Most commonly, the care was provided to a spouse, followed by a sibling and a parent.

Jessica Estanislau, PA-S, of the New York Institute of Technology in New York City, and colleagues distributed an electronic survey to 1,147 PAs in the New York State Society of PAs’ database between August 2015 and October 2015. The researchers sought to determine the degree to which participants were treating their family members; the reasons for providing treatment; the reasons for not providing treatment; their comfort level in treating their relatives; the frequency of treatment provided; and the frequency of requests for treatment from family members. The investigators then compared that information with existing data regarding how physicians treat their relatives.

A total of 200 surveys were completed by the PAs. The researchers found that 8% of PAs reported that they had never provided any care for their relatives, and 80% had performed a physical examination. PAs, similar to physicians, were less likely to provide a given service as the complexity of the care increased. In addition, PAs who were older, male, and more experienced were more likely to treat their relatives, feel comfortable providing care, and receive requests to provide care. PAs were also more likely to provide services that were within their field of expertise.

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The reasons for not providing care differed, according to the investigators. A majority of PAs (56.3%) preferred not to get involved, while 34% of physicians most frequently stated that the issue was outside their field of expertise.

“The data show that although PAs report intervening in their family’s health matters more often than physicians, it tends to be in similar ways,” stated Ms. Estanislau. “Unless the situation is emergent and immediate care is required, clinicians should refrain from providing healthcare services to their family members. In the non-emergent setting, it is recommended that PAs take on the role of supporter or healthcare advocate for their relative rather than provider. If PAs or other clinicians choose to provide healthcare services to their family members, extreme caution should be taken as both ethical and legal concerns may complicate the situation.”


  1. Estanislau J, Kim WJ, Le V, et al. Do PAs intervene in their family’s health matters in the same ways as physicians? ePoster presented at: 2016 meeting of the American Academy of PAs; May 14-18, 2016; San Antonio, TX.