The following article is part of conference coverage from the 2019 American Academy of Physician Assistants Annual Meeting (AAPA 2019) in Denver, Colorado. Clinical Advisor’s staff will be reporting breaking news associated with research conducted by leading physician assistants. Check back for the latest news from AAPA 2019.


Efforts are currently underway to move forward with an official title change for the physician assistant (PA) profession, as many PAs feel this title does not effectively convey their responsibilities as advanced practice providers, and patients are often unclear as to what the PA role encompasses, according to research presented at the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) Annual Meeting, held May 18 to 22, 2019, in Denver, Colorado.

The objectives of the title change investigation were 2-fold: to determine if there is a need to evolve the PA brand based on an analysis-driven view of where these clinicians lie in the health care spectrum today, and to implement strategies to redefine the PA profession while aligning the title to accurately reflect it.

The research team distributed an online survey to more than 7000 certified PAs as well as PA students to evaluate the current role of these clinicians within the health care system, the perceived value of the profession among other health care providers, and whether the title reflects the role and responsibilities of the profession accurately.

Results from the survey revealed that PAs are highly satisfied with their role and the benefits it provides. They enjoy the direct patient contact they experience in day-to-day job responsibilities and feel as though they have a great deal of career flexibility, with fewer headaches associated with responsibilities other than direct patient care. Because most PA education programs last for 2 years, PA respondents felt fortunate that they enter the workforce with less debt and have an earlier start to their career. However, PAs reported that there is a lack of autonomy in their role, and some reported feeling “micromanaged” by the physician with whom they work.

In the qualitative research analysis, 55 PAs, PA students, patients, employers, and other health care providers were interviewed 1 on 1 on topics that included perception of health care providers (including PAs, nurse practitioners, and other health care providers) and the role of PAs within the health care ecosystem, as well as how the title of the profession would best reflect this.

Patients and health care providers felt that PAs are extremely well-regarded in the health care community and that they are trustworthy, with good communication skills. Health care providers found PAs to be strong allies in the practice setting. Employers found benefit in hiring PAs, especially in rural areas due to the cost savings associated with employing these providers as well as the quality patient care that they provide. However, patients admitted they often don’t know exactly what role PAs play or understand the scope of their skills.  

Two key points emerged as a result of this research:

  1. The title “physician assistant” does not capture all of the responsibilities of the profession. The word “assistant” may be demeaning to some clinicians and is associated with rational, emotional aversions. 
  2. There is a general lack of education and awareness about what a physician assistant is capable of, specifically from patients. 

As a result of this research, the investigation team has begun to take steps toward changing the title. The next phase of the investigation involves implementing strategies to capture the PA brand, which will support and elevate the profession in conjunction with the new title. The team will then decide on appropriate alternative titles for the profession and present them to the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) House of Delegates.

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The findings and potential alternative titles will be presented at the AAPA 2020 Annual Meeting scheduled for May 16 to 20, 2020, in Nashville, Tennessee.

For more information about the title change investigation, visit the AAPA website.

For more coverage of AAPA 2019, click here.


1. Lycouri P, Duarante R, Hirschier D, Tansay J. Title change investigation (update). Presented at: The American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) Annual Meeting; May 18-22, 2019; Denver, CO. Presentation DV9178.

2. Title change investigation. AAPA website. Accessed May 21, 2019.