The following article is a part of conference coverage from the American Academy of PAs 2021 Conference (AAPA 2021), held virtually from May 23 to May 26, 2021. The team at the Clinical Advisor will be reporting on the latest news and research conducted by leading PAs. Check back for more from AAPA 2021.


The American Academy of PAs (AAPA) House of Delegates (HOD) passed a resolution to affirm Physician Associate as the official title of the PA profession. A majority of delegates voted for the name change (198 to 68) during this year’s AAPA 2021 Conference.  

“As the gavel lowered to close the 4-day meeting, the resolution became AAPA policy,” according to the AAPA. “The vote followed several days of deliberation by HOD members and was informed by robust and rigorous research by international marketing and communications firm WPP/Landor and AAPA’s external legal counsel Foley & Lardner LLP.”

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The PA profession has been around for more than 50 years. During that time, there have been several efforts to have the American Academy of PAs endorse a different title. Many PAs have long disliked the word “assistant,” often feeling that this misrepresents the profession and the work PAs do.  

The COVID-19 pandemic showed the health care profession that PAs and nurse practitioners (NPs) can work independently without ill effect. “Changing our title from assistant to associate is going back to our PA roots. PAs have had many titles throughout the years, one of which is physician associate,” noted Melinda Moore Gottschalk, MPAS, PA-C, DFAAPA, adjunct faculty at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor PA Program in Belton, Texas. “PAs in some universities are still graduated as a ‘physician associate’. PAs are trusted health care providers who work within their training, experience, and education. The title change does not change this or my commitment to team-based care and collaboration with physicians and other members of the healthcare team,” she said.

“I’ve long supported the name of Physician Associate for our profession. I’ll admit my bias up front. I graduated from the Yale Physician Associate Program over 22 years ago, which has been the name since the Yale PA Program’s inception,” Jonathan Weber, MA, PA-C, told Clinical Advisor.

“Within the framework of that title, I’ve established a solid clinical identity and practice as a colleague among all my peer clinician partners in medicine who have responded overwhelmingly with great mutual respect. When introducing myself as a physician associate to patients, I’ve never been asked “Whom do you assist?” – not once! I believe the title of Physician Associate will build an enduring legacy in our profession, with patients and colleagues alike! Bravo to all whose efforts made this change possible,” said Weber, assistant professor of internal medicine, associate director of academic education, and course director of behavioral health and preventive medicine at the Yale School of Medicine Physician Associate Program.

The work now turns to the AAPA Board of Directors who must consider paths to implementation, including major branding campaigns to educate patients and health care providers of the new title.  

In a letter to its members, AAPA acknowledged that this is a complex issue. “Title change implementation is a complex and intricately interwoven undertaking requiring a thoughtful and well-timed strategy involving a variety of stakeholders – not only other national PA organizations (PAEA, NCCPA, and ARC-PA), PA programs, and AAPA constituent organizations, but also state and federal governments, regulators, and employers,” the letter noted.

To address questions members may have, the organization has updated its website Title Change FAQs to address questions and concerns about the new professional title. The page will be updated regularly in the coming months, noted the organization.

There is much work remaining for the AAPA, primarily exploring ways to implement this new title in all 50 states, each with its own unique set of rules and regulations.  

To learn more about the Title Change Investigation study, including changes that will need to be made and estimated costs associated with those changes, AAPA members can access the November 2020 Physician Assistant Title Change Investigation Final Report to the AAPA House of Delegates.

Visit Clinical Advisor’s meetings section for complete coverage of AAPA 2021.